The role of think tanks in shaping EU policies
There are various institutions on the Old continent which employ highly educated people to think about our societies and to study social, political, economic and environmental issues. Traditionally, universities and later academies of science and research institutes, attracted smart people whose role was to develop new thinking about human affairs and to explain to power-holders and the public what is really going on in our societies and what is likely to happen in the future.
Many of these institutions, universities in particular, became the model for the New continent, which eventually turned them into centers of excellence with global significance. In return, the dynamic and entrepreneurial United States invented a specific type of policy institution which, in recent decades has started to take root and grow in significance in Europe.
In the 1950s the Americans labeled these entities with a strange but catchy name which is difficult to translate into other languages. They called them “think tanks”. Today there are hundreds of them on both sides of the Atlantic and they play an important role in shaping policies in Europe, America and beyond. European policymakers can hardly overlook their activities. Sometimes, think tanks are viewed as helpful allies, sometimes as problematic critics who not only have the capacity to see deeply into the decision-making arena, but can also raise the profile of a particular issue, reach out to a broader public and have an influence on policy.
Think tanks, are mostly small or mid-sized, independent institutions whose purpose is to study and analyze policies, generate new ideas and data, stimulate expert and public debate, advocate for particular socio-political changes, and educate a specific audience about a policy idea or issue. They are a quintessential outgrowth of modern, democratic and open societies, though they do sometimes have a presence in more closed and restrictive political environments.
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