The European Economic and Social Committee calls for the role of Foresight Vice-President to be kept up under the next European Commission

The foresight portfolio has enabled the European Commission to forge closer ties with civil society organisations, making it easier to take their views on board and turning EU future policy planning into a genuine participatory tool.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) feels strongly that the post of vice-president responsible for foresight should be continued under the new European Commission which will take up office after the June 2024 European elections.

At the public hearing held in Brussels on 5 February 2024 to discuss the forthcoming EESC opinion on the 2023 Strategic Foresight Report, the EESC stressed that the role of Commissioner for Foresight has proven crucial. Having one person acting as foresight commissioner and vice-president has enabled EU decision and policy making to be more forward-looking in an effort to anticipate, be prepared for and shape the future and give civil society organisations a voice in proceedings from the outset.

We ask for the continuation of this position because civil society organisations are better placed to identify what works and what doesn't: they can help pinpoint trends and possible solutions in a changing society. Only by involving them from the very beginning will it be possible to get Europeans to buy into EU policies, said Stefano Palmieri, rapporteur for the opinion.

Increasing participatory foresight

Strategic foresight uses methodologies and specific tools - but it relies on actors who work in the field and are the only ones who can sense the early warnings, weak signals and trends that can go unnoticed by Brussels and the EU's capitals.

As an institutional representative of civil society organisations, the EESC is well placed to play this role among the EU institutions. Accordingly, last year it urged the European Commission to focus more on the economic and social impact of the twin transition on Europeans, pointing out that they would not work and be accepted unless they are complemented and accompanied by social and economic measures.

The Committee is pleased that the European Commission listened to what it was saying: this year's Strategic Foresight Report covers economic sustainability and people's wellbeing. However, civil society organisations now need to give their input in order to shape meaningful proposals which really do address the social and economic aspects. 29 June 2024 is D-Day – that's when the EU will adopt the EU Strategic Agenda which will guide its political journey for the 2024‑2029 period.

At a time when we are about to decide Europe's future, confronted with challenges and opportunities, civil society organisations - and through them, citizens - must be able to play a key role in setting the Union's new priorities for the years to come, stressed Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, co-rapporteur for the EESC opinion.

The way ahead for strategic foresight

But what form should strategic foresight take in the future?

Some speakers consider that the EU should capitalise on lessons learned, without forgetting to engage civil society organisations in a participatory approach. Rachel Wilkinson of the International Civil Society Centre feels that localisation, which entails shifting power back to local communities, is a core value and could facilitate a more pluralistic perspective and out-of-the box thinking.

Another fundamental aspect is innovation. Marco Perez, representing the Spanish Youth Council, said that given the major challenges ahead, the EU must be brave enough to take innovative and even radical decisions, using past experience as a guide but avoiding past models, and allowing young people to participate in the construction of Europe's future.

Last but not least, it is crucial to try new ideas. Kathrine Angell-Hansen, from the Research Council of Norway, emphasised that it's important to engage society from the outset and tap into its cultural diversity to test new ideas and see what actually works – that will help keep people engaged.

The EESC will now put together all the contributions to today's hearing. The conclusions will then feed into the EESC opinion currently being drawn up, which is due to be adopted at the plenary session on 24-25 April 2024.

In this way, the Committee will be able to flag up and convey civil society organisations' views to governments and other stakeholders.

Background – Strategic foresight and the Commission report

Strategic foresight aims to explore, anticipate and shape the future to help build and use collective intelligence in a structured and systemic way to anticipate developments.

With a view to supporting the transitions to a green, digital and fairer Europe, the European Commission has decided to strengthen its culture of preparedness and evidence-based anticipatory policy making.

To this end, the Commission has adopted an annual Strategic Foresight Report (SFR) since 2020, which informs its work programmes and multiannual planning. This process is carried out using a participatory and cross-sectoral approach, headed by the Commission in conjunction with the Member States, the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) and external stakeholders.

The 2020 report focused on resilience, the 2021 report on strategic autonomy, and the 2022 report on twinning the digital and green transitions. Last year, the 2023 Strategic Foresight Report put forward ten measures to place "sustainability and people's wellbeing at the heart of Europe's Open Strategic Autonomy".

The ten measures include rolling out a new European social contract with renewed welfare policies and a focus on high-quality social services; deepening the single market to champion a resilient net-zero economy, with a focus on Open Strategic Autonomy and economic security; and boosting the EU's action on the global stage to strengthen cooperation with key partners.

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