The Knowledge of the Future: Report


Will Europe be able to support this economic orientation, boost its competitiveness and hold its forefront position in R&I and on international markets? Will the EU be able to guide this transformation and curb future changes to improve our lives, to integrate our societies and preserve and improve our environment? What policies will better assure success and enhance the cycle of knowledge production and implementation? Will the EU be able to face the challenges and the upcoming changes?


 A brief history lesson    

 The quest for economic supremacy  has been at the heart of the European integration process since its very inception. Tracing the historical origins of the economic progress agenda, Europe’s ambition to bolster its economy vis-à-vis its main competitors has traditionally rested on major projects namely the foundation of the common market in the 1950s and 1960s, the Werner Plan in the 1970s, the Single European Market in the 1980s, the Economic and Monetary Union in the 1990s up to the “flagship” EU reform program called Lisbon Strategy in the 2000 and its continuation – strategy Europe 2020 from the year 2010.

But if such a long experience in the implementation of strategic economic programs is guarantee of the success?

Just to remind the assumptions widely known and discuss the document adopted at the European Council Summit in Lisbon. The program set out to make the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by the end of the decade.

This target hasn’t been achieved. Moreover, Copeland  in EC publication Lisbon Strategy: Budget implementation and results argues that the governance architecture and achievements of Lisbon/Europe 2020 should be seen as evidence of a lost decade-and-a-half in economic policy making in the EU, rather than a blueprint for the recovery of the European economy.

What does therefore differ the Europe 2020 Strategy in comparison to the Lisbon Strategy? Europe 2020 assumes (1) stronger recognition of interdependencies between national budgetary policies and national reform programs (competitiveness and growth potential) and (2) the attempt to increase pressure on bad performers. 

For Copeland, the process of policy learning is essentially “Brussels talking to Brussels”, without compliance of the Member States with most of the knowledge has been confined to the EU-level political or technical committees.

Therefore, the crucial task for the new European reform strategy is to ensure that there are tangible changes visible. The main instrument in putting Europe 2020 strategy in action is the EU flagship R&D Programme Horizon 2020.

But the European Commission already goes beyond 2020. 


  A brief future lesson 

European Commission has focused on foresight to identify key challenges facing Europe and possible ways to deal with them. On the 30th of November 2015 the Directorate General of Research and Innovation of the European Commission published a report developed by a group of experts (academics, policy experts and private-sector representatives) entitled “The Knowledge of Future: Intelligent Policy Choices for Europe 2050”.



The expert group, firstly identified three main Megatrends which will be key challenges and sources of opportunities for Europe and with which our Knowledge Economy will have to cope with in the foreseeable future:  

I.Globalisation: the world gets more inter-connected and the competition expands globally, so the way we learn, discover and innovate will change rapidly and hit faster and harder our domestic realities;

II.Demographic Changes: the move to cities, the ageing population, the shift in family size and social norms, etc., all will alter what we expect and can do with education, research and innovation;

III.Technological Advances: innovation and inventions come faster and faster, changing societies and economy deeply, but also our expectation and our working habits and methods in education, research and innovation. 

The heart of the report are two views of the future to the year 2050: (1) European Success, (2) Europe misses out. These are not forecasts or formal scenarios, but sketches (fr. vignette) build up to profile the most and less desirable future situations, to underline the importance of wise policy choices and to suggest what the policies might be.

Option A - European Success: European economy is knowledge-based and preserves a high level of competitiveness with robust clusters of universities co-operating in synergy with the regional institutions and industry. Education creates new forms of employment and new skills required on the market. Open innovation is the main model and the EU is leader in the generation of new ideas, able to assure competitive industrial sectors, with a main SMEs’ role, and the improvement of democratic and inclusive social standards.



 Option B – Europe misses out: Europe is a victim of the Megatrends. Automation and globalisation have triggered mass unemployment, social exclusion and discontent. There are few highly educated and inventions are effective, but job-reducing. Europe is fragmented with regional groups struggling for resources. Free riding and inequality, also in education, foment social tensions. Education is automated and only industrially oriented. European Research has been overpassed; Europe looks inward, fears the future and its value are discredited.


From scenarios to decisions    

In order to avoid Option B and pursue Option A, the expert group suggests pursuing openness, experimentation and co-operation to fight against the three main threats to the Union: (1) structural unemployment and inequality, (2) funding shortfalls and (3) a skills crisis.

The group identified principles to which future policies should take inspiration from, offering recommendations for policy makers and relevant stakeholders on the necessity to speed up actions especially concerning knowledge policies in their many forms:

  • An open knowledge system in Europe,
  • Flexibility and experimentation in innovation,
  • European-level cooperation,
  • Proper funding and tax base.

In the context of this article the rule number three seems to be the most important. Its full text is:

A single market of scale requires some form of coordination for policy, regulation and support. Europe’s knowledge system will be both a contributor to and a beneficiary of a coherent EU framework. Better to hang together than hang separately.

It becomes particularly important in relation to the recent events in the EU: immigration crisis, the issue of ensuring security in Europe, the debate in the UK on staying / leaving the EU; and most of all on decision-making within EU (the deciding vote of some countries).


 Notwithstanding the value of the report and its recommendations it’s worth to complement it with two important points to think about:

  1. The picture of competitiveness within the EU has become increasingly polarised. This reduces the incentives for voluntary convergence between the member states, as it is too painful for the poorer countries and too expensive for surplus countries.
  2. Europe’s future should not be seen only through the prism “factors of production” that provide financial, environmental security, economic development and technological leadership. The full picture can be obtained by assigning equal importance “republican values on which the modern Europe was formed” . It is important to correct define and understand of republican values. Stawrowski perfectly describes them in the essay: “On the republic and republican attitude”.

Therefore the pivotal role that national stakeholders play regarding matters of legitimacy in the EU’s multi-level system of governance must be underlined. So as the process of policy making and learning would not be a mere “Brussels talking to Brussels” in the most important issue: our common vision of the future.