Diverging Narratives of Democracy in Europe

Peter J. Verovšek, Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics/International Relations at the University of Sheffield and British Academy Mid-Career Fellow, joined us in a conversation about the challenges facing Europe’s unity. In this interview, he sheds light on the factors preventing intellectuals from actively and effectively addressing these challenges.


“If you have a kind of conception of democracy based on a national popular sovereignty, then you do not necessarily see populism as a problem.”


What is dividing Europeans and what is holding them together?

I believe that the biggest thing uniting Europeans is the awareness that Europe is becoming an ever-smaller part of the world both economically and (geo-)politically. I think that many Europeans are aware of the fact that in order to keep punching above their economic and political weight, they must do it through Europe, in the form of the EU; in other words, they must work together. Unfortunately, I think what so often divides Europe is precisely a lack of agreement on what the EU should be doing in common. There is not so much disagreement on external policies like trade, but rather more on the enforcement of domestic norms, on how to protect democracy at home, and on how regional funds should be spent. The agreement holding Europeans together is by and large found within the international challenges with which the EU is confronted.


“Until we have a common conception of what it means to have democracy both at home and the European level, it will be difficult to reach agreement on what the EU’s role is.”


Which role do different narratives of democracy play in this respect?

I am convinced that different conceptions of democracy have developed in Western and Central Europe; populism, even the conceptualisation of it, is an obstacle in this regard. If your central point of reference is 1989, with the experience of Communism fresh in your mind and body, of being under the thumb of Moscow and with a feeling of not having control, then it is very easy to interpret populism not as a problem, but instead as an expression of popular sovereignty, of the desire of control on the part of the people of the national community that fought so much against the external control of the Soviet Union. They [the post-Communist states] did not fight so hard to get out from under the thumb of Moscow merely to once again cede power to Brussels. If you have a conception of democracy based on a national popular sovereignty, then you do not necessarily see populism as a problem. Whereas the Western perspective, which comes out of 1945 and is defined by the importance of individual rights like press freedom and rights to assembly rather than popular sovereignty, has been institutionalised at the European Union and various international organisations in the West. In that liberal perspective and conception of the rule of law and democracy, it is very clear that even the slightest thought of populism is problematic. Until we have a common conception of what it means to have democracy both at home and the European level, it will be very difficult to reach an agreement on what the EU’s role is in Europe and how the EU should relate to its own member states.


“We [academics] complain a lot about ‘fake news’ and the degradation of public discourse. I believe in many ways it is an obligation for those of us who … have the luxury and privilege of being able to think about these things for a living, to actually enter into the public sphere …”


What could and should the scientific community and academies do to deal with this challenge?

The academic community has an important role to play. We [academics] complain a lot about ‘fake news’ and the degradation of public discourse. I believe that in many ways it is an obligation for those of us who approach these issues academically – who have the luxury and privilege of being able to think about these things for a living – to actually enter into the public sphere and provide our own perspectives in order to ensure that these issues are heard and are debated in a productive manner. This would help to ensure that a deliberative debate is occurring and not just polarisation or mere shouting. Therefore, I think there is an important role for public intellectuals to play in this process. Unfortunately, a lot of the ways intellectuals are educated these days do not help with that. We are trained to be scholars, there is a lot of pressure for publication and a lot of institutional incentives that push against our entrance into the public sphere and against us taking the time to engage in things like deliberative polling in town halls, as well as to engage in public debates when we are under an incredible pressure to produce research ‘outputs’, to teach more and to confront more administration at the university level. Economic factors and obligations push intellectuals against getting engaged with the public sphere.


“Academies provide fora for academics to engage with the public, to do more deliberation about important public affairs and stimulate public discourse that is more about reaching an agreement than merely about fake news and polarisation.”


Perhaps European academies could play a bigger role here, by helping to raise the profile of that kind of public engagement for academics. Academies provide fora for intellectuals to engage with the public, to do more deliberation about important public affairs and stimulate public discourse that is more about reaching an agreement than merely about fake news and polarisation.


