Tue. Sep 21st, 2021
What is strategic foresight?

Foresight is the discipline of exploring, anticipating and shaping the future by using collective intelligence in a structured, systematic and systemic way.  In practice, it involves exploring scenarios, identifying trends and emerging issues, and using them to steer better-informed decisions and build dynamic policy coherence, to steer the EU’s strategic choices. Effectively, foresight enables acting in the present with the future in mind.

Strategic foresight is foresight practiced by an institution with a view to inform its own policies. In order to support its transition-led political agenda, this Commission embeds foresight into its major initiatives, making full use of its research and knowledge capabilities.

Why is the Commission pursuing strategic foresight?

Ensuring a swift and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, that builds on the twin green and digital transitions, requires an informed, long-term perspective. Strategic foresight helps strengthen the culture of preparedness and designing future-proof EU legislation that serves both, the current needs and longer-term aspirations.

The annual Strategic Foresight Reports aim to heighten policymakers’ awareness of megatrends and emerging developments. The goal is to ignite strategic and inclusive EU-wide conversations on forward-looking European priorities. Their objective is to help the Commission adapt and improve its priority setting and support the work of the President in developing the Commission’s Work Programme.

What are the global trends identified in the 2021 Strategic Foresight Report?

The 2021 Strategic Foresight Report has identified four global trends set to impact the most on the EU’s capacity and freedom to act in the coming decades:

Climate change and other environmental challenges:

Climate change will continue to accelerate. On the current trajectory, global warming will probably surpass 1.5℃ in the next 20 years and head towards 2℃ by mid‑century, worsening the pressure on water and food safety worldwide. By 2050, 200 million people on a yearly basis are expected/projected to need humanitarian assistance partly due to ecological effects. Climate stress will challenge vulnerable groups and contribute to driving population displacement and migration, the proliferation of conflicts and possible violations of fundamental human rights.

Digital hyperconnectivity and technological transformations:

Technological acceleration and digitalisation will increasingly transform whole areas of society, the economy, labour markets, industry and the public sector, and could herald a new chapter of hyperconnectivity, and globalisation in services (from finance to tourism), the data economy, circular economy, primary production and advanced manufacturing.

Pressure on democracy and values:

Pressure on democratic models of governance and values are likely to persist. Geopolitical contestation among models of governance, interstate polarisation and tensions linked to ideological differences are likely to continue. As of 2020, 34% of the world’s population are living in countries where democratic governance is declining and only 4% in countries that are becoming more democratic

  • Shifts in the global order and demography: There are shifts and fragmentations in the global order. The world is becoming increasingly multipolar, with the economic centre of gravity shifting eastwards. Today, the economic weight of the ‘emerging 7′ (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, and Turkey) equates to around two-thirds of that of G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States), representing around 40% of global GDP. Population growth will remain uneven across regions, continuing in sub-Saharan Africa and stagnating in many advanced economies. The world’s population is expected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050, while the EU’s population share is expected to fall to 4.3%, to just over 420 million by 2050.
How can the EU strengthen its open strategic autonomy and global leadership?

This report underpins a shared long-term vision of the EU’s open strategic autonomy on the path towards 2050, highlighting the need for increased coherence, notably between domestic and external political agendas, and keeping in step with ongoing developments, across ten areas of action.

