About the event

This is a time of both intense challenges and critical opportunities for the relationship between the European Union and the North African and Middle Eastern region. A series of highly significant socio-political developments – such as the immense refugee flows from war-struck Syria and Iraq, the diverse reactions of European societies to these flows, as well as the signing of the JCPOA with Iran – may prove to be either barriers to inter-cultural understanding, or an opportunity to build trust, bridges and tolerance between the two regions.

The aim of this event, which brings together EMUNI’s 2016 General Assembly and the Horizon-2020 project MERID’s Regional Event, is to address the role of diaspora in intercultural dialogue, trust-building, and development cooperation and to explore the roles of these diaspora in cooperation on science, technology and innovation between the EU and its southern neighbors.

This event will focus, on the one hand, on the constructive use of brain circulation to advance beneficial scientific cooperation and unleash the untapped potential of the Middle Eastern scientific community. On the other hand, by examining the state of the science, technology and innovation on the cross-cutting societal issues of water and renewable energy in the region, the event will provide opportunities to explore fertile avenues for cooperation and identify potential obstacles to that cooperation.

Throughout the event, particular attention will be paid to Iran and Iraq, two relatively new players in the regional discussions, with whom no formal research cooperation has existed so far.

About EMUNI’s General Assembly, brain circulation and migration

Since the end of the cold war, and peaking in the 1990s, mass movements of refugees (largely from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia) have led to the formation of substantial diaspora that have consolidated themselves in destination countries and integrated in various forms of transnational activity. These diasporas, which developed as a consequence of refugee flows of migrants fleeing upheavals in their countries (what is referred to as migration crisis), are continuously reinforcing the transformation of societies worldwide.

Today, new communication technologies, the refugees’ increased education levels and the stronger role of the “old” diaspora has enabled new migrants and refugees arriving in Europe to increase their influence and impact on both the host country and their homeland. At the same time, and all over the world, existing diaspora – created by those who were once refugees – have largely contributed to the development of society in all fields (politics, economy, engineering, science etc.).

Following the end of World War II, large numbers of highly skilled scientists emigrated from Western Europe to the United States. In 1963, the British Royal Society published a report on the migration of scientists from the UK which received much media attention, triggering the Evening Standard newspaper to coin the term ‘brain drain’. Subsequently, the concept of “brain drain” and “brain gain” evolved to describe the relocation of researchers from one country/region (usually less developed, which suffers the drain) to another (more developed, which benefits from the gain). As such, this drain/gain concept has a negative connotation and is considered as a win-lose scenario.

More recently, the term “brain circulation” has been used to describe a dynamic system of human capital flows and exchanges. Countries may accrue benefits to their domestic scientific capacity through diaspora effects, where knowledge, skills and professional networks established by the “expatriate” researchers are shared with their countries of origin.

As EU borders become flooded with refugees and the European public opinions became polarized between friendly welcoming on the one hand and hostile rejection on the other, the need for building trust and inter-cultural understanding between Europe and the Middle East has never been so urgent.

In February 2015, EMUNI organized its annual conference on science diplomacy with the notion of utilizing science as a vehicle for intercultural understanding, inter-religious tolerance and rational discourse. Building on the topic of last year’s conference and its recommendations, EMUNI decided to further advance the cause within the current socio-political context, elaborating on what – in our opinion – are the main contemporary drivers/barriers of this cooperation. The 2015 conference achieved great success, particularly in terms of the policy recommendations, which were welcomed and taken into consideration by the European Commission at the highest levels, including the HR VP Federica Mogherini as well as high-level actors from the Southern Mediterranean such as Princess Sumaya of Jordan.

EMUNI thus wishes to capitalize on today’s socio-political developments in the relationship between Europe – and specifically the European Union – and the North African and Middle East region. The signing of the Iran nuclear deal, the immense flow of refugees from war-struck Syria and Iraq and the divergent response of the European societies to this crisis comprise both a challenge and an opportunity for the future of EU-Middle East cooperation. While appearing to be barriers for inter-cultural understanding, they also represent an opportunity and constitute drivers for building a culture of trust and tolerance between the two regions. We have to bear in mind that the refugees of today are the diasporas of tomorrow.

This conference pursues an activist approach, where our strategic objective is the “constructive use of brain circulation” to the benefit of intercultural dialogue and understanding. We need to bear in mind that diaspora comprise a huge potential that needs to be explored and unleashed. By engaging the Middle East diasporas in Europe in constructive brain circulation with their countries of origin, our conference provides avenues for prosperous scientific cooperation and tapping into the untapped potential of Middle East scientific community, particularly the youth.

The MERID Project: Science diplomacy in practice

The MERID project, starting in January 2015, is an example of science diplomacy in practice. It seeks to boost existing collaboration frameworks between the EU and Middle East countries while creating new channels and forging new links, especially with countries that are newcomers to EU cooperation in Research and Innovation. MERID’s ultimate goal is to employ Research and Innovation as channels for intercultural dialogue, understanding and reconciliation.
MERID involves diverse partners from the European Union Member States, in addition to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine as well as Iran and Iraq. Participation of the latter countries is of particular importance as the MERID project will represent the very first attempt to systematise support to the policy dialogue and engagement of research communities of Iran and Iraq in the EU’s actions and in particular the EU’s programme for Research and Innovation “Horizon 2020”. The MERID partners were carefully selected to embrace relevant stakeholders from diverse backgrounds representing various sectors, from research governance organisations to civil society, including also academia and the business sector.
MERID adopts Science Diplomacy as a tool to deliver long-term impact and structuring effects on cooperation between the EU and the Middle East region. Its focus is primarily on direct cooperation among researchers and policy makers while striving to establish preconditions for fostering joint research projects and initiatives with the EU. This will be achieved by facilitating and creating framework conditions for international cooperation and increasing coordination between policies and programmes.
It is worth mentioning that the MERID project, under coordination of EMUNI, was chosen for funding among ten competing projects focusing on intensifying and encouraging research and innovation cooperation between the EU and the Middle East region along the first call of the EU H2020 programme for Research and Innovation.

Purpose of the MERID event

uilding on the MERID project objectives, the purpose of this event is to tackle the existing framework conditions for research and innovation cooperation between the EU and the Middle East region. In this event, we will address cooperation in science, technology and innovation by focussing on two specific thematic societal challenges: water and renewable energy. The magnitude of these challenges at the regional level and their wider international impact make them excellent fields for study, and sharing knowledge and brain circulation among researchers, experts and policy makers can significantly contribute to addressing these challenges and offering sustainable and long-term solutions. The specificities of this particular event were determined half-way through the MERID project in order to incorporate the input and priorities of countries such as Iraq and Iran that so far have not participated in any EU regional STI activities.

Expected outcomes

  • Generate an overview of the cutting-edge research being carried out in the MERID partner countries in (a) thematic area(s) of high socio-economic relevance.
  • Identify specific topics and areas of mutual interest and potential cooperation.
  • Identify obstacles to cooperation.
  • Commence a policy dialogue on building forward-looking framework conditions for STI cooperation while addressing current challenges.

Expected outputs

  • The conclusions of this regional event will be summarized in a report, shared with all MERID partners and participants, which will in turn provide valuable input for the full MERID project and three concrete MERID deliverables. They will:
  • Help to further develop and complete specific elements in the Policy Dialogue Action Plan.
  • Provide direct input for the Practical Framework for Enhancing STI Enabling Factors.
  • Help to identify opportunities and specific topics of interest for the Bilateral Policy Dialogues.

View the program of the event