Written by Eamonn Noonan with Henry Eviston.
As is customary, EPRS hosted the second day of the annual ESPAS conference, which took place in late November (the video proceedings are available online). ESPAS is the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System, and this event has become the major interinstitutional foresight set piece of the year in Brussels. The event aims to promote cooperation between European bodies, working towards a common analysis of major global trends, and of the choices and challenges they pose for Europe.
The afternoon opened with a session on Global Power in 2030. Shada Islam, Director of Friends of Europe, sees that it is increasingly difficult to generate international consensus on most important issues, and suggests that a model based on ‘constellations’ could help: multilateral agreements in policy areas such as climate change, security cooperation or development initiatives, each bringing together different sets of countries.
Dr Bérénice Guyot-Rechard added that the EU must increase its visibility in South and South-Eastern Asia. The EU should seek mutually beneficial cooperation with India on joint priorities such as climate change and sustainable urbanisation. Nicholas Miailhe, President of the Future Society, noted that the EU does not lack the ability to innovate, but rather the business models needed to develop innovation, in contrast to the United States. He argued for a focus on European technological ‘champions’.
A specialist panel on foresight, ‘Thinking About Tomorrow Today’ asked how foresight can be better understood by politicians and the public. Mathew Burrows, of the Atlantic Council, argued that history is an effective tool to make the future relevant. Where leaders see concrete examples from the past, they are more likely to listen to arguments about the unintended consequences of their policies. This can help change how people think – a central objective of foresight. Florence Gaub, deputy director of the EUISS, sees the psychology of foresight as more of an art than a science. Inbuilt emotional traps make it difficult to think clearly about the future. Foresight practitioners should aim to be trusted but not liked. It their job to ‘annoy’ those decision-makers who think only of the short term.
Catarina Tully, founder of the School of International Futures, added that there is now an effort to teach foresight in schools; as it needs to become a natural part of people’s thinking. Pei Shan Lim added that her Centre for Strategic Futures engages constantly with every level of the Singaporean government. New teaching techniques, such as gaming, are a key part of the effort to embed foresight in officials’ thinking.
Franck Debié, Deputy Head of Cabinet of the Secretary-General of the European Parliament, led the penultimate session and traced the evolution of ESPAS. He highlighted how much has been achieved since 2014, in terms of both institutional cooperation and policy output. The concluding panel included Klaus Welle, Secretary-General of the European Parliament, Ann Mettler, Head of the European Political Strategy Centre, and others. It summed up several themes emerging from the two days: the importance of honest advice, of emotional engagement, of values, and of realism; and the ability to review, test and update positions as necessary.
Our first blog post covering the ESPAS conference’s morning proceedings.
Videos of the Conference discussions.
Interviews with our speakers and participants.
Photos from the event
See more photos on the conference website.