ESPAS Conference 2019: Challenges and choices for Europe

The European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) held its latest annual conference On Monday, 14 and Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Written by Leopold Schmertzing with Pauline Boyer, Miro Folke Guzzini, Linus Olle Johanen Sioeland, Linda Kunertova, Gabriel Lecumberri, Sophie Millar, Arto Ilpo Antero Vaisanen,

The European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) held its latest annual conference On Monday, 14 and Tuesday, 15 October 2019 (see here for blog posts about past conferences). This was the last of the ESPAS cycle that started with the European Election in 2014 and the publication of the 2014 report ‘Global trends to 2030: can the EU meet the challenges ahead?‘.

This year’s conference can be counted as the first of a new ESPAS cycle, following the election of a new Parliament and the publication in April of a new ESPAS Report. ‘Global trends to 2030: Challenges And choices For Europe‘ was the basis for broad ranging discussions within the ESPAS community on the future of Europe and the world.

Setting the scene and opening address

In her welcome to the ESPAS conference session hosted in the EPRS Library Reading Room, Ann Mettler, Head of the EPSC and Chair of ESPAS, questioned Europe’s resilience in the face of an emerging age of impunity. Vice-President of the European Parliament, Othmar Karas (EPP, Austria), then opened the proceedings, welcoming the new commission’s proposal to institutionalise foresight. The European Parliament will be a partner in this effort; finding innovative ways to improve our common future is in the Parliament’s DNA. The EU can only shape the future through being persistent in its efforts and taking responsibility in the world. ESPAS can help by continuing to talk truth to power.

The future of equality

Member of the European Parliament, and returning STOA Panel Chair, Eva Kaili, chaired the first panel discussion of the day. In his introductory video, science fiction author Tom Hillenbrand focused on possible future inequalities caused by climate change and data injustice. Sergio Bitar emphasised the role of access to public goods and civic participation in governance in achieving a higher level of equality worldwide. Cinzia Alcidi of CEPS pointed to the need to prevent tax avoidance by multinationals that have exploited loopholes for too long. For Stijn Hoorens, increasing automation favours workers with intuitive creative skills and makes jobs with manual repetitive tasks disappear, thereby increasing inequality. Heather Grabbe of the Open Society Foundation argued that the combination of already-present social inequalities in society with new forms of highly personalised automated political targeting has given rise to the wave of populism we are seeing on a global scale.

The future of ageing

In a video introduction, Richard K. Morgan, author of the book and TV series Altered Carbon, evoked a future in which the rich would live forever, while the rest of the population would quickly become bored of life. Rainer Muenz, of the European Political Strategy Centre at the European Commission, stressed that there are three kinds of ageing: biological, as humans increase their life spans; demographic, as different age cohorts change size; and societal, as our understanding of what to do at a certain age changes. Lorna Harries of the University of Exeter highlighted that although ageing is natural, age-related diseases can be treated. With more funding into the causes of these diseases, we could live healthier for longer. For Mathew Burrows from the Atlantic Council, war-prone young populations and intergenerational inequality are the main side-effects of ageing trends internationally. Isabella Pirollo of the ESPAS Young Talent Network chaired this panel.

The future of universities

Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University, started his keynote address by highlighting that the dual system of state and private universities in the USA has created a vibrant and creative atmosphere envied around the world. The main threats to the university come from the decreasing but still sizeable gap between university research interests and world affairs, from rising populist and nationalist politics, and from the general disrespect for truth and facts. In the ensuing conversation with the Parliament’s Secretary General Klaus Welle, President Bollinger discussed issues such as the need for an alliance of democracies that safeguard higher education and the challenges of the digital transformation. The session was chaired by the Director-General of EPRS, Anthony Teasdale.

Normandy Peace Index

Etienne Bassot and Elena Lazarou from EPRS and Serge Stroobants of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) spoke about this new global peace index, developed by EPRS in collaboration with IEP. It measures each country’s position in relation to 11 key threats of peace, drawing attention to present and possible future areas of conflict. The Index is a new powerful tool for policy analysis and policy-making.

The future of power in a ‘poly-nodal’ world

In a video introduction, August Cole, author of Ghost Fleet, described how two fictional characters from his book, a silicon-valley big-wig and an eccentric space-industry billionaire, change the course of a US-Chinese conflict, set in 2040. Florence Gaub explained the concept of a poly-nodal world, in which winners and losers are determined by their ability to forge connections and rally others around a cause. She wondered whether Russia was able to build and maintain reliable connections. Simon Serfaty, formerly of CSIS, noted that the EU has enough wealth to be a power in the world – even if it is not a world power. He asked who would be at the top table in 2030, and suggested that for several years, too much time has been spent on marginal matters. Benedetta Berti of NATO’s policy planning staff underlined that strategic friendship is based on more than transactional content. Alexander Mattelaer of the Free University of Brussels argued for increased defence spending, and asked several challenging questions: should extra funding be spent within the NATO or the EU framework? What level of increase would create the possibility of EU strategic autonomy? In the chair, Maciej Popowski of EPRS noted the importance of being able to turn enemies into friends – a skill the USA seems to be neglecting.

From foresight to action

Ann Mettler led a discussion on the nature of foresight in government. She recalled the words of the new Vice-President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, Maroš Šefčovič: ‘Foresight is not a luxury item. It’s a must’. Leon Fuerth, former National Security Advisor to US Vice President Al Gore, identified three differences between experts and politicians that have a negative impact on foresight: a lack of a common language; different missions; and conflicting values. Only a common purpose and the intervention of the public can overcome these issues. Mikko Duvfa of Sitra used three symbols for a new way to look at foresight. Entangled rubber bands stand for a holistic view of trends instead of a separated one. Campfires symbolise the need for humility and outreach. Thirdly, joint dreaming means inspiring the consumers of foresight instead of reporting to them. Oliver Gnad of the Bureau für Zeitgeschehen told the story of German government foresight. Germany’s strategic capacity improved only after changes to an anti-strategic mindset, the federal structure and misguided incentive structures. Finally, Bénédicte Rougé of the French Senate outlined the work of the Senate delegation for strategic foresight, which acts as a channel to political visibility and as a platform allowing citizens to tell their stories.

The future of ESPAS

Honorary President of ESPAS, James Elles, chairing the session, recounted how ESPAS developed into the inter-institutional system of long-term trends analysis that it is today and stated that its future looks bright. Klaus Welle noted that based on ESPAS research, Parliament had conducted a ‘back-casting’ exercise – it had looked at where it wanted to be in ten years and identified what capabilities were missing. Leo Schulte-Nordholt of the General Secretariat of the Council of the EU highlighted the value of the exchanges with academia and practitioners at the conference. ESPAS plays a vital role as a compass for the future and as a tool for cooperation. Ann Mettler voiced her appreciation at seeing ESPAS develop under her tenure. Pleased with the creation of an interinstitutional space of trust for important discussions, she looked forward to seeing others building on this success. Finally, Hervé Delphin of the EEAS stated that ESPAS is keeping decision-makers informed of foresight and its insights so that they can act on them, particularly in the foreign policy field, where short-term crisis seems to conceal long-term disasters. In closing, James Elles thanked the participants and Anne Mettler in particular, as outgoing chair.

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