Tuesday 5 April 2011

Back to the Future: Scenarios for Europe 2010 as seen in 1999

Two weeks ago I gave a talk during the MUCS workshop at PerCom looking into how we manage ubiquitous computing environments. I had built that talk some years back and find an occasion to present it roughly once a year. Interesting is that a lot of problems and issues we looked at five years ago are still that: problems and issues.

More interestingly, I used a document from the European Commission in my original talk and now, since I remembered that document, had a look into it again. It is a report published by the Forward Study group of the European Commission titled: Scenarios Europe 2010. You can download the working paper from CiteSeerx (link at the end of this entry). The report was published in 1999, which makes it even more interesting to look at it having seen the actual developments in the first decade of the new millennium by now.

The report identifies five different scenarios and provides a qualitative description of them, aiming to facilitate discussions within the Commission and Europe and to influence policy and decision making. The five scenarios are:

  • Triumphant Markets - in essence the ‘triumph of trade over war’, facilitated by technological advances and full employment in industrial countries but also an increased environmental damage;
  • The Hundred Flowers - grassroot activities taking over from old governments and multi-nationals with an increased focus on local development and probably a fragmentation of business and social life;
  • Shared Responsibilities - reconciliation of ideas such as solidarity and respect, underpinned by technological advances and a drastic reform of the public sector;
  • Creative Societies - after a phase of public spending cuts and new austerity programmes Europe again recognises the importance of the human dimension and the focus is on solving social problems, the tax system becomes ‘green’ and activities beyond the logic of market economy; and
  • Turbulent Neighbourhoods - the world is political unstable and troops are deployed to restore order, even within Europe, still without a coherent foreign and security policy.

After describing the scenarios, the report goes into details about what we know about the future (i.e. what we know in 1999), the key drivers for the scenarios and the used methodology.

From my point of view, the report is interesting because it does not try to predict how Europe will evolve, nor does it focus on a simple answer to how the future will look like. All scenarios cover a wide range of different aspects and many of them are not categorised as simply being 'good' or 'bad'. The problems the report suggests we'll have are here today: water, food, environment/ecology, education and digital divide, security (soft and hard), social and regional imbalances and inequalities.

I am not sure which, if any, of the five scenarios actually describes the world today. It's probably safe to say that the "triumph of the markets" didn't really happen. Technology certainly enabled a different way of us interacting with each other and opened new paths to engaging in social, political and economical issues. The obvious names coming to my mind are Twitter and Facebook being used when the volcanic ash cloud closed most of Europe's airspace (remember that?) or to coordinate protest actions in several countries earlier this year. I would argue that there is a stronger sense of shared responsibility and creativity here as well. Question then is, are we going towards turbulent neighbourhoods right now? Maybe not in Europe.

Well, if you have a spare minute you might have a look at the report itself. The scenario descriptions are not too long...

Gilles Bertrand (Coord.), Anna Michalski, Lucio R. Pench: Scenarios Europe 2010 - Five possible Scenarios for Europe, Working Paper, Forward Studies Group, The European Commission, 1999, available at: (last visited 04/04/2011)

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