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Think tanks in Europe: Shaping ideas of security


Trine Villumsen

Think tanks form a part of the security landscape – or field of security – which has been taking shape in Europe since the end of the Cold War. They are important actors in what I will call the ”industry of security ideas” in the making after the bipolar world order. If we want to understand this environment, it is important to study the think tanks and the ideas they advocate. But the study of think tanks in European security has been limited, and think tank definitions in the literature tend to overlook several think tank-like actors in the European context. In this article I will briefly review the Anglo-American definition of a think tank and argue for applying a broader definition of a think tank in the European context. I will then sketch the two predominant ways of approaching the study of think tanks and argue that a focus on studying ideas needs to be complemented with a study of the practical patterns of interaction of think tanks and other actors. I will then give a brief history of the European think tanks and review where think tanks stand today: somewhere between theory and practice – occupying a middle ground – but closer to practice than to university research. In the second half of the article I give an example of a European think tank which has actively tried to shape European ideas of security: The Centre for European Reform. I review its practices, how it measures its success and analyse what conceptualisation of security the CER has advocated for. I conclude by arguing that the study of the European field of security – or the industry of security ideas - needs to include think tanks and think tank-like actors in order to capture the changes and point to possible future developments in European security understandings. If not, we miss important loci for the formulation of security ideas.


It is quite well documented that the number of think tanks are far greater in the USA than in the rest of the world. But this documentation is based on the fact that the definition of a think tank has been modelled on the AngloAmerican experience, where think tanks are defined as economically and politically independent institutes with the explicit purpose of promoting certain ideas. This type of think tank is not present in many European countries outside Great Britain.

Notably Great Britain and Germany have developed a tradition of think tanks while most other European countries do not have think tanks in any great number (with Poland as an exception). In Germany, the think tanks are most commonly funded by political parties1 while the think tanks in Great Britain have changed over time from having been research oriented ‘universities without students’ (Weaver 1989: 564) towards being more ideologically oriented and eager to participate in the political process directly (Denham & Garnett 2004; on this, see also article by Jesper Dahl Kelstrup in this issue). In France, the idea of a think tank clashes with the political culture that sees interest organisations as illegitimate: The primary political relationship is between the individual citizen and the state. Anything that comes in between in that relationship is considered a distortion (Fieschi & Gaffney 2004). Therefore, the function of a think tank is carried out by so-called political clubs and cabinets within the administration. A strictly Anglo-American definition of think tanks would exclude this kind of organisation from study and thereby miss a locus for the formulation and spread of political ideas in Europe. Such a narrow definition of think tanks (as employed by for instance Donald Abelson 2002) might work in an American study. However, in Europe the picture is too diverse for it to succeed. There are too many actors of a think tank-like nature, which do not fit the criteria of being economically and politically independent but who inhabit the same middle ground as think tanks do. A narrow definition might bring scientific rigour, but the analysis that ensues would miss too many actors – and ‘idea loci’. In a study of the role played by think tanks in Europe a definition which leaves room for more diversity is needed. The work done in Stone and Denham (2004) is instructive. Instead of basing their definition on an organizational structure they argue for equating a think tank with a policy research function and a set of analytic and policy advisory practices (Stone & Denham 2004: 4). Further, they argue against making a distinction between research institutes and think tanks on the basis that “the style of ‘informing’ policy debates or ‘educating’ public opinion takes many forms” (Ibid.). Arguments for distinguishing between the two types of actors often rely on an underlying assumption of the purity and rationality of science and the impurity of ideology, and deny the inherently political nature of research. This opens the study of think tanks to a type of actor which is normally considered to stand outside of the political process – observing it from the outside: research centres2. A definition based on function and open to letting research institutes count under the broad definition of a think tank is more suitable for the European case. However, Stone & Denham’s exclusion of CERI in France demonstrates that potentially important loci for the formulation of ideas may still be overlooked even when following their broad definition3. I would argue that in order to understand the special European case of think tanks it is not relevant to include or exclude certain research institutes or political clubs beforehand on the basis of clear-cut definitional boundaries. What is important is to remain open to the fact that institutes, conferences and other actors may have influenced the development of the field of European security and hence are a part of the emerging social field of European security – or the industry of security ideas as I called it in the introduction. The definition of what constitutes an important think tank in Europe should, therefore, not remain a question of money, organisational form, or political orientation. It should focus on the practices and functions of actors occupying the ground somewhere between theory and practice.