This interview was originally conducted at the conference ‘Europe on Test: The Onus of the Past – and the Necessities of the Future’, organised by the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and ALLEA in October 2019.

Project on research ethics and research integrity successfully concluded

After three years of work on the ENERI (European Network of Research Ethics and Research Integrity) project, ALLEA and its partners have successfully concluded the project during a final conference at the end of October in Brussels.

As a project, ENERI sought to improve the exchange between experts in research ethics and research integrity across Europe by providing learning material and platforms for exchange for research integrity and ethics practitioners.

While working on this project ALLEA built valuable relationships with the European networks for research ethics, ENRIO, and for research integrity, EUREC, which are an excellent basis for future joint activities and will be put to good use.

The main outcomes of ENERI are:

1) The ENERI E-community

The e-community is a platform for experts in research ethics and research integrity to discuss and share information and documents across Europe. The community is growing and hosts currently just fewer than 200 members. The project ended but the community, which is hosted on SINAPSE, a service provided by the European Commission, will continue to exist.

It is still possible to become a member of the group. To do so, please send a message to Panagiotis Kavouras (kavouras@chemeng.ntua.gr), the administrator of the page.

2) The Research Integrity Handbook

The handbook takes stock of different practices concerning the investigation of research misconduct in different parts of the continent. In the absence of harmonized and formalised European legislation the handbook compiled existing best practices. It is used as a basis for further harmonization on the European level, but also to assist countries with emerging research ethics and integrity structures to quickly establish common standards.

3) The ENERI decision tree

The decision tree is a handy tool for researchers as well as members of research ethics and research integrity committees to reflect on ethical issues and challenges before and during research. It is strongly recommended to work with the ENERI decision tree alongside the H2020 Ethics self-assessment and the European Commission‘s guidelines on ethics and data protection .

ENERI has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 710184.

More information on: www.eneri.eu

Let’s be FAIR! ALLEA presents recommendations for sustainable data sharing in the humanities

A new ALLEA report provides key recommendations to make digital data in the humanities “Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable”, in line with the FAIR principles. The document is designed as a practical guide to help scholars, research funders, professionals and policymakers navigate the shift towards a sustainable data sharing culture.

In a digital world, the abundance of data offers new opportunities for all research fields, including the humanities, where the digitisation of texts, images, sounds, video recordings and other data types can significantly contribute to advancing research, while also transforming methodologies and scholarly communications.

But data requires management, and data management requires common guidelines for good implementation. In recent years, the FAIR principles have been widely adopted as best practice in data management for research and other professional fields. For instance, they are quickly gaining ground in galleries, libraries, archives, and museums, whose data collections hold crucial resources for scholars in the humanities.

Addressing these developments, the ALLEA report “Sustainable and FAIR Data Sharing in the Humanities” helps translate these principles into practice. It proposes technical, legal and ethical considerations to construct, store, preserve, disseminate and publish data in such a way that they can be retrieved, accessed, reused, and interoperable.

“To exploit the true potential of humanities scholarship, and to share and combine data across disciplines to address big challenges, we need an awareness and common understanding of the FAIR principles and the nuances of their implementation. It is clear from ongoing discussions in scholarly communication and through the development and rapid proliferation of the Open Science paradigm that the FAIR principles are having a sustained impact on research practice. To support scholars and institutions aiming to produce FAIR data, this report combines practical advice on how to align with the principles, with a focus on practical guidance from a humanities perspective. We hope they prove useful in the collective effort to move towards more a more open research landscape,” states Dr. Natalie Harrower, Chair of the ALLEA E-Humanities Working Group.

Data management lifecycle

Following the data management lifecycle, the report is structured in five stages: (1) identify, (2) plan, (3) collect/produce, structure & store, (4) deposit for preservation, cite & share, and (5) disseminate. For each phase, a set of practical recommendations and further reading are presented. The authors consider the differences among data sharing cultures across disciplines in the humanities but also encourage pathways towards interdisciplinary data practices.

