Alternative future relationships between security and defence policy, and the European Research Area

Recognising the far-reaching implications of the EU’s emerging defence and security dimension1, the Research and Innovation Directorate of the European Commission funded SANDERA, a ‘blue sky’ foresight research project exploring the relationship between European security and defence policy, on the one hand, and research policy on the other. A carefully planned and executed foresight exercise, the project yielded a set of detailed scenarios suggesting how the relationship might evolve between now and 2030. The scenarios offer valuable orientation to forward-thinking practitioners in both policy domains.

Above all, SANDERA’s results will be of interest to anyone responsible for anticipating future developments affecting the construction of the European Research Area (ERA)2. The ERA is composed of all research and development activities, programmes and policies in Europe which involve a transnational perspective. Together, they enable researchers, research institutions and businesses to increasingly circulate, compete and co-operate across borders.

While SANDERA produced a range of helpful analytical outputs (including a ‘Policy Analysis Toolkit’, which is available at under ‘Activities & Output/Output’, and a thoughtful analysis of change indicators), the project’s primary focus was elaborating scenarios. Noting that “the goal of any foresight exercise is not to forecast but to initiate debate and to raise awareness of important issues which might otherwise be overlooked”, the consortium proceeded to construct four contrasting visions of how the relationship between the ERA and defence research and innovation policy might evolve over the next two decades.

The four scenarios – each describing a possible dominant ‘tone’ in the relationship – are illustrated below (Figure 1):


Figure 1: Four scenarios to discuss the future interaction between ERA and security and defence research and innovation policy

Source: The Future Impact of Security and Defense Policies on the European Research Area3. SANDERA Final Project Conference, Brussels, 10 May 2011.


SANDERA researchers assert that their contrasting visions are designed “to help policy makers and other stakeholders to identify the implications of certain policy developments and specific policy decisions” that may involve “a move towards a closer (or more distant) relationship between defence research and the ERA”. Indeed, accompanying each of the four scenarios is a concise list of opportunities, challenges and recommendations for policy makers to consider (Figure 2). 


Figure 2 - Summary of the policy implications of the four scenarios

Source: The Future Impact of Security and Defense Policies on the European Research Area3. SANDERA Final Project Conference, Brussels, 10 May 2011.

In approaching their task, the researchers started out with a few basic assumptions (what they refer to as ‘common themes’) that apply to all the scenarios – assumptions which themselves provide useful indications of what the future might hold. For example, it is assumed that within the EU “stringent budgetary constraints will persist at least until 2025” and that “Asia and in particular China and India will become strong powers in science and technology”. It is further assumed that “the EU’s defence policy will be primarily concerned with events in the European neighbourhood” (including the Mediterranean and Eurasia) and that ‘expeditionary security’, i.e. the Petersberg Tasks4 of the European security and defence policy (ESDP), will become part of the EU agenda.

But while the four scenarios share some common assumptions, there are major differences. The key difference, say the researchers, is the degree of ‘vertical integration’ – i.e. how far the two respective policy domains are ‘Europeanised’. While the Indifference scenario foresees weak vertical integration of all policy domains concerned, the Integration and Competition scenarios show strong vertical integration. The Cooperation scenario, meanwhile, is characterised by continued weak vertical integration in the defence domain but strong (demand-led) integration in the ERA. The main policy challenge in the Cooperation scenario is to maintain the essential division between the ERA and the defence sphere while exploiting potential synergies.

Finally, while SANDERA stresses that it has not made normative policy recommendations as to which scenario would present a preferred future, the foresight exercise offers guidance for policy makers when deliberating alternative future relationships between defence research and innovation, and the ERA. Anyone dealing with these policy domains moving forward would certainly stand to benefit from reading the project’s Final Scientific Report.


1 European Council, Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy – Providing Security in a Changing World, Brussels, 11 December 2008. See at:

2 See:

3 See:

4 See:

SANDERA - The future impact of security and defence policies on the European Research Area (duration: 1/6/2009 – 31/5/2011). FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities, Activity 7 “Foresight activities”, Research area 7.4 “Blue sky research on emerging issues affecting European S&T”. Collaborative project (small and medium scale focused research project).


Contact: Andrew James,