Until very recently, the study of think tanks was very limited. Most publications have come out over the last eight years (Notre Europe 2004: 7) and the majority of these have focused on the Anglo-American model while neglecting other forms of research institutions with the same goal as the traditional think tank. However, Diane Stone and Andrew Denham (2004) note that the research field has moved from a ‘cottage industry’ to a small research community between the publication of their two books Think tanks across nations (1998) and Think tank traditions (2004). Two different kinds of approaches to the study of think tanks can be carved out. The first one focuses on management, money, and quoting in order to measure the effect of think tanks on the political process. This approach uses traditional social science methods such as statistics in order to come to solid conclusions about the influence of think tanks on particular issues. Donald Abelson belongs to the first group (Abelson 2002). The second group focuses on ideas. Well-known analytical concepts, such as ‘epistemic communities’4 and ‘advocacy coalitions’5, have caught on within this group, who stresses that groups of people who share basic premises in their understanding of issues “hang together” and influence political decisions and what can be called the “idea climate” in certain circles. Stone and Denham (2004) belong to the second group. The approach taken in this article agrees that think tanks form part of epistemic communities or advocacy coalitions, and hence joins the focus on ideas6. “Think tanks help fashion a shift in the climate of opinion or public attitudes through constant advocacy of certain positions and criticism of other stances. Think tanks cannot bring about policy transfer alone but are dependent on government actors to see such transfer come to fruition.

Accordingly, the greatest scope for think tanks is in the transfer of ideologies, or the attitudes and underlying ideas that inform policy approaches” (Stone 2000: 48, my underlining). Following from this, a study of think tanks can focus on the ideas advocated by a wide range of actors occupying the ground between theory and practice falling under the functional definition described above. This entails reading what the think tanks publish and analysing the arguments put forward. What is the underlying view of security? What are the defining features of the policy advice put forward? As stated by Jacques Delors: “I believe that this analysis of think tanks will be of interest to both observers and actors of the European construction, those who know that any great project starts with the idea that opens the way” (Notre Europe 2004: foreword). However, an idea is hard to follow and the success of an idea is hard to measure. How do we know where the idea came from? What think tanks are important? Who is ‘heard’? Therefore, I would argue for also applying a sociological focus on “the practical patterns of interaction” (Bourdieu 1988: 21-23). In the case of think tanks, this means studying: who do they publish with?, who do they set up meetings with?, where do they give speeches?, what meetings do they attend? The answer to such questions makes it possible to see (at least some part of the picture of) how a think tank is linked to the field. Combined with an analysis of the ideas (or discourse) of the think tanks, the European field of security begins to emerge in the analysis and the importance of think tanks – broadly defined - can be evaluated. In the second part of the article I will apply this approach to the study of one European think tank: the Centre for European Reform.

The European think tank: a brief history

When did the European think tanks first see the light of day and where does the development stand today? Think tanks thrive and have become a very strong trend - also in Europe (Stone & Denham 2004). Historically speaking, the first think tanks in Europe were created as a reaction to the 1st World War. They were directed towards the nation state and had an idealistic purpose (Stone 1996: 185). In the UK the Royal Institute for International Affairs (RIIA) was created in the time following the Versailles Peace Treaty, and remained a close partner of the British government during the time up to the Munich Agreement on the Sudeten crisis (Stone 1996: 186-187). The RIIA belonged to an internationalist epistemic community together with the American think tank CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) (Stone 1996:189). However with the emergence of the Cold War new and more technical forms of scholarship emerged. “Idealism was undermined by an increasing emphasis on realist approaches to foreign policy accompanied by rationalist methodologies” (Stone 1996: 190). To a large extent, the same historical development which created ‘the gap’ between academia and practice also had a very profound impact on the nature of think tanks. Think tanks took over the middle ground and specialised in area studies and policy-directed studies and at the same time shifted their focus from idealism to realism.