  1. Ensuring sustainable and resilient health and food systems: While the EU’s healthcare and food systems are among the most advanced in the world, the EU must reduce strategic dependencies on third countries for certain critical goods, including pharmaceuticals. The current pandemic has shown the need for a full review of EU structures and mechanisms for prevention of and response to cross-border health threats. A European Health Union would strengthen the EU’s ability to tackle forthcoming health crises. Additionally, the adoption of a legislative framework for a sustainable EU food system could ensure that all foods placed on the single market are increasingly sustainable. Biotechnology could play a key role in developing innovative and sustainable ways to protect harvests from pests, diseases and the effects of climate change.
  2. Securing decarbonised and affordable energy: Securing a sufficient supply of decarbonised and affordable energy is a key milestone on the path towards a greener and digital Europe. Reducing the EU’s fossil fuel dependency involves increasing the use of renewable energy and rapidly diversifying the EU’s energy supply. It also requires developing energy infrastructure, as well as new low-carbon, environmentally friendly solutions in the EU, and with key third country partners. Reaching its objective of climate neutrality by 2050 could help the EU reduce its energy dependency, from around 60% today, to 15%. This should be supported by significant progress on the circular economy.
  3. Strengthening capacity in data management, artificial intelligence and cutting-edge technologies: Europe’s digital sovereignty will depend on its capacity to store, extract and process data, while satisfying the basic requirements of trust and security, and respecting fundamental rights. The key challenge will be to firmly position the EU in the development and production of next-generation technologies, like semi-conductors. The EU should secure access to open, secure and transparent data, and high data-rated connections. It should also safeguard its leading edge in the development and deployment of trustworthy artificial intelligence.
  4. Securing and diversifying supply of critical raw materials: Critical raw materials are essential for the success of the EU’s green and digital transitions. A smart mix of industrial, research and trade policies with international partnerships could ensure sustainable and diverse supply. In most cases, industry is best placed to reduce strategic dependencies. Increasing the domestic capacity for primary and secondary raw materials could build on the Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, and the Circular Economy Action Plan. Novel ways to source resources, such as seabed and space mining should be explored further.
  5. Ensuring first-mover global position in standard setting: Standards benefit businesses in the EU by ensuring interoperability and safety, they reduce costs and facilitate companies’ integration in the value chain and trade. The EU’s record of accomplishments in setting internal rules and international standards provides a solid basis for a ‘first-mover advantage’ to safeguard and advance interests, while ensuring the safety and security of EU citizens.
  6. Building resilient and future-proof economic and financial systems: The EU’s financial system is undergoing profound shifts due to climate and technological changes, and because of Brexit. Sustained political determination to remove the remaining obstacles to market integration, and to fully implement the Capital Markets Union and Banking Union, is essential to strengthen the EU’s ability to absorb shocks and build stronger domestic financial markets. The EU financial system also has a key role in financing the transition to a climate-neutral economy and supporting resilience to the risks posed by climate change and environmental degradation. Launching a digital euro could also create new opportunities for citizens and businesses.
  7. Developing and retaining skills and talents matching EU ambitions: The EU’s future labour force will likely be smaller but better educated and more capable of adapting to the changing nature of work, automation and artificial intelligence. Therefore, the EU needs to ensure high-quality education and training, including effective digital education. Closing the gender pay gap would also improve employment rates. Continued support will be needed to youth employment through targeted support schemes, including through newly created green jobs. A long-term positive vision on migration will be important for labour markets in the future.
  8. Strengthening security and defence capacities and access to space: The EU needs to continue promoting peace, while working with partners in preventive diplomacy. Building trust and coordination among Member States, as well as shoring up the capacity to better anticipate challenges and risks could provide the EU with greater ability to act on defence and security matters. The further development of indigenous defence capabilities would increase the capacity of the EU to promote a rules-based international order, while strengthening the role of EU Member States in NATO. In this context, it is essential that the EU supports autonomous, reliable and cost-effective access to space, as it is key to effective communications, earth observation, manufacturing, as well as security.
  9. Working with global partners to promote peace, security and prosperity for all: To enhance its open strategic autonomy in the context of the economic and demographic shifts eastwards, the EU needs to strengthen coalitions of like-minded countries on key priorities and intensify diplomatic efforts to rally support for its initiatives. The EU will need to pursue more global and ambitious connectivity partnerships with specific countries and regions. The EU should also strengthen its partnerships with international organisations that are central to European and global stability, and help reform agendas. Multilateralism must adapt to remain fit for purpose.
  10. Strengthening the resilience of institutions: Public institutions and administrations need to be responsive to societal concerns and effective in delivering policies. The EU and Member States need anticipatory governance and future-oriented tools based on science and evidence, such as strategic foresight, to assess the relevance of impending risks and better equip themselves to better deal with crises. Greater preparedness also entails better monitoring of resilience to withstand challenges and undergo transitions in a sustainable, fair and democratic manner. The resilience dashboards, announced in the 2020 Strategic Foresight Report, are a first important step towards a more integrated approach for measuring wellbeing beyond GDP.
What about the focus of the previous and next Strategic Foresight Reports?

The first-ever Strategic Foresight Report, adopted in 2020, sets the scene for how we can make Europe more resilient. It considered EU resilience in four dimensions: social and economic; geopolitical; green; and digital. For each dimension, the report identified the capacities, vulnerabilities and opportunities revealed by the current pandemic, which need to be addressed in the medium- to long-term.

The 2020 Strategic Foresight Report also proposed prototype resilience dashboards to kick‑start discussions among Member States and other key stakeholders on how best to monitor resilience. These discussions can help assess resilience at EU and Member State level in view of emerging megatrends and anticipated challenges. An interactive tool to navigate the resilience dashboards is currently under construction. A public consultation on the draft resilience dashboards is ongoing until 30 September.

The 2022 Strategic Foresight Report will focus on a better understanding of the twinning between the green and the digital transitions, i.e. how they can mutually reinforce each other, including by using emerging technologies.

How are the Member States involved in strategic foresight?

Member States are represented in the EU-wide Foresight Network that brings together intelligence and foresight expertise from Member States administrations and the Commission, to foster exchanges and cooperation on forward-looking issues of strategic importance for Europe.

The EU-wide Foresight Network has two levels:

  1. The “Ministers for the Future”, designated by each Member State at the invitation of Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. They meet informally at least once a year. Their main role is to discuss and agree with the Commission on the main strategic priorities for the Commission’s strategic foresight agenda, take stock of progress, discuss key issues of relevance for Europe’s future and agree on follow-up. This work feeds into EU strategic programming.
  2. The work of the Ministers for the Future is supported by a network of senior officials from the national administrations, who meet at least twice a year to prepare the ministerial meetings and follow-up on their conclusions in working groups.

For further information: Press release