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21st Sep 2021

EU eyes four trends shaping next decades in new report

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has driven efforts to increase the EU's resilience, self-sufficiency and global leadership (Photo: Peter Teffer)
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The green and digital transition, together with the pressure on democracy and the shift in the shares of the global population and GDP, will shape the geopolitical world order in the coming decades, according to a new report released by the European Commission.

"While we cannot know what the future holds, a better understanding of key megatrends will enhance the EU's long-term capacity and freedom to act," EU commissioner for interinstitutional relations Maroš Šefčovič said on Wednesday (8 September).

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According to Šefčovič, the Covid-19 pandemic has driven efforts to increase the EU's resilience, self-sufficiency and global leadership, especially after external dependencies and existing vulnerabilities became obvious.

In the EU's second annual foresight report, climate change is identified as a major strategic issue that will define the global order due to its significant impact on the environment, economy, health, food and water security, and human safety.

Extreme weather events and rising temperatures are expected to put water and food security under pressure, potentially aggravating conflicts in the southern EU neighbourhood and migration flows. But environmental degradation is also deemed to increase the risks of pandemics and affect financial stability.

The energy transition will also determine the redistribution of world power since fossil-fuel exporters and dependent countries will be shadowed by those countries with a large capacity to generate and export renewable energy.

As a result, the EU will have to secure sufficient supplies of decarbonised energy and reduce sharply its energy intensity, the report says.

It adds that achieving climate neutrality by 2050 would drastically decrease the EU's energy dependency on third countries. Yet, the 27-nation bloc will stay face tensions and competition pressure from China and Russia.

Moreover, the increasing use of green technologies, such as those underpinning wind and solar power and electric vehicles, is also estimated to increase the EU's demand for raw materials - a field where the EU aims to diversify supply chains.

Under the digital focus, the EU's capabilities in artificial intelligence, big data and robotics are seen as similar to Japan's - revealing the need to step up investment and innovation to compete with China and the US.

Space and semiconductors

Space technology and semiconductors, for example, are identified as sectors in which Europe needs to catch up with global leaders - especially given their strategic importance in many sectors.

"Space technologies, together with artificial intelligence, are strategic means of countering threats and anticipating future risks, such as hybrid threats including cyber espionage," illustrates the report.

Meanwhile, large-scale disinformation is expected to drive a new type of information warfare, putting pressure on democratic countries and increasing polarisation.

And repression of freedoms and democratic reforms, as well as continued conflicts in the EU neighbourhood, will continue to drive migration flows, the report says.

Additionally, world demographic changes are also deemed to play their role in shaping the geopolitical arena - especially with China set to become the biggest global economy before 2030, and India likely surpassing the EU in the next 20 years.

The EU's position is that the increasing presence of China in the world must go hand-in-hand with greater reciprocity, non-discrimination and openness of its domestic system.

Nevertheless, the report concludes that the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis show that multilateralism must adapt to help the world be better prepared for crisis management and response.

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