Since the 1970s think tanks have been increasingly directed towards transnational problems and have become more and more transnational in the way they work. The two oil crises in the 1970s and the collapse of the Soviet Union opened up a new space for politics that was inherently transnational. More and more subjects could not be dealt with in a strictly national setting and political platforms for the solution of transnational problems were more common. WTO, UN and the EU are organisations which have made international cooperation easier for think tanks. Truly transnational think tanks have been few, however. Most think tanks are still based in a national setting, but are focusing on a more transnational agenda. Furthermore, networks between think tanks are beginning to be a common feature, even though most networks are still informal and very scarcely institutionalised. Today, their position vis-à-vis practical politics is closer than that of university scholars. Think tanks are a ‘demi-monde’7 (half-world), which can serve as centres for communication between practitioners and academics (Stone 1996: 213; Wallace 1994: 160). They are often familiar with current debates in the discipline and are well-connected to people in both the practical and the theoretical worlds. Therefore, think tanks can be seen as both a facilitator of spreading ideas – and a buffer preventing the concerns of the practitioners and policy becoming predominant within the university (Stone 1996: 213; see also Wallace 1994: 160 and Ole Wæver’s article in this issue). A number of national foreign policy institutes or think tanks exist in European countries today. Some governments created foreign policy institutes as a means to strengthen knowledge about international relations after the Cold War (like the creation of DUPI in Denmark in 19958), while other foreign policy institutes were created long before (like DGAP in Germany (1945) and NUPI in Norway which was created by political decision in 1959 and established in 1960). Some of the national institutes are joined together in informal networks: One of these networks include the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswertige Politik (DGAP) in Bonn, Stiftung Wissenshaft und Politik (SWP) in Munich, Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI) in Paris, Royal Institute of International Affairs/Chatham House (RIIA) in London, and the WEU Institute for Security Studies in Paris (which is now the EU institute for Security Studies) (Sherrington 2000). Apart from this informal network a formalised European network of national research institutions (TEPSA) exists: The TEPSA network is composed of national research institutions specialised in European and international affairs, located in all EU Member States and candidate countries. It was created in 1974 and provides a platform for bringing academia and practice together – most notably in Brussels. Among the 25 current members of TEPSA are the Danish Institute for International Affairs, Centre d’Etudes Européennes (a research centre under the political science department in Paris), The Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Istituto Affari Internazionali (Italy), Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP) in Germany and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (UPI-FIIA) (see www.tepsa.be for the full list). TEPSA is focused on European Integration and on providing input into the policy process of the European Union, but many of its members focus on international relations in general. The creation and influence of a number of peace research institutes are also part of the history of the European think tank – if we take the broad definition of the term. Guzzini & Jung (2004) argue that “…European Peace Research has been at least partly integrated into the professional reality of both academia and politics (Guzzini & Jung 2004: 3). Institutes include (among others) PRIO in Norway, SIPRI in Sweden, TAPRI in Finland, Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik in Germany, and COPRI in Denmark (now part of DIIS).

The EU has been a magnet for think tanks. The growth in the number of European think tanks has been argued to be tied to the nature of the European integration process: “Their growth generally corresponds to the deepening of European integration and the widening of policy-making activity” (Sherrington 2000: 187). Notre Europe (2004) supports this finding but adds another two factors to explain why “the sudden growth turned into an outright explosion in the 1990es” (Notre Europe 2004: 20): the democratic transition in Eastern Europe in the early 1990es which created an entirely new political environment, and the Nordic and Austrian accessions to the EU in 19959. However, the think tanks with an explicit European base and agenda have, paradoxically, not exclusively situated themselves in Brussels10. Instead, European think tanks are found in as diverse places as Florence, Paris, Munich and London (Stone and Denham 2004: chapter 4; Wallace 2004: afterword). Thus, Brussels is not the only locus for the formulation of European ideas. William Wallace (2004) points to several places that are becoming important for shaping the international ideas (he calls them ‘growing international focal points’). New York is one, while Geneva11, Davos12 and London are the European focal points in an international community (Wallace 2004) 13. His key to selection of these focal points is practical patterns of interaction (meaning where do people meet, discuss and publish) and he thus follows an approach similar to the one I introduced above (but focuses on the international sphere, not the European one like I do here.) When approaching the geographical situation of think tanks it seems wise to “think outside the box” and include think tanks outside of Brussels – and outside of the EU countries. An analysis based on how the think tanks “hang together” with the political actors and other think tanks in the field seems more appropriate than a definitional categorization. To be sure, the European integration process has been a catalyst for the growth of think tanks, but other factors may also have been in play. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing lack of direction for security and foreign policy created a vacuum in security thinking: “The hierarchy of threats in the security field broke down thereby opening the field for a redefinition of core security concerns. With it the narrative through which the field of security experts reproduced its identity broke down” (Huysmans 2006: 17). The situation after the end of the Cold War changed everything the field thought it knew about security. This may very well have created room for think tanks and other actors of the “demi-monde” in the field of security and foreign policy. According to Huysmans, the situation spurred questions like: “How could think tanks and academic research apply their knowledge to new security terrains? Was a career in strategic studies still a viable strategy? What kind of security knowledge has the best chance of attracting research funding?” (Huysmans 2006: 18). Setting up new research centres and think tanks was one of the answers to those questions. How many think tanks can be subsumed under the heading “European think tanks on security and foreign policy” today? No list exists which can ultimately settle this question. Out of a list of 670 think tanks in Europe (McGann & Weaver 2000) the majority can be excluded on the grounds of subject: Most think tanks in Europe are occupied with other subjects such as the environment, social policies, etc. Notre Europe (2004: 25-6, figure 4) reports that out of a total of 149 think tanks surveyed around 30% declared that they concentrate on external relations, whereas only 18 % concentrate on security and defence. Sherrington (2000) provides an analysis of several of the EU-oriented think tanks with a special emphasis on foreign policy. Her list is extensive but not exhaustive and does not include all the actors which the broad definition in this article has argued for14. In total Sherrington mentions around 25 think tanks, but also directs attention to at least 10 others.

