Building the future of EU strategic foresight – Speech by Vice-President Šefčovič at the annual conference of the European Policy and Strategy Analysis System

(Co-operators:
Photographer: Jennifer Jacquemart

European Union, 2020
Source: EC – Audiovisual Service)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


“Check against delivery”

First of all, my thanks to President Sassoli for his kind words, and to Anthony Teasdale for helping to reinforce the ESPAS community over the past few years.

It is crucial that we work together across EU institutions – and also with our partners – to build a resilient Union in the face of significant long-term challenges and palpable uncertainty.

We cannot expect the future to become less disruptive. Recent months have taught us that we need to equip ourselves with the means to tackle whatever challenges may arise, while keeping a political eye on any warning signs on the horizon.

This is what strategic foresight is about. Anticipatingexploring – and ultimately, acting, in a collaborative manner.

At the start of the mandate, even before COVID-19 emerged, President von der Leyen had asked me to lead our efforts to put strategic foresight at the heart of EU policy making.

It now forms part of our toolbox and helps us prepare major initiatives, by keeping the long-term objective of boosting resilience at the core of our short-term decision-making across all policy areas.

Before the pandemic, we were aware of the challenges posed by changing climate, facing our liberal democracies, or created by new technologies. COVID-19 has accelerated many of these mega-trends.

For instance, hyper-connectivity. As soon as the pandemic hit, over a third of the EU’s labour force shifted to teleworking. Global internet traffic surged by almost 40 percent between February and mid-April.

Meanwhile, the amount of data generated worldwide is set to grow to around 175 billion terabytes by 2025.

And yet, we live in an attention economy. As a recent JRC study showed, our attention online is a precious commodity and most of the information we consume is shaped and curated by algorithms.

According to the same study, 48 percent of Europeans use social media daily or almost daily. While these platforms have revolutionised the way we experience politics – by engaging more people – they also allow for the rapid dissemination of polarising and unreliable information. This negatively impacts our democracies.

In fact, democracies are in the minority globally for the first time since 2001 – according to the V-Dem Institute, down from 55 percent of countries ten years ago to 48 percent today. The competition between political systems is fiercer than ever.

It should prompt us to carefully assess what our future partners, levers, options and strategies will be.

This is just one example of a cross-cutting topic where strategic foresight can deepen our understanding of the dynamics at play across policy tracks.

That is why resilience took centre-stage in the first Commission annual Strategic Foresight Report, adopted in September. It sought to identify what COVID-19 has taught us about Europe’s geopolitical, green, digital, and social and economic resilience – where we are vulnerable, what capacities we have, and how to make the most of opportunities.

But resilience cannot act as a policy compass without proper monitoring. Our report therefore proposed new prototype dashboards, to be further developed with Member States – to assess and monitor resilience across the four dimensions.

We need to be able to answer a simple question over time: are our policies effectively making the EU more resilient?

The next report will offer comprehensive new resilience dashboards. But it will also provide in-depth analysis on our open strategic autonomy – clarifying the concept, identifying strategic dependencies, and proposing ways to reduce them.

This too is relevant across policy areas, while making clear that we do not have a protectionist or anti-transatlantic agenda.

Take our inability to counter India’s recent export ban of thirteen active pharmaceutical ingredients. This raises policy questions – and a range of options – related not only to trade, but also diversification of supply chains; intensification of ties with key partners; increase of strategic reserves; re-shoring of production when and where necessary; development of substitutes through innovation, and so on.

Open strategic autonomy is defined by:

  • our ability to reduce dependencies and strengthen the security of supply of key strategic assets,
  • while preserving the benefits of an open economy and supporting our partners around the globe.

To boost Europe’s open strategic autonomy, we need a long-term vision, whilst embarking on collaborative short-term actions, such as launching industrial alliances in batteries, raw materials, or hydrogen; shaping global economic governance and multilateralism; or building a health union.

It all requires a robust, dynamic and comprehensive assessment of key criticalities and strategic pathways. I hope to work closely with all of you on this.

Another forward-looking exercise I propose is the twinning of the green and digital transition.

For instance, we know that digital transformation currently has a carbon footprint price. Last year, data centres and data transmission networks accounted for some 2 percent of global electricity use.

Digital technologies, however, could also help reduce global emissions by up to 15 percent through innovation in the manufacturing, building, agriculture, services and transport sectors.

Artificial Intelligence and space technologies – notably Copernicus, our earth observation system – can be deployed to greatly facilitate the green transition.

The development of interoperable European cloud and edge infrastructure would reduce our digital energy needs, while helping ensure the EU’s technological sovereignty.

In any case, new technologies, will continue to have a huge impact on our societies. Many people are already looking to future steps forward, such as quantum computing. But can we assess where our competitive advantage lies and how best to exploit it?

At the same time, it is crucial to ensure we are not chasing technologies without addressing persisting problems – the skills gap and the challenges of creating an innovation-friendly entrepreneurial environment in Europe.

