EU-India Think Tank Cooperation: AIDA-SADF (South Asia Democratic Forum) Joint Summit on 20 Jan 2021
Remarks by Dr. Arvind Gupta
  1. Think tanks are very sensitive to the environment. They take up issues which are current, difficult and have a large impact. Think tanks in Europe and South Asia cannot but be affected by the winds of change sweeping the world particularly after the Covid 19 pandemic.
The Landscape
  1. The political, economic and geopolitical landscape is shifting. New power equations are emerging. China’s rise has caused turbulences across the world. After four disruptive years of Trump administration, Biden-Harris team is taking over. Its declared tasks are to overcome the divisions in US society, address the concerns of the middle class, overcome Covid and repair the alliances, and restore US’s preeminence. How he will deal with China is the key question? A cold war-like atmosphere prevails in the world today.
  2. The west’s cherished ideals of democracy, freedom, human rights are being challenged. Authoritarian tendencies are reasserting in many countries. TheEU has signed an investment agreement with China. It raises the question whether values are more important than valuations. In the era of globalization and economic interdependence, interests of business houses and corporates have been prioritised over democracy and human rights.
  3. Europe is in ferment. The migration crisis has given a fillip to the right-wing tendencies. Brexit has dented the European community.
  4. There will be a leadership change in Germany which will most likely result in new policies. There is a lack of clarity about Europe’s place in the world. The transatlantic alliance has frayed. NATO is looking for a remake. China has made deep inroads into Europe.
  5. Income inequalities, regional disparities have become acute.
  6. The threat of climate change to mankind is growing and becoming bigger.
  7. Terrorism and radicalization remain potent forces of destabilization and a threat to international peace.
  8. Multilateralism is under stress. Reginal institutions have acquired greater salience. ; But their agendas are narrowly focussed.
  9. Going forward, we will see a lot of uncertainty. Policymakers are challenged to understand the scale and depth of change that is sweeping the world. Policymaking is becoming increasingly nationalist. Covid has intensified that threat.
Think Tanks
  1. Think tanks are playing an ever-increasing role in providing information, analysis, advocacy, capacity building, bridge building, and policy advice to the policymakers and to the public too. Some of them also play the role of interlocutors, channels of communication and a platform for discussion.
  2. However, think-tanks are not necessarily neutral. They are agenda-driven. They receive funding from a variety of sources; some of them are shrouded in secrecy. Thus transparency in the working of think tanks becomes an important issue. Funding, human and technological resources remain a problem for think tanks. The funding of think thanks is an important determinant of their views.
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  4. Foreign funding is always problematic. There has been considerable research on how foreign governments use think tanks to buy influence in the target countries.
  5. Europe and South Asia have many think tanks. Over the years their numbers have grown. The interaction between them has also increased. Useful reports have been produced. They have also acted as platforms for discussions and exchange. Political leaders have also engaged with them.
  6. But there are some specific features too which need to be taken into account
  7. Quite often the relationship is asymmetric. Europe in think tanks has more resources as compared to the South Asian counterparts. This gives a certain orientation to discussions and debates. The agenda-setting initiatives come usually from the think tanks which provide resources. These think tanks are quite often run by political parties or other interest groups. The genders are set in accordance with the priorities of the funding institutions. The issues which matter for sausage in think tanks do not necessarily get reflected in the discussions and debates.
  8. It has been seen that scholars from South Asian think tanks are usually invited for short-term and long-term fellowships in the European institutions. The South Asian think tanks do not have the resources to host scholars from Europe. If you who come are funded by European agencies then this kind of exchange also creates asymmetry.
  9. Quite often, European think tanks are interested in domestic issues of South Asian countries such as development, human rights, political dynamic, environment, labour standards, and communal situation and so on. The reports produced after this research can be biased. This creates controversies in South Asian countries. In contrast, social scholars have little access or interest in European issues.
  10. The problem arises when European remedies are applied to the South Asian situation. This creates unrealistic expectations.
  11. Recommendations:
    1. South Asian think tanks should reduce their reliance on foreign funding; generate their own funding and agenda.
    2. European think tanks should bring to the European issues for joint research. South Asian think tanks should design their agenda for research.
    3. More focus is required on global, economic, technological issues going beyond traditional research agendas which are South Asia focussed only.
References
  1. ENRIQUE MENDIZABAL, “Undue influence: what is it, how is it exerted, and how to address it in the future?”, https://onthinktanks.org/articles/undue-influence-what-is-it-how-is-it-exerted-and-how-to-address-it-in-the-future/

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