In my own research I have focused on the practical patterns of interaction between think tanks to see if some think tanks seemed more linked in the European field of security than others. I took Sherrington’s list as a point of departure and reviewed a large number of think tanks. I set up two criteria for selecting them. First, the think tanks should deal with (European) security and foreign policy subjects as a significant part of their activities. Second, the think tank should be directed at a target audience beyond the scope of national geographical boundaries, both in institutional set-up (webpage in English15, contacts beyond the state in which they are situated) and in the way the research questions were framed (generally European questions, beyond the national interest). This criterion helped exclude think tanks which did not take part in the practical patterns of interaction and, thus, could not be argued to form part of the emerging European security landscape. My list ended at around 50 think tanks with relevance for European security and foreign policy, but far from all were connected to the field on a regular basis. Some, however, stood out as closely tied to both political actors (EU, NATO) and to other think tanks. From studying them, it is possible to get a glimpse of what ideas are currently entering/structuring the field.

The Centre for European Reform (CER)

One of the think tanks that stood out as linked to many other actors in the European field of security studies is the Centre for European Reform. The Centre for European Reform was formed in 1998 in Britain with the objective of improving the quality of debate of the European Union in the UK. It has had a special role in the shaping of the British debate and has relations with a long list of people, institutions and others with a central position in the European security landscape. By 2002 the CER stated in its annual report that it has “since become a truly European think-tank, committed to reforming the European Union” (CER 2002). The Centre for European Reform is a think tank comprised of British professionals, business people and academics16, but many authors of pamphlets and briefs are not British and approximately half of the seminars organised by CER take place outside the UK. The Centre for European Reform organises lunch-meetings, breakfasts, fringe-meetings on i.e. Labour and Liberal Party Congresses and invites experts to comment and discuss issues of relevance to a wide range of topics17: 1) Reform of EU institutions and policies, 2) Enlargement of the European Union, 3) The Euro and Economic Reform, 4) European Foreign and defence policy, 5) Transatlantic relations, 6) Justice and Home Affairs and 7) The EU’s relations with Russia and China. Further, it publishes a range of different types of publications. Some of a general nature, but many addressed directly at the EU and specific EU policies. The CER reports that it has never received money from governments or EU institutions but is funded by the private sector. All these practices (publishing, arranging meetings, etc.) have one objective: to shape and form the understanding of a range of policies in Europe. But are they successful? The CER measures its own success on the number of TV and radio appearances, reputation, and whether the thinktank’s proposals are adopted as policy (CER 2002: 2-3). It tops the list on TV and radio appearances and enjoys a good reputation. Further, the CER itself claims that several ideas put forward in CER publications appeared in the 2002 Convention on the Future of Europe (CER 2002: 3) – amongst these the suggested merger of the jobs of the external relations commissioner and the high representative for foreign and security policy18. In its 2004 annual report, CER claims that the Commission’s Green Paper on European defence markets copied section of a 2002 CER working paper (CER 2004: 3). Apart form CER’s own success criteria, Notre Europe (2004) reports that CER was the only think tank which was mentioned in almost all the questionnaires when asked “which EU think-tanks have influence today”?19 In addition to this, Javier Solana gave remarks at the launch of a Centre for European Reform publication in his capacity as High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy in 2002 (Solana, 19 February 2002). Lord Robertson (former secretary-general of NATO) joined the advisory board of the think tank in 2004, indicating that the Centre for European Reform is considered to have some clout – even outside the EU context20.

