The future of foresight cooperation in an enlarged EU

Fittingly, the final act of the 'foresight in an enlarged European research and innovation area' conference in Ioannina, Greece, on 16 May was to look ahead and consider a common vision for future cooperation in foresight, as outlined in the Ioannina conference manifesto.

Participants at the two day event gathered to discuss the manifesto, and after agreeing on some minor changes, including an increased emphasis on the impact of foresight on industry, the final text was overwhelmingly approved.

The manifesto argues that that through its visualisation of the long term future of science, technology, society and the economy, foresight 'plays an instrumental role in enabling effective communication links across the organisational boundaries of policy makers, industrial and market activity areas and society'. Furthermore, foresight 'strengthens democratisation in governance by embedding societal concerns in policy making,' it states.

The manifesto outlines priority objectives for the foresight community in Europe, which include the strengthening of links between practitioners and policy makers in order to better understand future developments in an enlarged Europe, to promote cooperation in foresight and transfer know how among EU, accession, candidate and other countries, and to 'establish structures to exploit best practices and facilitate communication among key actors'.

The document goes on to invite decision makers, particularly within the Commission, to 'further coordinate their efforts with a view to reinforcing foresight cooperation at European, national and regional level', to promote new forms of foresight cooperation and new initiatives at cross regional level, and to 'promote the establishment of pan European fora for foresight and civil society cooperation'.

Finally, foresight stakeholders in academia, industry, government and civil society are called on to define areas of mutual scientific, technological and social interest for future initiatives, to strengthen the transfer of foresight knowledge and experience across countries and regions, and to exploit the opportunities offered within the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6)  to map national priorities, and set up projects, clusters and networks of excellence of benefit to future foresight cooperation initiatives.

Following the approval of the manifesto, CORDIS News spoke with a number of delegates at the conference and asked for their thoughts on the objectives and outcomes of the event.

Dimitris Deniozos, the Greek General Secretary for research and development, emphasised that through the involvement of senior European politicians at the event, the general understanding of the role and importance of foresight among policy makers had been improved.

'Furthermore, this event was focussed particularly on the methodology of foresight, rather than simply the creation of future scenarios, and was thus of great benefit,' he said.

Mr Deniozos also highlighted the suitability of Ioannina as a location for the conference, due to its historical importance as the site of the Oracle of Zeus over 2,500 years ago: 'The existence of monuments to ancient foresight activities alongside this conference shows that the concept is not simply a fashionable modern invention, but a long standing human phenomenon.'

Dr Raoul Kneucker, a Director General at the Austrian Ministry for Education, Science and Culture, said that, importantly, the conference had enabled the identification of next steps for increasing European foresight cooperation. 'These will include national foresight studies in Member States and especially candidate countries, a similar exercise at an EU level, and the benchmarking of foresight policies and practices,' he argued. Dr Kneucker also said that the presence of key EU representatives will have given the Commission a much clearer idea of the content of upcoming calls for proposals for foresight initiatives under FP6.

In his closing remarks to the conference, Director General of the Commission's Research DG, Achilleas Mitsos, stressed that foresight in itself should not be seen as an objective, but rather as a vital tool in the wider context of scientific and technological progress. 'We must strive to find the right balance between optimist and scepticism, realism and romanticism,' he said.

Mr Mitsos concluded by taking a quotation from the Roman philosopher, Seneca the younger, to emphasise the importance of foresight in pursuit of Europe's wider goals: 'If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.'

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