2021 Strategic Foresight Report: an analysis of the key global megatrends that will impact the EU in the future

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Ensuring a swift and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, that builds on the twin green and digital transitions, requires an informed, long-term perspective. Strategic foresight helps strengthen the culture of preparedness and designing future-proof EU legislation that serves both, the current needs and longer-term aspirations. Changes in climate, digital technologies and geopolitics are having a profound effect on the lives of Europeans. These transformations are taking place at all levels, from grassroots politics to global power structures. President von der Leyen has mandated Vice-President Šefčovič to lead the Commission’s efforts to embed strategic foresight into its work. To support the transitions to a green, digital and fairer Europe, the Commission is strengthening its culture of preparedness and evidence-based anticipatory policy-making. The Commission is building close foresight cooperation and alliances with other EU institutions, notably in the context of the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS). It also works with international partners, and develops partnerships that draw on Member States’ public foresight capabilities through the  EU-wide Foresight Network.

The Commission produces an annual Strategic Foresight Report and this year is called “The EU’s capacity and freedom to act”. The report focuses on key global megatrends that will continue to affect the EU in the coming decades: from climate change, technological acceleration and digitalisation, to major economic, geopolitical and demographic shifts. It has also identified 10 areas where the EU can strengthen its capacity and freedom to act.

  • Climate change and other environmental challenges; global warming will probably surpass 1.5℃ in the next 20 years and head towards 2℃ by mid century, worsening the pressure on water and food safety worldwide. By 2050, 200 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance partly due to ecological effects.
  • Digital hyperconnectivity and technological transformations; the number of connected devices globally might increase from 30.4 billion in 2020 to 200 billion in 2030. Increased connectivity of objects, places and people will result in new products, services, business models, and life and work patterns. Europe’s global leadership ambition in the twin transitions could position it strongly in an emerging lucrative market and create new types of work, for example green jobs, in both established and emerging sectors.
  • Pressure on democracy and values; as of 2020, 34% of the world’s population was living in countries where democratic governance was declining and only 4% in countries that were becoming more democratic. Large-scale misinformation, powered by new tools and online platforms, will pose increasing challenges to democratic systems and drive 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 before the end of this decade, with India possibly surpassing the EU in the next 20 years The world’s population is expected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050.

The 2021 Strategic Foresight Report underpins a shared long-term vision of the EU’s open strategic autonomy on the path towards 2050, highlighting the need for increased coherence, notably between domestic and external political agendas, and keeping in step with ongoing developments. It underlines the importance of joined up internal and external policies and calls for a comprehensive approach. The EU will continue to leverage its close international partnerships to promote peace, stability and prosperity, present a united front against hostile actors and common challenges, and uphold the promise of progress. It will strengthen mutually beneficial relations with its neighbours and more distant partners. It will take the lead in effective multilateral cooperation, while protecting EU citizens and the economy from unfair and abusive practices.