science-diplomacy-flyerFollowing his speech at the Royal Society last month, Commissioner Moedas led an EU delegation to Jordan this week to reiterate his commitment to science diplomacy and his ambition to focus on the Middle East as a priority.

During a symposium attended by HRH Princess Sumaya of Jordan – Addressing shared challenges through Science Diplomacy: the case of EU-Middle East regional cooperation – Commissioner Moedas promised that he would put his political weight and commitment behind science diplomacy during his five year tenure.

He stated that the vision and “ingredients for success” were already there for a potentially fruitful relationship between the EU and Middle East, but that these were not enough: they now needed to be turned into action (as an analogy, he cited Ada Lovelace’s vision of the computer over 100 years before it was actually developed).

Jordan is an important facilitator and convenor for the rest of the world’s engagement with the Middle East region because of its political stability and security.

Perhaps the best illustration of this is the fact it hosts SESAME, a shared synchrotron facility for the region that continues to be upheld as a model of best practice in science diplomacy – the ‘CERN for the Middle East’.

On current trajectory, it is anticipated to be running experiments from end 2016/early 2017, and it could ultimately spawn regional collaboration in other areas. Jordan will also host the World Science Forum in 2017.

It is encouraging that the EU may be more predisposed to support science and innovation in its ‘extended neighbourhood’ and to increase scientific cooperation on areas of mutual interest and shared benefit. The symposium was certainly full of promise and optimism.

Zafra Lerman, President of the Malta Conferences Foundation, talked about scientists helping to build “weapons of mass construction” and suggested that science is both a common language and a common nationality.

Tracey Elliott (Moderator), Ilan Chet, Zafra Lerman, HRH Princess Sumaya of Jordan, Flavia Schlegel, Lásló Lovász

(l-r) Tracey Elliott (Moderator), Ilan Chet, Zafra Lerman, HRH Princess Sumaya of Jordan, Flavia Schlegel, Lásló Lovász

We heard examples of projects investing in people and in research and education infrastructure; of scientists working together on societal challenges – water security being a particularly acute challenge for the region; of providing technical advice to governments and multilateral agencies; and of ways of stimulating global research and policy debates.

There were several take-home messages: the importance of scientific excellence being the driver for cooperation; of sustained, long-term engagement and support; of inclusion and genuine partnership; of cooperation being research and action oriented, as well as demonstrating societal impact; and of all of this being given sufficient time to develop and flourish.

The majority of participants at the symposium were from the research community. It is clear that what is needed now is for EU and Middle East partners to create the space and mechanisms for dialogue between the key constituencies to identify initiatives that can further the interests of both foreign policy and research communities.

This week’s symposium is perhaps best summed up by Chris Llewellyn Smith’s paraphrasing of Antonio Gramsci’s quote – that the optimism of the will should override the pessimism of the brain.

More to follow on science diplomacy. In the meantime, readers may like to refer to the Royal Society’s New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy report which sets out the Society’s current position on the subject and which – hearteningly – continues to be cited as a key reference source by international stakeholders.

Martyn Poliakoff, the Society’s Foreign Secretary, also has a paper in this Spring’s AAAS’ Science and Diplomacy journal.