A first step towards the creation of a ‘global trends community’ took place on 18 and 19 February, when foresight experts from the EU and beyond gathered in Brussels for a conference hosted by the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS).
The keynote opening speech to an audience of over 200 was delivered by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. In his remarks, President Barroso described international cooperation in foresight work as a "necessary step" adding, "Forward thinking is a precondition for forward planning and for the decisions of today."
ESPAS Taskforce Acting Chairman James Elles MEP underlined the purpose of ESPAS in his welcoming speech [15 KB] . He said, "This exercise is not so much about predicting outcomes as identifying long-term trends on specific factors. Clearly, realising the direction of trends will allow policy makers to change direction if they do not like what the outcome is likely to be."
The Secretary General of the European Parliament, Klaus Welle, signified his commitment to the ESPAS process and said that through the four participating organisations it had the ambition to "develop a kind of world view" that could be offered to the incoming Presidents of the European institutions in 2014.
A global trends community?
Director of Chatham House Robin Niblett chaired a panel of leading trends experts on the first day of the conference. Dr Niblett said the panel brought together perspectives from Europe, India, Russia, China, the US and Singapore that gave a sense of how strategic thinking and horizon scanning is being undertaken in key capitals around the world.
Margaritis Schinas for the European Commission underlined the Commission’s commitment to the project, and outlined some of the key issues around the future of global governance. In particular, he focused on how to move from diagnosis to prescription in a world of paradox and interdependence.
Ruan Zongze, Vice President and senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, called for countries to look forward and identify opportunities together, rather than waiting for a crisis to become a driver of change.
Counsellor to the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) Mathew Burrows talked of his strong support for increased international collaboration in foresight. Indeed, he recalled that during preparation of their Global Trends 2030 report published last December, the NIC gathered input from some 20 countries.
India also recognised the importance of working with other countries. “Empirical research on trends becomes more accurate the more views or aspirations it encompasses,“ Sunjoy Joshi of New Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation told the conference. Experts from Russia and Singapore also signalled a willingness to work together on identifying long-term trends on specific factors.
Debating the future
During the conference break-out sessions, delegates debated the topics covered by the three ESPAS inter-institutional working groups: the economy; society; and governance and power. On the economy, participants agreed that technology was likely to be a driver of growth in the long run. The combination of nanotechnology and cognitive technologies could lead to major advances in healthcare, for example.
Discussions on society focused on the impact of social media, the rise of a global middle class and whether the empowerment of individuals could affect the nation state.
Likewise, the risk of a global governance deficit and the impact of new governance formats, such as the G20, were discussed.
Views from the institutions
Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament, talked about the ESPAS partners joining their efforts to produce a report for 2014 that would offer not only a joint reflection but also some policy options to the incoming Presidents of the Parliament, Council and Commission.
Jean-Claude Thébault, Director General of BEPA, European Commission emphasised how good progress had been made on the operational side of ESPAS. He said that the project must be about offering effective analysis and policy options for the leadership of the European institutions.
David O'Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer of the EEAS, said that ESPAS was a very useful and worthwhile exercise. He hoped it could be taken forward by developing the inter-institutional dimension and, in particular, the international networking aspect.
Jim Cloos, Deputy Director General at the General Secretariat of the EU Council of Ministers, commented that the EU needs to be better at policy shaping and reacting to events. Therefore the development of ESPAS was welcome not only for the inter-institutional dimension but also as an incentive to think beyond day-to-day issues,
In addition to high-level officials from key EU institutions (Commission, Parliament, Council Secretariat, European External Action Service), the event was attended by academics, NGOs and business representatives as well as think tank leaders from around Europe and at least eight non-EU countries.