The underlying ideas: Underwhelming power

The CER works for an “outward-looking EU that is aware of its global responsibilities” (CER 2004: 2). This means that its publications have stressed the importance of Eastern Enlargement and is now taking up the issue of embracing Turkey21 and Georgia. Further, the CER has published on the need for the EU to have its own security strategy and (not least) a more operative defence dimension. But what structures these types of policy advice? Why should the EU embrace Turkey, enlarge to the east and have an operative defence dimension? This section analyses the underlying ideas that structure the CER’s policy advice. In a publication concerning the possible accession of Turkey into the EU, Everts spells out the ‘European way’ as seen in opposition to the United States and its focus on the military instrument: “The EU’s approach is the opposite [of the US]: indirect, underwhelming and economic-legal in nature” (Everts 2004: 1). According to Everts, the EU’s approach creates long-term results. The underwhelming power of the EU consists in the long-term transformation from instability and national selfishness to European, civilised space. This makes it more powerful than brute, military power. In the words of Mark Leonard: “To understand the shape of the twenty-first century, we need a revolution in the way we think about power. The overblown rhetoric directed at the ‘American Empire’ misses the fact that the US reach – militarily and diplomatically – is shallow and narrow (…) The strength of the EU, conversely, is broad and deep: once sucked into its sphere of influence, countries are changed forever” (Leonard 2005: 3-4, my underlining). The underwhelming soft power is pivotal in CER’s understanding. It is a new kind of power, which needs to be understood and recognised. It creates peace and stability and is tied to the identity of Europe: Peace-promoting, non-interventionist, culturally accepting etc. Mark Leonard confidently states that this is what makes the EU so powerful. “We can see that a new kind of power has evolved that cannot be measured in terms of military budgets or smart missile technology. It works in the long term, and is about reshaping the world rather than winning short-term tussles” (Leonard 2005: 5, my underlining).This is the reason why Europe should embrace Turkey and enlarge to the East: The new type of power can reshape the societies which have not yet taken the path of democracy and human rights. And the countries are embracing it, because: “For countries such as Turkey, Serbia, or Bosnia, the only thing worse than having the bureaucracy of Brussels descend on your political system, insisting on changes, implementing regulations, instigating state privatizations and generally seeping into every crack of everyday political life, is to have its doors closed to you” (Leonard 2005: 51). The underwhelming power is modelled on Foucault’s vision of power as surveillance, according to Leonard (2005): “Foucault’s real insight is that efficient exercise of power depends less on having military might or the technology of deterrence than on establishing legitimacy by making everyone complicit in the enforcement rules (…) This model of surveillance is what the European Union has achieved within its borders” (Leonard 2005: 40-41)22. It is so powerful in shaping societies that it can and should be exported to other countries and regions: Everts (2004) gives the following advice to Turkey: “Prepare for membership (…) also by incorporating the EU’s distinct foreign policy ‘style’ of projecting stability through political and economic integration” (Everts 2004: 8). The EU style of power is power for the future. The picture emerging from this understanding of power is almost void of military might, and it would seem that the other side of the power coin has been forgotten – or perhaps even been made obsolete, but: “Europeans have learned the hard way that to promote peace you sometimes need to go to war” (Leonard 2005: 68). So the military dimension is not completely forgotten in CER publications. It will, however, always be subordinated to the soft, Foucauldian, underwhelming power: “…even with the development of European military capabilities, Europeans will rely less on the use of force to shape the world than any other major power” (Leonard 2005: 68). A key to further understanding the underlying view of the world in CER publications is the focus on promoting peace. EU has a mission in the eyes of the CER: the mission is establishing democracy and the rule of law in ever greater parts of the world. It is a mission of creating security in the world for democracies to thrive in. The underwhelming power is thus just the means to a goal: peace. This overarching goal inscribes the space around Europe with different qualities and different choices of political/military instruments. Some countries are on the path to democracy and will consequently be changeable through underwhelming power. Other countries are not on that path, yet, and towards that type of space (countries) underwhelming power may not be enough. The zones of turmoil (Cooper 1996) are different from the zones of peace and should be (and have to be) treated differently: “Europe’s transformative power comes from its ability to reward reformers and withhold benefits from laggards. But passive aggression does not work on countries that do not want to join the club of law-abiding states. Dealing with them may involve using force” (Leonard 2005: 56). Seen from the Centre for European Reform, the ultimate goal of Europe thus creates several types of space and at least two different approaches to these types of space, but only one mission: to spread democracy and the rule of law – the European way. The possibility for doing this is not dependent on well-known demarcation lines used in the Western debate – especially since the publication of Samuel P. Huntington’s famous article and book “The Clash of Civilisations” (Huntington 1993; 1996). It is a very explicit approach of the CER to insist that the boundaries drawn by Huntington based on ”…faith and family, blood and belief…” (Huntington 1993: 94) - do not (should not) constrain the European project. In fact, it has become one of the priorities of the CER to insist that Turkey has a vital role to play in the countering of the sedimentation of the boundaries drawn by the civilizations. “While most citizens in the current EU supported eastward enlargement, many feel that Turkey is a step too far – politically, geographically and psychologically. Turkey’s membership is unpopular” (Grabbe 2004b: 2). The hesitant politicians have let this sentiment take root in the wider public, but it is a sentiment with no future potential. Not only is Turkey strategically an important country because of its geographical position between Europe and the Middle East, it is also a test case for the soft power tool in a wider sense. The soft power tool is at stake because its bargaining power rests on the membership option being real (Grabbe 2004b). So the civilization as boundary marker is not an option for the EU23. Still, it is required that countries show their willingness to be like Europeans: “Turkey will not be allowed to join unless all the member-states are convinced that the Turks share European values” (Grabbe 2004c: 3)24. However,“At a macro level, the biggest impact of future Turkish membership will be on the mind maps of EU officials and politicians” (Everts 2004: 2, my underlining). Taken together, the Centre for European Reform advocates a view that stresses the possibility for changing its environment by crossing well established boundaries of the mind - such as the one based on civilization - with underwhelming soft power. Through a sustained focus on enlargement and integration - soft power – “Europe will run the 21st Century” (to paraphrase the title of Leonard 2005). The CER has a very clear view on how to create security and on how the power of shaping mindsets through economic and political integration can be superior to military might. Taken together with the practical patterns of interaction of the think tank (which placed the think tank with links to a range of different actors) it seems as if this way of understanding security and approaching security policy is a strong feature of the European field of security. The European Union and NATO have both used enlargement as a strategy to stabilise the strategic environment and enlargement and integration is still a strong part of EU’s strategy. CER is certainly there to advocate this view of security.

