ESPAS in brief
The European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) is an inter-institutional EU process promoting foresight and anticipatory governance. It brings together nine EU institutions and bodies who are committed to thinking longer term about the challenges and opportunities facing Europe and, through foresight, to support policy-makers to make the right policy choices.
We live in an era of rapid and sometimes frightening change, and of growing complexity and uncertainty. Stability, prosperity and democracy are no longer a given. To meet the expectations of citizens and communities, responsible governance is necessary to help prepare better for the future, mitigate major risks and build up capabilities. This is where strategic foresight comes into its own.
In times of increasingly rapid change, growing complexity and critical uncertainty, responsible anticipatory governance is vital to preparing for the unexpected. Strategic Foresight is required whenever there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding changes to the relevant future context. By mainstreaming foresight techniques and processes in policy-making, Europe can make informed choices about the future and the lives and well-being of its citizens.
In the decade or so since it was established, ESPAS has led the way in forging a new culture of foresight in the EU. Many ESPAS partner organisations have developed their own foresight capacity as they came to see the benefits of using this for better policy-making.
ESPAS is currently engaged in a number of exciting, forward-looking projects, drawing on the collective talent from amongst its members. These include:
- A major Global Trends Report, due for publication in 2024.
- A new horizon scanning project identifying 'weak signals' of change.
- A new international dialogue on foresight to compare analysis of global trends and their potential implications for policy-making.
- An Annual Conference bringing together political figures and experts from around the world.
- A 'Young Talent Network' to develop foresight literacy amongst young professionals in the EU.
- A series of Ideas Papers to stimulate discussion on the future across the policy spectrum.
- A 'European Foresight' podcast series (beginning in May 2023).
Enjoy browsing our website. For more information on ESPAS activities and foresight in the European Union, please contact us at ESPAS.Secretariat@europarl.europa.eu.
Foresight is much more about shaping the future than predicting it.
History and state of play
After a successful pilot budgetary project and preparatory action under the 2010 and 2012 EU Budgets, the ESPAS project delivered in March 2015 a synthesis report completed in December 2014:
This report builds on an initial scene-setting report by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) of spring 2012 and three preliminary trend reports in the fields of economics, society and geopolitics, completed in 2013 by independent leading think-tanks and supervised by three inter-institutional working groups. An on-line open library on long-term trends publications called ORBIS has been created, alongside the development of a network of experts on long-term trends within and beyond the Union.
The on-going operation of the ESPAS process was assessed to be a success in a European Parliament resolution on the subject adopted in October 2013 (Rapporteur for Budgets Committee: James Elles MEP). The Parliament underlined 'the importance of continuing the process of developing an effective capacity for the provision of independent, high-quality inter-institutional analysis and advice on key trends confronting policy-makers within the EU system' and 'strongly recommend[ed] that this process continue after the expiry of the current preparatory action' at the end of 2014, on the basis that would 'involve staff from all the relevant EU institutions and bodies'.
On the basis of the experience of positive cooperation established between administrations during the Pilot Project and Preparatory Action over 2010-14, the ESPAS process is now coordinated by a steering group, encompassing senior officials from the participating EU institutions or bodies, chaired by the Head of the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC) in the European Commission. The secretariat of the network is provided by the European Parliament and the ESPAS project team implements the guidelines decided by the steering group.
To give the ESPAS foresight process fresh input, we are developing a programme for young officials in the EU institutions – The Young Talent Network – providing a platform for cultivating foresight capabilities in future policy-makers.
Under the guidance of the inter-institutional ESPAS steering group, the ESPAS network will continuously update the ESPAS knowledge base on key long-term trends, with particular emphasis on unexpected trends or strongly revised assessments. An Annual ESPAS Conference will be held.
ESPAS was initiated in 2010, when a pilot project launched by the European Parliament laid the foundations for cooperation and dialogue between the four participating organisations. The result of this pilot was the publication of a report in the spring of 2012 by the EUISS entitled
which assessed the long-term political and economic environment facing the EU. The report identified several global trends that will shape the world in 2030. They include:
- empowerment of the individual, which may contribute to a growing sense of belonging to a single human community;
- greater stress on sustainable development against a backdrop of greater resource scarcity and persistent poverty, compounded by the consequences of climate change;
- the emergence of a more polycentric world, which could also be characterised by a shift of power away from states;
- growing governance gaps as the mechanisms for inter-state relations may fail to respond adequately to global public demands.
In 2011, the European Parliament gave the go-ahead for a second stage in the project – a so-called 'Preparatory Action' – with a view to putting in place by 2014 a permanent inter-institutional system to identify and analyse long-term trends.
In 2012, three inter-institutional working groups were set up to oversee an intensive analytical process, including outreach to those interested in engaging with ESPAS, in order to draft trend reports in three key fields: the economy, society, and governance and power. The process resulted in the publication of the report:
- ESPAS Pilot Project budget amendment PDF - 133KB
- ESPAS Preparatory Action budget amendment PDF - 17KB
Draft Report on Forward Policy Planning and long-term trends: budgetary implications of capacity-building:
If you would like to know more about the ESPAS process, please email the ESPAS Secretariat.