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How to improve the Italian science diplomacy

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“Science and diplomacy are naturally allied. Energy security, food safety, global warming or pandemics: there is no global challenge that diplomacy can face without the help of the scientific community”. With these words, Emma Bonino, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, had opened the Meeting of Scientific Attachés, held in Rome on the 18th and 19th of July.  Sitting near Minister Bonino there was Maria Chiara Carrozza, the Italian Minister of University and Research: together they supervised the signature of a joint operative agreement between the Minister of Foreign Affair (Mae) and the National Council of Research (Cnr), which is the Italian largest research institution, ruled by the Government. However, the signature was just the beginning of a two-days Meeting, in which best practices were investigated to improve the Italian scientific diplomacy. 

It was the first Meeting of scientific attachés since ten years, though scientific cooperation has always been a primarily issue in the Italian foreign policy. Bearing in mind this, Minister Bonino ended her speech urging Italy to “come out from excessive closure, always fearing the “brain drain”: it is rather necessary help our scientists gain experiences abroad and then come back home”.

Into this political frame, the Minister of Research, Maria Chiara Carrozza, introduced a more specific goal: “In the Seventh Framework Programme, we had back just 9% of the total ammount of funds, while we gave about 14% of the total. This means a loss of above 2.5 billions euros. If we will perform the same during Horizon 2020, then the loss will be 3.5 billions: our Country cannot afford it”. So, within this tracks, the Meeting of Scientific Attachés had started.

The Meeting was structured in a series of thematic panels (research, university, entrepreneurship). In every panel the top figures of the main Italian research institutions were invited. There were representatives for Cnr, Italian Space Agency, National Institute of Astro-Physics, Elettra-Synchrotrone, Polytechnic Universities of Milan and Turin, Expo Milano 2015, Confindustria, STMicroelctronics Italia, and others. During their speeches, guests showed their excellences in research and, where needed, they suggested how scientific attachés can help them.

Scientific attachés were deeply interested, after a decade in which there hasn't been a strong central coordination. As a matter of fact, they kept thanking Embassador Andrea Meloni, the Director General for the Promotion of the Country System – a office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that promotes Italian research, culture and companies abroad. Embassador Meloni strongly wanted and organized this Meeting. After the sessions, but before Embassador Meloni and the attachés started a more confidential meeting (closed to the public), the attachés explained their complains and summarized the problems they face everyday.

Basically there were three kinds of problems. First of all, a problem in communicating the Italian excellence in scientific research. This was stressed by Matteo Pardo, attaché at the Italian Embassy in Berlin. He said that often German public opinion believes that Italian are great designers, but nothing more – often they cannot even imagine how many top scientists or technologies are Italian. A second problem was found in the scarcity of officials in the Embassies, despite the gigantic and oppressive bureacracy they have to face. Third, but one of the main problem, scientific attachés complained a chaotic situation of agreements and selfish policies of internationalization brought on by every single scientific institution. This chaotic situation often cannot permit the Embassy to find out best practices or excellences in which to invest energies.

The meeting was extremely “on the ground” and effective, expecially in finding the challenges to improve the Italian science diplomacy, a tool that the Nation cannot undervalue during this hard economic situation (by the way, the attachés paid by themselves the trip to Rome and back). Surely, in the very next months some interesting deliveries will comes out from this Meeting.

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