Scientific Foresight (STOA) By / July 6, 2023

Preparing Europe for turbulent times

A recently published Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) study offers a bird’s eye perspective of the drivers for more strategic autonomy, the barriers that stand in the way, and how the European Union can work to overcome these barriers.

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Written by Andrés García and Clemens Weichert.

A recently published Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) study offers a bird’s eye perspective of the drivers for more strategic autonomy, the barriers that stand in the way, and how the European Union can work to overcome these barriers.

In the last few years, several events have threatened our way of life in Europe. The COVID‑19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have shown how fragile our supply of energy, technical components, and basic commodities really is. This is why the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) commissioned a study on ‘A preparedness plan for Europe: Addressing food, energy and technological security‘.

The authors of the study, a group of researchers from Białystok University of Technology in Poland, brought 153 international experts together to answer these difficult questions on their respective fields. They covered not only the crucial matters of food and energy security, but also the supply of semiconductors used in computer chips and the security of European satellite communication. These four fields are obviously very important to European citizens. So what did the experts say?

Following a foresight approach, the researchers formulated several theses. Each took the form of a future scenario, such as, ‘The supply of semiconductors to strategic sectors of the EU countries will be ensured’. The respondents then assigned a significance score to each scenario, indicating how likely it is in their opinion, as well as the significance of the associated effects. They also gave a timescale for when the scenario may happen, from ‘by the end of 2025’ to ‘after 2050’, or maybe ‘never’. Lastly, they gave their opinions of what major barriers could arise, how Europe can overcome them, and which actors lawmakers must bring on board to ensure benefits while avoiding undesirable side effects.

The example above received the highest of all the significance scores, and the experts who participated in the exercise expect the supply of semiconductors to be secured no earlier than 2031, and not later than 2050. According to the respondents, Europe needs a circular economy with shorter and more secure international supply chains to secure the supply of semiconductors, although this is unlikely to happen within the next decade.

In the food and energy sectors, the respondents expect developments to happen much faster. The theses on food focused on increased European production of wheat, sunflower oil, and special fertilisers. Experts expect most of these developments to happen sometime before 2030, or at least in the first half of the 21st century. The EU should promote the use of advanced agricultural technology to achieve these goals they say, but an increase in droughts and floods might make this more difficult.

On energy, the timeline is even shorter. For the two most significant theses, more than 80 % of respondents agree that they will be implemented in the 2020s. Specifically, they postulate a more dynamic growth in the renewable energy sector and the building of energy interconnectors, such as power lines and hydrogen pipelines between EU Member States. The other energy theses touch on the topics of energy independence from Russia, an increased use of hydrogen gas, and more distributed energy production. However, especially for hydrogen, we still need to make a lot of technological progress before this becomes a realistic option.

While the experts rated the development of Europe’s satellite communications programme ‘Copernicus’ to be somewhat less significant, they still expect many new private and public applications to be found within the next few years.

The authors of the study received feedback on 21 theses. The responses came from a diverse set of experts from all over Europe, who work on a range of topics. In their conclusion, the authors emphasised the role of new technologies and continuing research in all fields. While climate change is the greatest threat to food security, energy autonomy depends mostly on strengthening connections within Europe – both politically as well as physically – in the form of power lines.

Read the full report and STOA options brief to find out more. The results of this analysis were presented by its authors to the STOA Panel at its meeting of 16 March 2023. The complete version of the study incorporates the ideas provided at the time by the STOA Panel Members through their suggestions and comments.

Your opinion counts for us. To let us know what you think, get in touch via stoa@europarl.europa.eu.


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