The EU’s Capacity and Freedom to Act

On September 8, 2021, the European Commission published its second annual Strategic Foresight Report, entitled the EU’s Capacity and freedom to Act.

The report presents a multidisciplinary and forward-looking perspective on key trends affecting the EU’s capacity and freedom to act in the years to come, such as climate change and other environmental challenges, digital hyperconnectivity and technological transformations, pressure on democracy and values, and shifts in the global order and demography. The report addresses emerging issues, uncertainties, and choices that will shape the future of the EU and the world and provides the context for possible policy responses. It also identifies 10 strategic areas of action, in which the EU could strengthen its strategic autonomy and global leadership.

The 2021 Strategic Foresight Report builds on the 2020 Strategic Report: Charting the course towards a more resilient Europe, which introduced resilience as a new compass for EU policymaking, and the Joint Research Center’s 2021 science for policy report: Shaping and securing the EU’s Open Strategic Autonomy by 2040 and beyond.

Global megatrends that impact the EU

The 2021 Strategic Foresight Report focuses on key global megatrends that will continue to affect the EU in the coming decades: from climate change, technological acceleration and digitalization, to major economic, geopolitical, and demographic shifts.

The report emphasizes that these changes will affect the EU’s freedom and capacity to act and urges to implement efficient and coherent policy actions.

  • Climate change and other environmental challenges: Global warming is likely to surpass 1.5℃ in the next two decades and head towards 2℃ by mid‑century, worsening the pressure on water and food safety worldwide. By 2050, 200 million people are expected to require humanitarian assistance partly due to ecological effects.
  • Digital hyperconnectivity and technological transformations: The number of connected devices globally is expected to increase from 30.4 billion in 2020 to 200 billion in 2030. Increased connectivity of people, objects, and places will result in new products, services, business models, and life and work patterns. EU’s global leadership ambition in the twin transitions could position it strongly in an emerging lucrative market and create new types of jobs, in both established and emerging sectors.
  • Pressure on democracy: In 2020, only 4% of the world’s population was living in countries that were becoming more democratic, while 34% of the world’s population was living in countries where democratic governance was declining. Large-scale misinformation, powered by new tools and online platforms, poses increasing challenges to democratic systems and drives a new type of information warfare.
  • Shifts in the global order and demography: The world is becoming increasingly multipolar. China is set to become the biggest economy by 2030, with India possibly surpassing the EU in the next 20 years. The world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 while the EU’s population is expected to fall by 5%, to just over 420 million by 2050.

10 strategic areas to strengthen the EU’s strategic autonomy and global leadership

The 2021 Strategic Foresight Report aims to set the stage for effective policies and engagements to put the EU in the best position to achieve its long-term policy objectives. It calls for a thorough and far-reaching approach and highlights the need for increased coherence across time horizons and between the domestic and external policy agendas across 10 strategic areas of action:

  1. Ensuring sustainable and resilient health and food systems.
  2. Securing decarbonized and affordable energy.
  3. Strengthening capacity in data management, artificial intelligence, and cutting-edge technologies.
  4. Securing and diversifying the supply of critical raw materials.
  5. Ensuring first-mover global position in standard-setting.
  6. Building resilience and future-proof economic and financial systems.
  7. Developing and retaining skills and talent matching EU ambitions.
  8. Strengthening security and defense capacities and access to space.
  9. Working with global partners to promote peace, security, and prosperity for all.
  10. Strengthening the resilience of institutions.

The full Strategic Foresight Report is available here

The next Strategic Foresight Report will focus on a better understanding of the twinning between the green and the digital transitions, i.e., how they can mutually reinforce each other, including through the use of emerging technologies.