The Rubjerg Knude lighthouse in Denmark

European Union

The UK’s departure from the European Union (chapter 9) in January 2020 will not change the essence of the European project, which is tending towards closer integration.  

The bloc’s new growth strategy, the European Green Deal (2020), seeks to accelerate the ‘green’ transition in all five socio-economic systems (energy; agrifood; manufacturing; transportation; and buildings–housing) by pointing resource mobilization and regulatory and other reforms in the same direction.  

The aim is to reach the 2050 target for carbon neutrality while making sure that jobs lost in one industry can be recreated elsewhere. A Just Transition Mechanism will help vulnerable countries weather the transition, such as in the event of widespread job losses tied to the phasing out of a polluting industry. 

Twin engines of this transition will be smart specialization by regions and new mission-oriented policies, implemented within the Horizon Europe framework programme for research and innovation (2021–2027). Another new feature is the European Innovation Council, which has been fully operational since 2021; its role is to fill the financing gap for innovative start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises. 

The European Green Deal is accompanied by an industrial strategy adopted in March 2021 which focuses on the dual green and digital transition, while leveraging the Single Market to set global social and environmental standards. A new policy framework will establish sustainability principles for all products. The EU will also support the development of key enabling technologies, including robotics, micro-electronics, blockchain, quantum technologies, biomedicine, nanotechnologies and pharmaceuticals.  

According to the European Commission, only about one in five companies are digitalized. The bloc’s digital strategy, A Europe fit for the Digital Age (2019), enables companies of all sizes to ‘test before they invest’ in digital technologies via digital innovation hubs, using competitive funding provided under Horizon 2020 and its successor, Horizon Europe. As of February 2020, 16 countries had published national strategies on artificial intelligence and another five had prepared an advanced draft. 

In order to prepare the workforce for the digital economy of tomorrow, greater emphasis will be laid on lifelong learning in the Digital Education Action Plan 2021–2027. 

Meanwhile, the new European Universities Initiative aims to create networks of tertiary institutions to enable students to obtain a degree by combining their studies in several EU countries while heightening a European sense of identity. 

The bloc intends to reinforce its strategic autonomy and soft power in the coming years, including through its trade, digital and defence policies.  

  • Figure 9.1: Socio-economic trends in the European Union 
  • Box 9.1: The European Union's post-Brexit relationship with the UK 
  • Figure 9.2: Trends in research expenditure in the European Union  
  • Figure 9.3: Trends in researchers in the European Union 
  • Figure 9.4: Trends in scientific publishing in the European Union  
  • Figure 9.5: Trends in publishing on cross-cutting strategic technologies in the European Union 
  • Figure 9.6: Trends in scientific publishing on SDG-related topics in the European Union 
  • Figure 9.7: Volume of EU28 publications on 16 SDGs, 2015–2019 
  • Figure 9.8: The European Green Deal 
  • Figure 9.9: Preliminary structure of Horizon Europe 
  • Figure 9.10: Level of priority accorded to sustainable energy and renewable sources in smart specialization strategies in the European  Union, 2017 
  • Figure 9.11: Number of IP5 patents granted to inventors from the EU28, 2015–2019 
  • Figure 9.12: Evolution in green and digital patents awarded to inventors from the European Union and selected countries, 2000–2017