Event report: The Future of Europe – Co-creation and sustainability

On 14 and 15 September, the Belgium Royal Academy of Sciences hosted the conference “The Future of Europe”. The two lectures, entitled Co-creation and Sustainability, were given by Domenico Rossetti di Valdalbero.

Rossetti di Valdalbero is currently working as Principal Administrator at the European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. He is specialised in questions relating to European research, innovation and technological development, specifically renewable energy, “Energy-Economy-Environment” models, solar energy, climate change, socio-ecological transition and smart urban futures. He is the author of three books entitled “Villes phares de l’Union Européenne”, “The Power of Science” and “Mapping European integration through its Cities”. Rossetti di Valdalbero has a PhD in Economics from Paris Dauphine University. He also holds degrees from the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) and from the Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology.

“Voir loin, voir large, analyser en profondeur, prendre des risques, penser à l’homme.” – Gaston Berger

Rossetti di Valdalbero started his lecture by sketching a picture of the new world we live in today. Drawing on extensive data, he illustrated the changes that have occurred in the past few decades. The world population, which was relatively constant for centuries, has risen steeply from 1.5 to 7 billion. This has led to rapid growth in energy consumption and real GDP. At the same time, the gap between rich and poor has widened – the wealth of 62 of the richest people on the planet equals the wealth of 3.5 billion of the poorest people. The 21st century world is characterised by blurred boundaries between professional and private, industry and services, market and state, North-South, East-West, developed-developing countries. It is a world of multi-polarity, of fast urbanization and of cosmopolitan cities. It is also a world of new business models which open up opportunities.  Facebook – the world’s most powerful social media – creates no content; Airbnb provides accommodation for hundreds of people without owning a single building; Uber drives people all around the world without owning any cars.

“Il n’y a plus que des petits pays en Europe, mais certains ne le savent pas.” – Paul-Henri Spaak

What is the place of Europe in this globalised world? According to Rossetti di Valdalbero, we are today facing both challenges and opportunities. Amongst Europe’s main problems are population decline, government gross debt, unemployment and the migrant crisis. Inequality is the key word for describing Europe. 20% of Europe’s population is at risk of poverty and social exclusion. There is also significant inequality between the EU member states – Bulgaria’s minimum wage is less than 250 euros while in Luxemburg it is almost 2000 euros; working life in Italy is 30 years, while in Sweden it is 40 years. At the same time, science and technological progress allow man today to realise all his dreams – to live longer, to fly, to travel anywhere, to explore space. Billions of people are connected by mobile devices with unprecedented processing power.

“Le travail éloigne de nous trois grands maux : l’ennui, le vice, et le besoin” – Candide

To keep its competitiveness and attractiveness, Europe should adopt an open and forward-looking development strategy. It should include open innovations that consist in the exchange of ideas and knowledge within and outside companies; open access to science; more entrepreneurially-oriented universities; academic curricula that are problem-oriented and trans-disciplinary. Economic growth should be based on the collaborative economy and a culture that is shifting from ownership (purchase) to access (sharing, renting, swapping). Most important, the sustainable development strategy should aim at making a sustainable lifestyle easy. Finally, Rossetti di Valdalbero suggested that Europe should seek new paths for growth through innovation, structural reforms and a new industrial revolution.

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