Egmont, the Royal Institute for International Relations turned 70 on the 1st of June 2017. A high level Conference, "Belgium at the Centre - Of which Europe?" was held in the presence of His Majesty, the King, to commemorate the event on that same day, bringing over 500 guests at the Egmont Palace,
downtown Brussels, Belgium. This came on the hills of another conference entitled, "Unthinking Eurocentrism about Africa."
"Change is here to affect us all...diversity amidst less inclusion; a post-paternalistic and post-ideology society, where distance is not merely geographic but between humans, that's where we are right now," says Frans Timmermans, 1st Vice-President of the European Commission and former Dutch Foreign Minister, at the opening of the debate.
Christine Defraigne, President of the Belgian Senate, on her part highlighted the importance of Parliamentary diplomacy in networking. In explaining why Parliaments develop international programmes, she said they strengthen each other as instruments of democracy, for indeed democracy begins at Parliament. Through networking, they build capacity as well as bilateral friendships, which makes sense that they participate in election monitoring.
Meanwhile, Bernard Gilliot, President of the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium, portrayed the need for what he called Economic Diplomacy, whereby support is crucial from various Belgian Embassies abroad to initiate business deals, especially in a world where protectionism and geopolitical tensions are becoming more rampant.
Indeed, Paul Dujardin, CEO and Artistic Director of BOZAR (the internationally recognized and interdisciplinary Arts Centre in Brussels) agreed that the world is changing rapidly. He noted that culture is not a one-way ticket but involves people-to-people interaction within a cultural space that goes beyond the physical to the state of mind. He also disclosed that there are some 70 museums in Europe.
Talking on bilateral diplomacy, Anic Van Calster, Director General of Bilateral Affairs at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed the need to analyse areas in which more can be accomplished as this is important in determining policy. Building bridges, selling Belgium to others, and embarking on effective multilateralism were some of the areas of focus she pointed to.
In light of the foregoing, what is the way forward to face the future? "Be precise on specific issues geared to bring about change in understanding while respecting the difference between what is politically correct and incorrect," says Chairman of Egmont Institute, Viscount Etienne Davignon.
"To govern is to plan ahead...In 1947, building on the ruins of war, far-sighted leaders and academics joined forces in setting up the Royal Institute for International Relations (later known as Egmont)... Think-tanks have now become an intrinsic part of diplomacy in the twenty-first century ... Based on a mandate of scholarly independency, an institute like Egmont also constitutes a window for thinking out of the box," says Didier Reynders, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
"The responsibility of any institution lies in its ability to evolve so that it can best fulfil its original mission. I think I can safely say that as far as Egmont is concerned, this has been achieved," concludes Chairman Davignon.
Egmont has both a European Affairs Programme and an African Programme, each hosting high-level meetings, fostering interdisciplinanary research, all aimed at strengthening diplomatic relations, widening networks, and reinforcing Belgium's role and credibility on the European and international scene.