Launch and Public Consultation

The publication was prepared by the ALLEA E-Humanities Working Group and builds upon the most recent developments in the FAIR and EU research policy landscape. A public consultation to seek feedback from researchers and practitioners was launched at ALLEA’s General Assembly, the annual meeting of European Academies, in May 2019. The working group received more than 200 suggestions, which were carefully considered and incorporated.

The report was launched at the 15th International Digital Curation Conference today. Follow the discussion at #ALLEAFAIR #IDCC20

ALLEA and Global Young Academy launch strategic partnership

ALLEA and the Global Young Academy have started a strategic partnership to foster closer ties between the two organisations. The partnership, formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding, capitalises on the diverse expertise and experience of both organisations.

The Global Young Academy (GYA) gives a voice to young scientists around the world with 200 members from 57 countries, while ALLEA, as the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities, represents more than 50 academies from over 40 countries in Europe. The partners seek to enhance knowledge exchange and establish a set of joint activities on topics of mutual interest at the interface between science, society and policy.

A first step in this cooperation seeks to strengthen cross-border collaboration between researchers from different age groups, disciplines and at different stages of their career paths. Building on and further consolidating existing forms of cooperation between ALLEA and GYA, the partnership kicks off with projects aimed at analysing and rethinking current research assessment models as well as scientific publication and peer-review practices.

Koen Vermeir, GYA Co-Chair:

The GYA aspires to empower young scientists in regional and global contexts. We see ALLEA as a natural partner for this mission and our collaboration will create new international platforms for intergenerational, interdisciplinary and intercultural dialogue. We are excited to work together more closely in the coming years towards improving the science system and to promote our common values of scientific excellence and service to society.

Antonio Loprieno, ALLEA President:

Promoting science as a global and borderless public good and creating an inclusive, diverse research environment are among our key priorities. Through this partnership, we can further pursue these objectives and enhance the dialogue between researchers at various career stages. In ALLEA we look forward to working even more closely with our colleagues of the Global Young Academy in the future.”

One upcoming joint project develops around a public symposium ‘Research Assessments that Promote Progress in Scholarly Work and Strengthen the Contract with Society’ in the Academy Palace in Brussels on 16 June 2020. The event will focus on the future direction of research; values, incentives and rewards in scientific work; the notion of excellence; and the role of research assessment in scholarly work. To register and read more about the event click here.

ALLEA 2020 General Assembly: Registration is now open

The UK member academies of ALLEA will host the next General Assembly in London on 3 and 4 June 2020. Registration to the event is now open.

On the occasion of the ALLEA General Assembly, a scientific symposium on “Research Collaboration in Changing Times” will take place on 4 June. In addition to the symposium, the event will feature the awarding of the 7th All European Academies Madame de Staël Prize for Cultural Values and the annual business meeting of ALLEA’s membership. The ALLEA General Assembly will bring together representatives of academies of sciences and humanities from 40 countries across the Council of Europe region, leading researchers, policy-makers and civil society representatives.

The core deliberations of the scientific symposium will touch on research collaboration in times of major transformations and challenges for Europe. Discussions will be of particular importance to those concerned with ensuring and enabling high quality international research collaboration.  Among others, core questions will cover how Europe can strike a balance between excellence in research and the development of underfunded regions, and how research can contribute to solving major societal challenges.

These questions will be explored during the three sessions of the Symposium:

  • Protecting Collaborative Research in a Turbulent Europe
  • Balancing Excellence and Regional Equality within Europe
  • Interdisciplinary Research: The Key to the Future?

Detailed descriptions of the individual sessions and the programme are available on the website.

The scientific symposium is free to all participants.

Confirmed speakers:

  • Professor Ash Amin, British Academy, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Mauro Ferrari, President, European Research Council
  • Professor Ivana Gadjanski, University of Novi Sad
  • Professor Anet Rezek Jambrak, Global Young Academy, University of Zagreb
  • Professor Joyce Tait, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in Genomics, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Ulrike Tillmann, Royal Society, University of Oxford
  • Professor Koen Vermeir, Co-Chair, Global Young Academy, French National Centre for Scientific Research