An Analysis of Global Societal Trends to 2030 and Their Impact on the EU

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Being able to better anticipate future challenges and developments is a major asset for policymakers. Yet, the specific impact of global trends on Europe is difficult to precisely delineate. Strategic analysis can help policymakers to better assess the uncertainties surrounding these trends and build up institutional resilience. In an attempt to better coordinate strategic decision-making in response to the global trends of the future, and their impact on the European Union (EU), the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) was established in 2010. ESPAS is an inter-institutional initiative, bringing together the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS).

On behalf of the ESPAS Task Force, RAND Europe was commissioned to study global societal trends to 2030, and to consider the long-term policy challenges the EU should prioritise for the next institutional cycle (2014-2019) and beyond. The research team focused on five main themes including:

  • the rise of a new global middle class
  • the growing and ageing population
  • employment and the changing labour market
  • evolving patterns and impacts of migration
  • connected societies and empowered individuals.

The study specifically reviews the evidence base underpinning trends in these themes.

Methods and Framework

The research process to undertake this assessment was divided into two main phases:

Trends analysis

This phase aimed to uncover the range of trends likely to have consequences for the EU’s landscape. It involved an extensive review of available literature and documentation, complemented by an analysis of available data. This review extracted key trends, information on drivers, the conditions under which the trend would materialise, the level of uncertainty around this trend, and ‘alternative narratives’ or disagreement in the literature.

Trends assessment

This phase aimed to estimate the likelihood of specific trends materialising between the present and 2030 and their potential impact on the EU. To assess the likelihood and potential impact of the trends studied, major trends within each theme were discussed within an online Delphi questionnaire involving 200 experts from around the world, using the ExpertLens tool developed by RAND. Building on the Delphi findings 30 semi-structured interviews with experts from the academic, policy, charity and private sector were conducted to unpick the impact for the EU and its policy consequences.

Findings and Recommendations

The need for adaptive policy-making and building resilience

The trends identified in this study could profoundly shape the EU landscape in this coming institutional cycle (2014-2019) and beyond, by 2030. The significance of these trends could require the EU to persist its efforts to continuously adapt its policies and approaches so as to better tailor these to strategic realities. The challenge of adaptation is even more crucial as it could require from EU policymakers greater efforts in terms of flexibility to unforeseen trajectories the more trends are surrounded by higher levels of uncertainty.

However, levels of complexity and uncertainty of these trends reduces the ability of policy-makers to anticipate changes to realities and could require EU policymakers to face more disruptive moments. As a result, in addition to adaptive policymaking, greater resilience could help the EU better face these disruptive moments, no matter how or why they materialize in the future.

Varying degrees of evidence and uncertainty levels for trends: how could this inform our thinking about adaptive policy-making and increasing resilience?

The analysis has uncovered and documented a selection of thirty-three key trends within five themes. The research team assessed the evidence and the degree of uncertainty of each of these trends and mapped them accordingly. This assessment could inform debates over both what could constitute more adaptive policy approaches and what could increase the overall resilience of the EU as an institution.

Our research has shown that among all the trends we have discussed, some appear far less uncertain than others. The future challenges that they set are therefore relatively straightforward to understand and can be directly accounted for in the next EU strategy.

Results from the analysis point to a series of eleven salient future policy challenges which were classified under three headings: investing in citizens; creating a growth-friendly ecosystem, and reinventing government (see table below).

1 Investing in Citizens

Equipping EU citizens with the tools to seize opportunities as they come along and protecting the most vulnerable citizens against misfortune

  • Addressing the increasing risk of vulnerable employment, NEETs and growing inequalities between middle-/high- and lower-income groups
  • Managing the consequences of stagnating economic growth for wellbeing and poverty
  • Addressing inequalities in access to technologies and technology-based services between different population groups
  • Completing the gender gap bridge
  • Improving education and labour market outcomes for (first- and second-generation) migrants

2 Preparing For a New Growth Paradigm

Enabling citizens and businesses to reap economic opportunities and compete globally

  • Addressing the shortage of workers with specialised STEM skills*, e-skills and skills in softer sectors such as health, social and mental care
  • Matching the migrant skills to labour market demand
  • Bridging the digital divide between member states
  • Improving the innovative capacity of SMEs

3 Reinventing Government

Recalibrating the public sector machinery and services to accommodate the realities of the 21st century

  • Mitigating the increasing pressure on the affordability of welfare systems, particularly health and pensions
  • Addressing a declining institutional legitimacy and mitigating its consequences

* Science, technology, engineering and mathematics

In May 2014, elections will be held throughout Europe for the 751 Members of the European Parliament. Later in 2014, a new European Commission will succeed the current Barroso Commission (2010-2014). Both these events are likely to trigger profound changes in European policymaking in the coming years. As the close of the decade approaches, attempts to devise a follow up on the Europe 2020 strategy should focus on building Europe’s resilience by combatting inequality and focusing on the three areas highlighted above.

Research Team

Stijn Hoorens, Principal Investigator

Jeremy Ghez
Benoit Guerin
Daniel Schweppenstedde
Tess Hellgren
Veronika Horvath
Marlon Graf
Barbara Janta

Sam Drabble
Svitlana Kobzar
Ohid Yaqub
Agnieszka Walczak
Dmitry Khodyakov
Nora Ratzmann

Kate Robertson
Rosanna Jeffries
Frederick Thielen
Gavin Cochrane
Eanna Kelly
Ingrid Magnusson

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