EU ‘brains’ warn about end of free capital markets by 2030

While Europe is growing older, and inequalities are expected to increase due to the technological revolution, the EU is "inadequately prepared" for the upcoming digital age. [European Commission]

Europe faces daunting years ahead, according to a report by the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS), which looks at major global developments until 2030.

“The world is becoming steadily more complex, more challenging and also more insecure,” says the report, which was presented to EU institutions last week, just before the Paris terrorist attacks on Friday (13 November).

The scope for massive “negative game-changers” on a global scale is “considerable”, including “the end of free capital markets”, according to the report, Global trends to 2030: Can the EU meet the challenges ahead?

The think tank warned that ‘business as usual’, in terms of economic and social governance, and external resilience, will not be enough for Europe “to hold its ground in a rapidly changing and more demanding world”.

The ESPAS is an inter-institutional EU project, which brings together the experts of the European Commission the European Parliament, the Council and the EU External Action Service to detect trends facing the EU and to propose policy responses.

Three revolutions underway

The EU experts believe that three revolutions are currently paving the way for a “more complex and insecure world”. These are the economic and technological revolution, the social and democratic revolution, and the geopolitical revolution, namely the rise of Asia.

Although the impact of the new technologies is expected to transform European economies and societies, the report warned that it could further increase unemployment, inequalities and impoverish the middle class in the EU.

Meanwhile, more empowered and better connected individuals will make “more difficult to design collective agreements and to shape common approaches through the traditional structures, such as political parties or trade unions”, the document says.

The magnitude of the challenges is such that ESPAS warned about a risk of witnessing the end of free capital markets, along with a massive financial and monetary crisis, a major pandemic, a large-scale energy crisis, and a conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.

The European Political Strategy Centre, the Commission’s in-house think tank, invited the author Don Tapscott to deliver the keynote address for the presentation of the report on Thursday (12 November). In an interview with EURACTIV, Tapscott warned that “there is a very real risk that capitalism can be replaced” if governments do no distribute wealth.

>>Read: Tapscott: There is a very real risk that capitalism can be replaced

Moreover, the increasing political tensions and conflicts across the globe, and the realignment around Rusia, China and the Middle East, could revive “an atmosphere of insecurity and conflict reminiscent of pivotal moments in the early 20th century”, on the eve of the outbreak of the two World Wars.

The report even described the “ultimate storm”, as a potential interlink between frustration and volatility in emerging countries due to disappointing growth, the impact of climate change, growing inequalities worldwide, and the weaknesses of the multilateral system for ensuring a peaceful conflict resolution.

Against this backdrop, the challenges will be too big for individual states, or even regions, while “the resilience of almost every major state and organisation is likely to be severely tested”.

Europe’s ‘considerable assets’

In order to address these challenges Europe can rely on “considerable assets”, such as cultural diversity, highly-educated human capital, excellent research capacity, a developed infrastructure, strong social cohesion, and a functioning, decentralised political system operating at many levels, and based on the rule of law and individual freedom.

The EU ‘brains’ stressed that Europe’s success will depend on its “capacity to anticipate, to be more flexible, more agile and more inclusive”. However, the overwhelming challenges dwarf the policy proposals made to deal with them.

Most of the solutions have been already floated. On the economic front, the report highlighted that “a simple Keynesian approach” will not be enough to find the growth formula for the next two decades. Growth “has to be achieved without debt”.

In terms of solutions, the report listed the mobilisation of investment, the completion of the single market, the development of a genuine “energy union”, and enhanced eurozone governance. But it underlines that “more efficient social safety nets are needed to underpin market flexibility and combat rising inequality” in Europe.

A novelty is the “strong case for taking a broader view of economic growth than one based entirely on measuring GDP”, included in the document. Hence, sustainability, access to education and quality of life should also be taken into account, as they can bring not only better quality of life for Europeans but also economic gains.

Meanwhile, the report predicts that, by 2030, all current member states, except Denmark and the UK, “may well have joined the eurozone”. All EU members except these two countries are legally bound to join the common currency, although the appetite has largely decreased across the non-euro members.

Projections for the world in 2030

  • Ageing will be global: The world population growth will slow and peak, possibly within 20 years, at around 8.3 billion people;
  • A new global ‘middle class’ in the emerging countries will expand rapidly, mainly in cities, and particularly in Asia;
  • Dynamic and technologically empowered, this new group will be especially vulnerable, subject to increasing inequalities and unprecedented ageing;
  • Inequalities within countries will widen worldwide;
  • Migration may well further increase, in particular along South-South routes.


  • Ageing in the emerging economies may affect their economic growth and domestic stability; 
  • Growing inequalities in access to resources (education, health services) may trigger serious social discontent.

'Wild cards'

  • Unexpected continuing growth of world population to 11-12 billion people with major negative effects on food and health issues, energy availability and stability;
  • Uncontrolled global pandemics could spread with systemic impacts.

Report 'Global trends to 2030: Can the EU meet the challenges ahead?'

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