Conclusion This article has argued that think tanks are important actors in the creation of a field of security which has been forming in Europe since the end of the Cold War. They are important to study if we want to understand the processes that go on and which shape security understandings. The article argued that the Anglo-American definition of a think tank did not meet the needs of the European case. Instead of a focus on a specific organizational form a definition should focus on the policy research function and a set of analytic and policy advisory practices. This entailed not distinguishing between think tanks and research centres and discarding the notion that research is detached and not part of the political process. The article then argued for an approach to think tanks that focused on ideas, but added a dimension of practical patterns of interaction to the idea approach. Through a study of both ideas and practical, everyday contacts, the importance of a think tank could be evaluated. I proceeded to give a brief history of European think tanks and evaluated where think tanks stand today. I argued that some think tanks were more actively linked to other think tanks and to political practice, and that such think tanks were interesting to study. In the second half of the article I turned to an example of a European think tank which has actively tried to shape European ideas of security: The Centre for European Reform. I reviewed its practices and analysed what idea of security the CER had advocated for. The Centre for European Reform advocated a largely non-military approach to security – the underwhelming power of integration – and stressed that the biggest changes in the future would be in the mindsets of politicians. They stressed that through a sustained focus on breaking down boundaries of the mind, European soft, underwhelming power could make “Europe run the 21st century”.

