Bruegel Discussion: Why Think Tanks Matter to Policy Makers and the Public?

On the 28th January 2016 in Brussels, on the occasion of the “2015 Global Go To Think Tanks Report” presentation, published by the University of Pennsylvania, Brussels-based think tank Bruegel gathered representative of think tanks, NGOs, EU officials and business to discuss the role think tanks play in the policy making process and which value they bring to the public.

DSC00955Two case studies on the role of think tanks in Serbia and China were presented at the event. Milena Lazarevic, European Policy Centre (ECP) (Serbia), spoke about the environment in which think tanks in Serbia operate and how her think tank is making a difference in Serbia and in the wider Balkan region. Among others, the main problems ECP is facing today include: competition from hybrid organisations, less core funding available and little demand for research from the government. In order to tackle the problems, EPC has resorted to adopting a partnership-based approach to its work. The think tank has local partners inside Serbia and a wide network of partners abroad. EPC’s brings added-value to projects of organisations that mostly focus on activism by providing evidence-based approach and giving more structure to the projects, said Ms. Lazarevic. The presenter also stressed that, today, EU conditionality has a positive effect on the government. However, it is not going to be there forever, and it is important to empower civil society to pressure the government to keep moving forward when the conditionality is gone, noted Ms. Lazarevic.

Qian Bo, Minister-Counselor, Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the EU, believes that development of think tanks is extremely important for China, as the country constantly needs new innovative ideas. Moreover, according to the Minister-Counselor, think tanks help to improve governance. The next step is for the Chinese think tanks to build international networks and to promote China abroad through think tank diplomacy.

Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels was present at the event and the Executive Director, Olena Prystayko, asked a question: How can think tanks reach outside the countries they are based in? Ms. Lazarevic answered that one of the ways to do this is to use contacts of young researchers who have studied abroad.

Matt Dann, Secretary General of Bruegel, moderator of the event, closed this thought- provoking event and a very lively discussion that followed by stressing that legitimacy of think tanks comes from the quality of their work.