ESPAS Conference 2023: Building Europe's Future

ESPAS Conference 2023: Building Europe's Future

The ESPAS (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System) Annual Conference, this year entitled “Building Europe’s Future: Time for Strategic Choices”, was held on 14th November and as with the WFSF Conference discussed in last week’s blog, the question of leadership loomed large.

The tone for the day was set by the opening overview session. In his opening remarks, Maros Sefcovic, Executive Vice-President for Inter-Institutional Relations and Foresight, reminded the audience that foresight had to be actionable, had to be linked to decision-making and had to be useful to political leaders. Later, he talked with enthusiasm about how with the support of his colleagues, usually the Ministers responsible for European Affairs, ESPAS had set up the EU wide network of Ministers for the Future. This enabled Ministers to depart for a couple of hours from the daily routine of decision-making and:

“to put their thinking hats on and strategize a little bit what the next year, the next years, the next decade will look like.”

 With regard to climate change and the green deal agenda, he pointed up:

“the need to intensify the engagement with our citizens to be sure that we will not lose the support for our policies … it requires the work and the collective responsibility of the politicians to be ready for that engagement.”

During the session, another of the panellists, Hadja Lahbib, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Belgium, set Europe in the context of the wider world. Power was changing badly. Hard-power politics was coming to the fore. United Nations decision-making needed reform: it was a member of the Security Council itself, Russia, that had invaded Ukraine.

Thus, the poles of the day were set clearly by the first session: foresight relevance, political leadership, citizen engagement and governance at the global level. What follows is a selection of some of the key points that were discussed.

The fourth point was taken up substantively in the next two sessions, “What will power look like in 2040?” and “Globalisation and Deglobalisation: the future of economic power”. The current situation was very bad. Russia was internally totalitarian and externally imperial.  Where was China heading? It was internally depressed and globally assertive and saw the EU as a systemic enemy. One speaker asserted, “We cannot do business as usual with China.” Collective leadership in China had gone and ideology would become more important. But China needed to co-operate on global commons despite geopolitical rivalry. States might not all be going in the same direction, but there could be areas of co-operation. On the wider geopolitical structure, the post-World War II system did not benefit many parts of the world. A better offer needed to be made to them. The development needs of some countries needed to be taken into account more.

This was thrown into sharp relief even more during one of the afternoon sessions, “Navigating tomorrow: Socio-economic challenges of the green transition in the face of global climate trends”. There was weak multilateral governance on the climate. There had been too many broken promises from the north, and trust was missing. Valerie Trouet, Scientific Director, Belgian Climate Centre, was particularly stark: the situation was sufficiently adverse that we should be aiming to cap warming at 2° not 1.5°, but even this was a moving target:

“It’s not because we don’t understand the climate well enough. It’s not because we don’t understand greenhouse gas effects well enough. … It’s because we don’t understand the people well enough. …

There were some positive signs: the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. had given the private sector a ten-year time horizon to work with and generated public funding of up to $1.2 trillion dollars. The EU also needed a long-term investment plan. At the same time many vital minerals for electrification were in the south: a way needed to be found to generate shared prosperity. Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, EU Programme Director at the Institute for Climate Economics, asserted that we had all the technologies we needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90%, it was a political and governance issue.

To this audience member, the message was clear. We know what to do, but there is a lack of political will and practical civic engagement. The problem remains of how to get action at the species level.

Much else was discussed during the day, and there was an interview with the author of a new book on regulating technology, in which, needless to say, artificial intelligence loomed large: but that is a topic in itself.

Written by Tony Diggle, SAMI Associate and member of the UK Node of the Millennium Project. 

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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