Attention to the think tanks in Europe is needed because they take active part in shaping the ideas that guide policies. But as Diane Stone reminds us “It is easy to exaggerate the importance of these organisations and dangerous to accept uncritically their own statements of influence” (Stone 1996: 7). But through thorough analysis of a range of different actors using a broad definition of think tanks, and through studying their ideas and the practical patterns of interaction they engage in, we may be able to see a glimpse of the war of ideas that has been taking place since the end of the Cold War and which will continue into the future.


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1 There are seven political foundations in Germany: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) linked to the SPD, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) close to the CDU, the Hans-Seidel-Stiftung (HSS) close to the CSU, the FriedrichNaumann-Stiftung (FNS) close to the FPD, the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung (HBS) close to the DGB, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (HBS) linked to the Greens, and the Rosa-Luxembourg-Stiftung (RSL) affiliated to the PDS (Notre Europe 2004: 18).

2 It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss this in detail but the implications for constructing an analysis of the European field of security are clear: Research centres – and possibly even university research - cannot be excluded from the analysis on a priori assumptions about them standing outside the process of formulating ideas. The practices may be different from the think tank practices though (see for instance Eriksson and Sundelius 2005).

3 The exclusion of CERI demonstrates how artificial a definitional framework can be. The premise in Stone and Denham (2004) is that the definition of ‘think tank’ has been too narrow. However, they still want to stick to some kind of definitional exclusion of some types of organisations – and hence exclude CERI while including the Robert Schuman Centre in Florence. Of course this is partly because of a difference in interest between this thesis and Stone and Denham (2004). They want to map the world of think tanks for the sake of understanding the concept of think tank while for me the think tank is merely a locus of idea formation and not initially interesting because of organisational form. However, with their insistence on epistemic community approaches it seems paradoxical to exclude the CERI from the definition.

4 In IR the concept of epistemic community is associated with Haas (1989). Haas defines epistemic communities as “communities of shared knowledge” (Haas 1989: 377). An epistemic community is a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue area. The concept thus relates to scientific knowledge communities.

5 Advocacy coalitions are conceptually similar to epistemic communities. The concept was coined by Sabatier (1988). He argued that in most policy areas there would be multiple and conflicting views of the issues and of which solutions should be chosen. Groups of people advocating different views would fight each other on the basis of core ideas about the policy and more specific ideas derived from those basic ideas (Sabatier 1988; Peters 1998).

6 I will not go into the debate about ideas here. My take on studying ideas would take its inspiration from poststructuralism – Foucault (1977) or Laclau & Mouffe (1985). But since the article is about the European think tanks and not about discourse analysis I leave the discussion here.

7 When going to the source of the concept of demi-monde an interesting feature pops up: The term was originally used in a pejorative sense about women living on the outskirts of society and enjoying a doubtful reputation (oed.com). The more practical and concrete usage of the word, which Diane Stone seems to advocate, erases this feature. However, it seems that in the debate about European security, the thinks tanks are actually often overlooked and thought less of. Their status is much more tied to the original version of the word demi-monde, than the think tank literature would have it. For that reason, it has not been considered comme il faut to study them and perhaps for that reason their influence on the formulation of European policy ideas has been neglected in the academic debates about European security.

8 DUPI was closed on December 31, 2002. The activities were carried over into the new Danish Institute for International Studies which was established on January 1, 2003. DIIS was a merger of four research institutes: Copenhagen Peace Research Institute (COPRI), Centre for Development Research (CUF), The Danish Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (DCHF) and The Danish Institute for International Affairs (DUPI).

9 Notre Europe has counted the number of Euro-specific think tanks (meaning think tanks with a focus on European policy issues) created from the 1940es to 2004. In the first three decades only one think tank was created per decade, in the 1970es they report the creation of two, in the 1980es they report the creation of ten, in the 1990es they report that 24 Euro-specific think tanks were created and between 2000 and 2004 six think tanks were created. (Notre Europe 2004: 20, table 3).

10 Of Euro-oriented think tanks 95 % of researchers are not based in Brussels but in the Member States of the European Union (Notre Europe 2004: 25)

1 My own experience as a visiting fellow the Programme for Strategic and International Security Studies at the Graduate Institute for International Studies in Geneva is that Genevan think tanks are not central in relation to the production of a social space of European security. The think tanks there focus on human security and humanitarian issues from a global perspective.

