ESPAS conference "Shaping Europe's future: Global trends and strategic choices"

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Dear Ladies and Gentleman,

It is a real pleasure to be with you today. We, at the EESC are fully committed and actively involved in the ESPAS mission to incorporate foresight in the EU decision-making process.

Foresight, to be meaningful and practical needs to be participatory. The involvement of stakeholders and civil society organisations allows to capture the reality on the ground. Employers, workers and civil society representatives directly not do not only feel megatrends, but also weak signals not easily perceived.

Therefore, it is key to raise awareness among civil society organisations on the importance of foresight and reinforce their capacity to participate. The EESC's added value is to synthesise ideas. A bottom-up approach in order to raise civic awareness of future challenges and potential horizons is key to ensure societal consensus on policy decisions.

The biggest challenge we currently face is ensuring a balanced recovery throughout Europe while laying down a path towards a resilient and sustainable future. The EU should bring the benefits of sustainable and inclusive growth to all European citizens through upward convergence and a strong Single Market. This requires successful green and digital transitions, which will increase Europe's resilience, competitiveness and social justice

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the EU's capacity to make a difference for every citizen in Europe. The common EU approach to securing supplies and distributing COVID-19 vaccines, and the EU's recovery and resilience measures are shining examples of this.

Risks and uncertainties surrounding recovery remain high. From my point of view, recovery and future-proof reconstruction need to be the guiding principles steering our agenda. Europe's recovery must incorporate climate action. Otherwise economic damage, exacerbated inequalities and loss of life due to climate-related extreme weather effects will continue.

The Committee fully supports the European Green Deal target of climate neutrality and resilience by 2050. We have also called for an equal emphasis on financing both mitigation and adaptation.

The EU needs to create conditions and incentives for innovation and investment to support businesses in their own efforts to adapt and to provide society with solutions. Nature-based solutions, the bioeconomy and the transition to a circular economy are a golden opportunity for the EU to recover.

Energy transition and affordable energy are crucial. We need exit scenarios for fossil fuels to make energy savings and to massively expand renewable energies. For me, COP26 again clearly showed Europe definitely can and needs to lead by example! But let's be clear: climate change can only be successfully tackled if concrete action is taken by all relevant countries at global level. Here, I see a lot of work for Europe, but also the EESC in convincing our international partners to turn to action.

Coming to the Labour market, skills and social issues, support for the EU's labour force is equally crucial, especially in the ongoing pandemic. Coordinated short and medium-term policies are necessary to safeguard employment and income and to ensure a sustainable relaunch of economic activities and competitiveness. Quality jobs with fair wages are part of the solution.

Skills mismatches remain a key challenge. Recent data show, skills mismatches are on the increase. We need to provide young people with solid basic competencies, to make the most of non-formal and informal learning environments and to guarantee accessibility to lifelong learning opportunities.

Also Europe's open strategic autonomy depends – to a large extent – on Europeans having the right skills to drive the development of strategic sectors. I firmly believe that we need to strengthen our resilience by focusing our investments on these sectors. For example, when it comes to investing in future technologies, the EU must develop its own vision and strategy for digital sovereignty.

The EU also needs to build critical raw materials resilience. To give you just one example illustrating the need for action: the EU currently imports 98% of its rare-earth permanent magnets from China. These are essential for traction motors for electric vehicles and turbines for wind power production, among others.

The EESC also calls for a definition of open strategic autonomy of food systems ensuring food security and sustainability for all EU citizens.

Going hand in hand with strategic autonomy is the development of the European Health Union. Supporting a strong and coordinated European healthcare ecosystem is crucial to the EU's industrial strategic autonomy, technological sovereignty and better quality of life for EU citizens.

We are calling for comprehensive mapping to understand the dependencies identified in the Updated Industrial Strategy. We are also calling for strategic foresight at EU level to promote fair availability of equipment and access to the healthcare ecosystem, greater solidarity, fairness and multilateral cooperation. Strategic stockpiling and reshoring EU companies are other important directions to be considered in the framework of EU competences.

This brings me to international trade – a key tool for recovery. We want trade to be free, fair, sustainable and predictable. However international trade is changing, influenced by geopolitics, the green, just and digital transitions, and battles of values and democracies exacerbated by the pandemic. Through our participation in the bilateral Free Trade Agreements, we are seeking to engage EU and partners' civil societies in sustainable trade initiatives.

Finally, I would like to emphasise the need to protect, maintain and reinforce our democratic systems. Fundamental rights and rule of law are under pressure, outside and within the Union.

To quote Polish author and Nobel Prize laureate Olga Tokarczuk who reflects brilliantly on the twilight of democracy and illiberal political options: "Today our problem lies […] in the fact that we do not yet have ready narratives, not only for the future, but even for a concrete now, for the ultra-rapid transformations of today’s world".

I firmly believe that our common European narrative has to be based on strong measures and policies, ensuring an economically prosperous, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive Europe that leaves no one behind.

To have this secured we need to know the challenges of the future and to take forward looking policy decisions.

The EESC will be happy to contribute!

Thank you very much.

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ESPAS Conference