What is strategic foresight?
Foresight is the discipline of exploring, anticipating and shaping the future to help build and use collective intelligence in a structured, systematic and systemic way, so as to anticipate developments. Strategic foresight seeks to embed foresight into European Union policy-making.
Strategic foresight involves exploring scenarios, identifying trends and emerging issues, using them to steer better-informed decisions, build dynamic policy coherence, and to act in the present in order to shape the future. Strategic foresight looks towards the future from the present, and back - towards present actions from the future.
Why is the Commission pursuing strategic foresight?
Ensuring a swift recovery from the current crisis, that maintains the strategic long-term objectives of the European Union, and achieves the transition towards a green, digital and fair Europe, requires a strong, long-term and forward-looking perspective. Strategic foresight will be particularly crucial for delivery on the twin green and digital transitions, while fostering social cohesion, democratic principles and Europe's open strategic autonomy.
By embedding foresight in the policy cycle, the Commission aims to make full use of its knowledge, information and research to future-proof EU policies, and to strengthen the culture of preparedness and evidence-based anticipatory policy-making.
How is the Commission embedding foresight in policy-making?
In 2020, the central theme of the first annual Strategic Foresight Report is resilience. Resilience has become a new compass for EU policies with the COVID-19 crisis. It is the ability not only to withstand and to cope with challenges, but also to undergo transitions in a sustainable, fair, and democratic manner. The crisis has underscored the importance of future-proofing EU policies and of refocusing them around resilience.
Overall, the Commission intends to embed strategic foresight in EU policy-making by:
-Conducting foresight exercises to contribute to major policy initiatives and strategies planned in the Commission Work Programme, integrating strategic foresight in a revised Better Regulation toolbox; assessing whether existing EU laws remain ‘fit for the future';
-Using strategic foresight to explore issues of critical interest to Europe's future by analysing key trends and emerging issues, considering ways to seize upcoming opportunities;
-Utilising strategic foresight to foster coherence of EU policies by supporting a dynamic perspective of synergies and trade-offs among EU policy goals;
-Supporting the development of foresight capacity in the EU and its Member State administrations, amongst policymakers and relevant stakeholders; and
-Building foresight cooperation and alliances with EU and international institutions and partners, through the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS), and with Member State public foresight capabilities, think tanks, academia and civil society.
The annual Strategic Foresight Reports are the Commission's flagship strategic foresight product. Future reports will inform the priorities of the annual State of the Union addresses, subsequent Commission Work Programmes and multi-annual programming. The goal is to ignite strategic and inclusive EU-wide conversations on forward-looking European priorities, including scenario-building exercises on the green, digital and fair transitions.
What is the link between strategic foresight and the Better Regulation agenda?
The Commission is working on a revised Better Regulation agenda, stressing that major policy initiatives should include strategic foresight in their evidence base. To this end, strategic foresight will become an integral part of the Better Regulation toolbox, including ex ante impact assessments.
Strategic foresight will also support the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme, which identifies opportunities to reduce Europe's regulatory burden, and informs the assessment of whether existing EU laws are ‘fit for the future'.
Who are the key strategic foresight actors in the Commission?
Vice-President Šefčovič chairs the Commissioners' Project Group on Better Regulation and Foresight, which provides political steer to the implementation of the Commission's strategic foresight mandate. The Secretariat-General and the Joint Research Centre lead the implementation of the mandate (the latter drawing on its internal foresight capacities). The Commission's Strategic Foresight Network ensures long-term policy coordination between all Directorates-General. The Commission will build close foresight cooperation and alliances with other EU institutions, notably in the context of ESPAS, reaching out to international partners and launching an EU-wide foresight network to develop partnerships that draw on Member States' public foresight capabilities, think tanks, academia and civil society.
What are the main themes and findings of the 2020 Strategic Foresight Report - how resilient is the European Union ?
The Report analyses the EU's resilience in four interrelated dimensions: social and economic, geopolitical, green and digital.
