European think tanks and their BIG plans

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 24, 2022

Not too long ago, Politico ran a good piece on the BIG guys of Europe. BIG as in literally the think tank that bears that acronym. Those are the chaps who supported the October 7 debut of the Brussels Institute for Geopolitics (BIG). It has doughty supporters, having been launched by Europe’s big men – French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

BIG’s co-founder Luuk van Middelaar, a former speechwriter for former European Union (EU) Council president Herman Van Rompuy, described the early October launch as consistent with the “red carpet style of politics.” But his fellow co-founder Sébastien Lumet, acknowledged to Politico that such “optics” may not be consistent with BIG’s mission (which sounds like it wants to be more meaningful and impactful).

Mr Lumet is a former editor of foreign policy magazine Le Grand Continent. Fortunately, his colleague – Mr van Middelaar – also agrees that BIG wants to serve as a “bridge” between new geostrategic challenges and “the classic EU decision-making” on internal market matters like energy and AI.

The whole EU mission has, of course, given birth to many think tanks. As Politico notes, internal market dynamics played into the creation of the Centre for European Policy Studies in the 1980s. Bruegel was founded in the early days of the eurozone “to accompany that project”, in Mr van Middelaar’s words, and to help the bloc survive during the financial crisis. Of BIG, he says, “There is a new project, which is we have to become more geostrategic, and it is good to have a dedicated place as well”.

It probably helps that the new think tank is remarkably well-networked. Its third co-founder is Hans Kribbe, who Politico describes as “a longtime Brussels player now a partner at the lobbying firm Shearwater Global”. All three founders have serious connections, with France’s president even reading some of Mr van Middelaar’s work, according to Politico, while the Dutch philanthropic organisation Porticus has been providing “early support”.

But it is Mr Kribbe’s background and experience that are possibly one of the most interesting aspects of BIG’s emergence. According to Politico, he once “helped Moscow with comms in Brussels”, but stopped doing this after the 2014 Crimea invasion. It was an epiphany, with Mr Kribbe going on to write a book, ‘The Strongmen’ and drawing upon his time as a communicator for Russia as a reason to start BIG: “The experience showed me how the language of power works and it made me see that to uphold Europe’s values and interests we need to learn that language ourselves”.

BIG ambitions. At a big moment for Europe and the world order.