How are we doing, and how can we improve? Influencing the labyrinth of policy

Our European Affairs editor, Hilary Manning, gives a brief insight into how the Think Tank has performed in the past, and how it can improve in the future, focusing on the complex issue of Europe.

European Affairs is a broad subject, covering a vast range of regional, national, political, social, economic, and cultural affairs, with only the geographical connection of Europe to categorise it. The European Union (EU), only one aspect of ‘European Affairs’, is similarly complex: originally established as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 – a supranational institution with a limited mandate in the coal and steel industries of the original six member states – it now encompasses political, financial, environmental and social affairs of twenty-eight member states.

In recognition, the King’s Think Tank dedicates a specific policy centre to European Affairs, imitating the organisational structure of other leading think tanks and research institutions. The Jean Monnet Centres of Excellence, for example, promote competence and knowledge on EU subjects within leading research institutions, of which King’s College London itself hosts a Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence. Similarly, the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), includes a specific ‘Europe’ research-policy centre, focusing on the challenges of economics, climate change, energy, and security in Europe.

The King’s Think Tank European Affairs Policy Centre has set as its 2015 theme the unfolding EU integration crises, in which current economic, political, security and migration crises are “creating rifts in Treaty agreements”, and ambitiously includes the hot topics of European security, illegal migration, EU foreign policy, political extremism, and the continuing currency crisis.

Can King’s Think Tank be heard in ‘European Affairs’?

European Affairs is populated by a complex number of actors. The EU itself includes multiple institutions: the European Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission, as well as the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors, the European Investment Bank, the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee. This is in addition to the national institutions of its twenty-eight member-states.

The King’s Think Tank must consider its audience: is it the student body, national government institutions, or the EU itself? It must also consider its position: is it respected as an expert voice on European Affairs? Business, civil society and lobbying form an increasingly large part of European Affairs and EU policy development, creating a multitude of organisations all aspiring to be authoritative voices on European Affairs.

To give students a say on European Affairs before a policy is formulated, King’s Think Tank must provide instrumental advice to critical decision-makers. I believe it is well-placed: the European Commission itself, in its 2009 European Transparency Initiative, recognises “think tanks make valuable contributions to the European institutions by producing high quality data based on scientific and academic research”.

Think Tanks in European Affairs, however, more commonly fulfil a coordinating role, rather than becoming agents for change in their own right. As Davis Cross (2015) notes, “EU think tanks host numerous meetings, seminars, and conferences…(however, they) tend not to advance shared policy goals, and generally serve more as forums for other professionals to meet rather than acting as policy leaders in their own right.” Chatham House, for example, hosts numerous events and networking meetings focused on European Affairs, as well as publishes numerous regional and topic specific papers. I suggest that the King’s Think Tank fulfils such a coordinating role: in 2014, it organised 29 panel discussions with 55 speakers, held three roundtables and four editorial workshops (Spectrum, 2014); In 2015, it will host a Panel Discussion with representatives from the media, political and academic sectors on the Syrian Migrant Crisis.

The King’s Think Tank’s primary focus, however, is The Spectrum, its annual policy magazine. This publication correlates with those provided by leading academic institutions: for example, LERU regularly publishes a variety of papers and reports which make high-level policy statements, provide in-depth analyses and make concrete recommendations for policymakers, universities, researchers and other stakeholders. The Spectrum provides a unique voice for the ‘educated student’ and is shared with a wide readership within and without King’s College London.

I suggest the impact of The Spectrum in influencing European Affairs policy is variable, highly influenced by whether a contribution highlights broader discussions or promotes concrete recommendations. The Spectrum 2013 article ‘Is the EU a foreign policy actor?’ details the tribulations of the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy, reflective of ongoing academic discussions about the EU’s foreign policy role, and advocates the importance of acting cohesively. Alternatively, The Spectrum 2014 article ‘Uncertainty over Restrictions by Object and by Effect Still Looming’ both discusses the legal complications of Article 101 of Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (which prohibits cartels disrupting free competition in the European Economic Area’s internal market) and provides a concrete recommendation for creating clear criteria of assessment of agreements.

Since its creation, the King’s Think Tank has provided a unique opportunity for students to participate in and give voice to their policy opinions. Its growth into the largest organisation of its kind in Europe, speaks volumes for its popularity and reach. However, this is no time to rest on one’s laurels: the European Affairs policy space is a particularly complex, over-populated landscape which requires significant cross-disciplinary knowledge to provide an effective voice in relevant policy formulation. I suggest the King’s Think Tank now needs to create a series of performance measurements to assess the efficacy of its efforts on policy formulation.

Hilary Manning, European Affairs Editor

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