Social and economic resilience refers to the ability to tackle economic shocks and achieve long-term structural change in a fair and inclusive way. The crisis has reignited the debate on what kind of economic growth is desirable, and can deliver on the twin transitions; on what actually matters for human well-being in a world of finite resources; and on the need for new metrics to measure progress beyond GDP growth. Socio-economic resilience builds on the social and economic conditions for a recovery geared towards the transitions, promoting social and regional cohesion, and supporting the most vulnerable in society, while taking into account demographic trends, and in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights. The EU is well placed to assume a leadership role and promote inclusive growth and equality within the EU and internationally.
Geopolitical resilience relates to Europe bolstering its ‘open strategic autonomy' and global leadership role. It is anchored in European shared values within a highly interdependent world of competing powers, where COVID-19 has impacted geopolitical trends and power balances. In mobilising strategic resources for humanitarian and development aid, and striving to make a COVID-19 vaccine and medicines available worldwide, the EU is playing a leading role through its ‘Team Europe' approach. The COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the key importance of diversified and solid global supply chains in critical sectors, but also of the need to intensify ties with partners, re‑shoring production where necessary, developing substitutes through innovation and increasing our strategic reserves.
Green resilience is about reaching climate neutrality by 2050, while mitigating and adapting to climate change, reducing pollution and restoring the capacity of ecological systems to sustain our ability to live well within planetary boundaries. The Report reveals that the impact of green labour policies could be significantly larger in the recovery after the COVID-19 crisis. The green sector can generate around 4.2 million jobs in Europe, with a turnover of more than €700 billion. Job creation stemming from climate change policies will contribute to more inclusive job growth. By 2050, renewable energy jobs in the EU are expected to reach 2.7 million or 1.3% of EU employment. These numbers could be far higher in light of the potential impact of Next Generation EU and investment in green jobs.
Digital resilience is about ensuring that the way we live, work, learn and interact in this digital age preserves and enhances human dignity, freedom, equality, security, democracy, and other European fundamental rights and values. Strategic foresight can foster the human-centric shaping and appropriateness of digital technologies as, indeed, the pervasive deployment of digital technologies in society goes hand-in-hand with a continuous appropriation by economy and society at large. Human centric shaping of digital technologies can for example advance health care systems, improve universal access to basic services, and increase the effectiveness and inclusiveness of education and training systems.
What are the next steps, following the adoption of the Report?
-The prototype resilience dashboards presented as an example in the 2020 Strategic Foresight Report aim to illustrate progress towards Member States' resilience. In cooperation with Member States and key stakeholders, the Commission will develop the prototype resilience dashboards further, in a forward-looking perspective. The dashboards will be informed by strategic foresight, which can help identify emerging challenges and propose new forward-looking indicators to assess vulnerabilities and capacities. The focus of this work will be on the medium-to-long term, to give the best conditions for foresight‑informed policies to mitigate vulnerabilities and strengthen capacities.
-The Commission's strategic foresight agenda will support overarching political priorities. It will include ad-hoc foresight exercises to inform major initiatives planned in the Commission Work Programme as well as cross-cutting issues identified as high impact. Examples could include:
-Open strategic autonomy: to secure Europe's competitiveness and global leadership in the future and strengthen its resilience, strategic foresight could develop scenarios for a new global order.
-The future of jobs and skills for, and in the green transition. Strategic foresight could identify the means by which such a systemic view could be developed, integrating also the lessons to be learnt from previous industrial transitions.
-Deepening the twinning of the digital and green transitions to better understand the interactions of both transition, especially in the context of emerging technologies.
-The next annual ESPAS conference is planned for November 2020. The Commission will use this opportunity to discuss the topic of next year's Strategic Foresight Report. The Commission also plans to use the ESPAS conference to launch an EU-wide Foresight Network with Member State public foresight capabilities, think tanks, academia, industry stakeholders and civil society.
-The development of shared reference foresight scenarios to inform future policy debate, to ensure coherence across policies, and to serve as a shared, forward‑looking framework for policy proposals. These scenarios will help identify potential pathways for the twin transition. This exercise can also contribute to the Conference on the Future of Europe.