If we are seeking to shape the future of jobs, we need to take a systemic view of the labour market shifts driven not only by the digital, but also the green transition – something largely missing now. This concerns low-tech as well as high tech skills and should be addressed concurrently with our policies in education, a socially just transition and legal migration.

To make the overall picture clearer, we are developing a set of reference foresight scenarios on the future of the EU. We want to use this to stress-test policy ideas, assess our strengths and vulnerabilities, and reflect on which strategies we should apply going forward.

The scenarios could even become an integral part of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, the European Commission is the first major public administration to bring strategic foresight into the highest political level. But if we want to succeed, it must be a truly collaborative exercise.

With this in mind, I am launching an EU-wide Strategic Foresight Network, which will see EU institutions, Member States, think tanks, academia, civil society, and international organisations joining forces.

First, the network will help share best practices and build evidence-based anticipatory capacities in each Member State. Second, we will work together on foresight projects of common interest.

As I often say, foresight is not about the next election, but about the next generation. I very much look forward to working with you on this important endeavour in the months and years to come.

Thank you very much.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Access and hesitancy as major challenges surrounding covid-19 vaccination campaigns

Why climate change matters for future health professionals

UN envoy says he ‘is ready to go to Idlib’ to help ensure civilian safety amid rising fears of government offensive

MEPs back EU partnership agreement with Armenia

Can we ensure patients’ safety without taking care of healthcare workers?

George Floyd: these are the injustices that led to the protests in the United States

State aid: Commission approves €1.1 billion Polish scheme to further support companies affected by coronavirus outbreak

Climate change update: consistent global actions urgently needed as we are running out of time

Colombia’s former president says COVID-19 shows the importance of listening to indigenous peoples on how we treat the planet

Remittances could fall by $100 billion because of COVID-19 – here’s why that matters

Database of businesses linked to Israeli settlements ‘important initial step’ towards accountability: rights expert

This study wants every child in the UK to spend a night under the stars

Guinea-Bissau: Upcoming elections vital to prevent ‘relapse’ into instability, says UN envoy

Greenery: the miracle cure for urban living

Gender Equality in Medicine: are we now so different from the Middle Ages?

Sustainability, peace, security ‘best guarantee against instability’ Guterres to Security Council

To build the workforce of the future, we need to revolutionize how we learn

The International Women’s Day 2031

COP25: MEPs push for CO2 neutrality by 2050

6 ways social innovators are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus: The truth against the myths

ECB is about to lend trillions to banks

UN General Assembly celebrates 20 years of promoting a culture of peace

Except Poland, can climate change also wait until 2021 for the EU Market Stability Reserve to be launched?

A Brussels antithesis reveals where the EU is heading

UN welcomes ‘record’ Brussels conference pledge of nearly $7 billion to support Syrians

Yemen: Escalation in fighting must stop ‘before it’s too late’, Griffiths tells Security Council

14 innovative projects helping to save the planet and make the world a better place

Why flexible workspaces are the key to winning the talent war

Eurozone slowly but surely builds its Banking Union

Mountains matter, especially if you’re young, UN declares

Azeri natural gas will keep the EU warm soon

AI can help with the COVID-19 crisis – but the right human input is key

‘Do something’; UN relief chief urges Security Council action to stop the Syrian carnage unfolding ‘in front of your eyes’

JADE Spring Meeting 2017 – day 3: JADE Academy trainings, networking session and gala dinner – Excellence Awards winners revealed

Over 820 million people suffering from hunger; new UN report reveals stubborn realities of ‘immense’ global challenge

5 ways to make your organization a great sustainability partner

‘Deteriorating’ human rights in Belarus amounts to ‘wholescale oppression’: UN expert

UN chief welcomes ‘first concrete step’ in normalizing Eritrea-Ethiopia relationship

COVID-19 vaccines: MEPs call for more clarity and transparency

State aid: Commission approves a Polish scheme to compensate large companies for damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak and provide liquidity support

UN Convention that promotes mediation to resolve trade disputes moves closer to entry into force

More women in Latin America are working, but gender gap persists, new UN figures show

Good grub: why we might be eating insects soon

EUREKA @ European Business Summit 2014: A European patent system can help European businesses lead industrial research and innovation on a global scale

Terrorism ‘spreading and destabilizing’ entire regions, Guterres warns States, at key Kenya conference

Further reforms in France can drive growth, improve public finances and boost social cohesion

All for equality – 2020 is a pivotal year for Gender Equality

Questions and answers: Commission proposes SURE, a new temporary instrument worth up to €100 billion to help protect jobs and people in work

It’s getting harder to move data abroad. Here’s why it matters and what we can do

Parliament demands ban on neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the EU

EU farm policy reform: Council must be more flexible – we cannot waste more time

Coronavirus is creating retirement insecurity. These 10 steps can diffuse the timebomb of an ageing population

London wants new skyscrapers to protect cyclists from wind tunnels

EU ready to relinquish its internal tax havens

One Day in Beijing

The US reject EU proposal for prudential financial controls

Industrial producer prices on free fall and stagnant output

China by numbers: 10 facts to help you understand the superpower today

Car-free day – and the other 364 days of the year

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s