12 World Economic Forum holds its annual meeting in Davos in Switzerland.

13 He lists the following places and publications as “weak points in a global public sphere”(Wallace 2004): Geneva, Paris, NY, Washington, International Herald Tribune, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, BBC World, and CNN.

14 Sherrington (2000) includes Forward Studies Unit, The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), the European Policy Centre, The Philip Morris Institute, The European Institute for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP), the Federal Trust, the European Policy Forum (UK), the Institute of European Affairs (IEA) (Ireland), European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) (Maastricht), Institute for Economic Affairs (UK), Demos (UK), the Clingendael Institute (Netherlands), the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Germany), the Austrian Institute of Economic Affairs, the Danish Institute of International Affairs, the Instituto de Estudoes Estrategicos e Internacionais (Portugal), Institute of International Affairs and Foreign Policy (Spain), KAS (Germany), Istituto Affari Internationali (Italy). She also includes the following networks of think tanks: TEPSA (Transeuropean Policy Studies Association), European Strategy Group, the European Security Analysis Network, and the one mentioned above between Clingendael, DGAP in Bonn, SWP in Munich, IFRI in Paris, RIIA in London, and the WEU Institute for Security Studies in Paris (which is now the EU institute for Security Studies).

15 One criterion for excluding the think tank was if the home page was not translated into English. This indicates that the think tank’s primary target audience was the national context and not European-wide. Several German think tanks were excluded by using this criterion.

16 The director of the Foreign Policy section was (until November 2006) Mark Leonard who was formerly the director and founder of the Foreign Policy Centre in London, Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Washington DC, and a researcher at the think tank Demos (Leonard 2005). Mark Leonard has written extensively on European foreign policy and the strength of EU power and is a well-known figure in the think tank landscape in Europe.

17 Notre Europe (2004: 29-33) asked over 100 European think tanks what their primary activities were. Arranging meetings and conferences was mentioned among the principal activities by over 70 % of the think tanks.

18 In March 2001 the publication “Europe’s military revolution” (Andréani, Bertram and Grant 2001) brought together the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Stiftung Wissenshaft und Politik (Berlin) and CER in anattempt to outline a path to a genuinely common defence and foreign policy for the European Union. The publication suggested that the position as Commissioner of External Relations and that of High Representative for foreign policy be merged into one position. This idea was later to be found in the work on the Future Convention on Europe.

19 From informal talks with a former employee in DG Enlargement, I learned that CER was one of two think tanks which were considered influential (the other being Centre for European Policy Studies). This is supported by the fact that two specialists from the CER team have been recruited by the EU. Heather Grabbe took up working with the European Commission (DG Enlargement), and Steven Everts joined the cabinet of Javier Solana (CER 2004: 3).

20 Apart from these interactions, I have found that the CER has published with or held meeting with the following: EUISS, War Studies King’s College, IISS, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (Berlin), Fondation pour la Récherche Strategique (Paris), Clingendael, Brussels Office for Defence Info. In the US the CER has interacted with the Atlantic Community Initiative and the Brookings Institute.

21 In 2004 alone CER published three essays and ran five seminars on Turkish accession to the European Union (CER 2002: 2).

22 It is quite amusing that Mark Leonard uses this understanding of power to describe the EU in a positive way. Foucault wrote his analysis in an attempt at uncovering the hidden power in society and has most often been used as a critique of power holders.

23 On the matter of Turkey, CER is more insisting than other think tanks and institutions in the European Security Field. But the trend is the same: the boundary drawn by Huntington is not accepted. Given that Heather Grabbe and Steven Everts took up work in the EU after they left the CER and coauthored the pamphlet “Why Europe should embrace Turkey” with CER (Barysch, Grabbe, Everts 2005) indicates that the idea of embracing Turkey is present several places and is spreading in the field.

24 The publication reads almost as if Heather Grabbe had already taken up her new position in DG Enlargement (which she did in 2004) and is talking from the viewpoint of the Commission. The basic idea is that Turkey should become a member, but that the country needs to show its willingness to change not only its legislation, but also take steps to implement the new legislation and work towards fertilizing Turkish soil for ‘European-ness. An interesting comment is on the role of the Commission in the accession negotiations: “Enlist the Commission negotiators as allies. They share the goal of accession, whereas not all of the member-states may do. The Commission’s job is to get a candidate country so well-prepared that no EU government can object to its entry” (Grabbe 2004c: 5)