Best think-tanks in Europe (Part I)

3 days ago the annual „Global Go To Think Tank Report”, prepared by the team led by Professor James G. McGann at the University of Pennsylvania, was published. Its launch is like a feast for many think-tanks around the world, finding themselves as leaders of many different categories of the report.

As I wrote in one of my older articles, the world of think tanks is dominated by those from the Anglo-Saxon sphere, and most importantly – by the US. According to the Report, there are 1872 think-tanks in the US (just for comparison: there are 512 think-tanks in China, 444 in the UK and 225 in Germany).

The phenomenon of think tanks is, though, present in other parts of the world, too, especially in Europe. Therefore, based on the “Global Go To Think Tank Report”, here I present  European think tanks that I find really worth following due to their expertise and creativity. I am focusing on think-tanks covering defence, national security, foreign policy and international affairs. This is the first part of the list, more think-tanks will be presented in further parts. I do not include Polish think-tanks in the list – but please be sure that there are many great research institutes in my country and they deserve a separate article.

French Institute of International Affairs (IFRI) – the leading French think-tank founded by Thierry de Montbrial who remains its Executive Chairman and is responsible for the idea of the annual World Policy Conference. In its research, IFRI covers a broad range of regions: the EU, the US, Russia and other parts of the former USSR, Asia, Africa the Middle East. Its African portfolio, focused i.e. on North Africa and Sahel, is well-known and well-acknowledged among the global experts in the field of security and international affairs. IFRI was founded in 1979 and was inspired by the Anglo-Saxon model of policy-oriented, independent research. It hires more than 30 experts and runs 10 programmes. It is based in Paris and also runs a smaller office in Brussels.

Chatham House – one of the oldest and most notable think-tanks in the world, founded in 1920 as the British Institute of International Affairs, now known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Chatham House is acknowledged for its global outreach and expertise, as well as for forming “The Chatham House Rule” of seminars and diplomatic discussions, securing the anonymity of speakers and discussants performing against Chatham House’s members (and both the events and the membership are quite prestigious). Therefore, it pulls hundreds of international guests annually. It publishes three globally known titles: “The World Today” (a magazine), “International Affairs” and “Journal of Cyber Policy” and organises grand events, including

Centre for European Policy Studies – one of the leading Brussels-based think-tanks, devoted to European affairs and skilled especially in macroeconomics. A large entity with approximately 60 researchers running programmes focused not only on the economy but also on the future of the EU, Brexit, migration and the EU neighbourhood. CEPS flagship event is called “Ideas Lab” reaches way beyond traditional EU affairs and covers a broad range of global trends. On the margins of this conference, CEPS organises a special programme titled “Young Thinkers for Europe”. I had a chance to participate in it in 2017. CEPS is also active in the educational market. Since 2015 it runs the CEPS academy, teaching about various EU policy areas.

German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) – a public German think-tank focused on the advisory to the government and Bundestag and, on a smaller scale, to the international organisations, Germany is a part of. SWP delivers “solid academic research” and places an emphasis on the independence and diversity of its 50 researchers. SWP focuses largely on the EU issues and therefore opened an office in Brussels in 2009. Other areas of research cover international security (SWP advises NATO), the Americas, Eastern Europe, Eurasia, MENA, Asia and global affairs. It runs tens of projects with partners from all over the world, like GIBSA – Germany, India, Brazil and South Africa Quadrilogue or Daimler EU-US Program. The latter one is run in cooperation with the Brookings Institution and the Centre for European Reform and consists of, for instance, a high-level Daimler Forum run annually in the US.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – an international, independent (but largely funded by the Swedish government) research institute devoted to studies on “conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament”. It was founded in 1966 and is best known for its extensive database and the Annual Review on the size of defence spending and other security and peace details from all over the globe. SIPRI has an office also in Beijing. The total number of SIPRI employees is around 60 people. The institute hosts guest researchers, too. In 1991-2002 Adam Daniel Rotfeld (later Polish Minister of FA) headed SIPRI.

European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) – founded in 2007 in London, now present with its offices also in other European capitals, precisely in Brussels, Madrid, Warsaw, Berlin, Rome, Sofia and Paris. It has over 60 employees from some 25 countries. It is an independent think-tank with a pan-European spirit where ideas about the future of Europe are to be shared. It conducts programmes broader than Europe and covers such areas of research as Asia and China, European Power, Middle East and North Africa, Wider Europe. It is also known for its Council consisting of prominent Europeans, with a global outreach and influence, including Carl Bildt, Emma Bonino, Sebastian Kurz, Kristalina Georgieva, Ana Palacio and many more, meeting annually at a grand gathering. ECFR is led by Mark Leonard, who is also a host of the ECFR’s interesting and well-known podcast “World in 30 Minutes” (if I write an article on best foreign policy podcasts one day, it will definitely be included).

Clingendael, Netherlands Institute of International Affairs – an independent think-tank founded in 1983, known in the foreign affairs world mostly for its well-established Diplomatic Academy, running over 100 yearly tailor-made training courses. It also publishes “Clingendael Magazine”/”The Clingendael Spectator” that is fully accessible online. Clingendael runs several international affairs programmes, focused on conflict and fragility, security and defence, European neighbourhood, the European Union, trade and globalisations, strategic foresight, migration and sustainability. It proves that Clingendael has a global outreach and focuses on modern, cross-border, non-state problems that shape the world we live in. I mostly remember their long-term project and publications on digital diplomacy that I refer to in my public diplomacy course. It was led by Jan Melissen, one of the best public diplomacy experts.

Carnegie Moscow Center – led by prominent Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center has been conducting research on Russia and the former Soviet Union countries for more than 20 years – and is able to continue to do so even under Russian regulations on foreign agents. It is a branch office of one of the oldest think-tanks in the world – the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace with the HQ in Washington, DC. Carnegie Moscow Center provide a broad research on domestic and foreign policies, social, economic and cultural issues, as well as nuclear non-proliferation. This is why such issues as Central Asia dynamics, Putinology, Russian Ideology, war and peace in the Caucasus, and Chinese-Russian relations (with a great expert Alexander Gabuev) are broadly covered and brought to Western readers.

Razumkov Centre – a non-governmental think-tank founded in 1994 in Ukraine. It focuses its research mainly on Ukrainian affairs and various public policies of the country, including foreign policy, national security, defence, but also international and regional security matters. It hires some 35 people full-time and cooperates with over 100 exerts on particular projects. Razumkov Centre is well-known for its opinion polls carried out by its Sociological Service and bringing many analytical data on the views of the people that the government of Ukraine and foreign partners can learn from. The Centre is named after Olexander Razumkov who broadly contributed to the formation of the foreign policy of Ukraine.

German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) – a unique type of a think-tank that is network-based. It underlines its nonpartisan and non-profit and independent character and a 60-year-old tradition. It consists of over 30 experts covering transatlantic relations, European integration, Russia and Eurasia affairs, as well as international security policy, energy policy, global economics, the Middle East and China (A very broad range of issues). It has more than 2500 members who cooperate digitally and in forums in Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Bonn, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich and Dresden. It aims at contributing to public debate and advising decision makers. It publishes “Berlin Policy Journal” and is well-known for its “Foreign Policy Library”, both accessible online (the first one also via an app).

The next part of the list of the best European think-tanks will be published soon. A separate article on Polish think-tanks is planned, too. Hope you find this series useful!

The think-tank series of blog posts includes also:

5 reasons why think-tank are soft power tools

Best think-tanks in Europe (Part II)

Best think-tanks in Europe (Part III)

Best think-tanks in Poland (Part I)

Best think-tanks in Poland (Part II)


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