Namur, October 20, 2023


Foresight, particularly when applied to territories, bases its process first on the identification of long-term challenges, issues which need to be addressed by the parties and experts involved. Employing both a broad, rigorous information base, which is subject to criticism of sources and facts, and resources resulting from creativity, foresight itself wants to be heuristic and an innovation process. Creativity and rationality are thus combined, not in conflict with each other but rather with the aim of generating novel visions in which dreams engender reality. In a world in which misinformation is presented as the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, rigour in the conceptual framework, reflexivity, independent thought and validation all play an integral part. Lastly, the robustness of the process must make it possible to address the issues of the present and to anticipate those of the future. That means not only reflecting but also equipping oneself with the capabilities to proceed before, or in order that, actions take place.


Introduction: Unlocking the Future Means Creating It

It is through geography, the subject of this part of the 2023 Science Congress [1], that we will address the topic of territorial foresight and its heuristics. I understand from your geographer colleagues Antoine Le Blanc (University of the Littoral Opal Coast) and Olivier Milhaud (Sorbonne University) that the link is essential from the outset, irrespective of concerns over territorial planning and development. They write that we explore the Earth and we explore science, knowing that the journey is inevitably unfinished yet delighting in it. And they add that this could be the heuristic positioning of geographers. Let’s keep exploring: if we experience limitations, we will be able to take control of our journey [2].

Proactively negotiating a path consisting of questioning and reflecting on [3] one’s approach with the goal of taking control of our journey: that is what futurists find appealing. The humility of this heuristic questioning, so dear to historians such as myself, is also at the heart of our reflection, even if it is more common among French geographers based in the Department of Geography, History, Economics and Societal Studies (GHES) than among our Belgian colleagues, located – sometimes far too assuredly – within science faculties. In any event, foresight, with its own ambition, and like some great geographical grassroots’ initiatives [4], tries to be open to the burning issues but, in doing so, is implemented to pluri-, multi- and interdisciplinary excess.

That is also why the contributors to that book which try to define what is geography highlight the manifest poster entitled Geography, a key for our future distributed in 2016 on the initiative of their Belgian colleagues to underline the involvement of geography in today’s world and even in tomorrow’s world at a time when the discipline was under threat, particularly from the Minister for Education of the French-speaking Community of Belgium. In doing so, the systemic representation endorsed by this document becomes part of one of the principles of foresight. The Belgian National Committee for Geography combines the following variables within a single group: climate change, natural and technological risks, living conditions, geolocation, urbanisation, weather forecasts, environmental protection, territorial and urban planning, geomatics, impact of economic activities, demographic policies, energy policy, mobility, nature conservation, geopolitical conflicts and evolution of landscapes [5].

These initial elements, highlighted from geography, provide bridges to the objectives of this contribution: defining territorial foresight, discussing its process and questioning its heuristics at a time when the issue of information quality and traceability of sources appears to be neglected by some people, including in the scientific world itself.


1. An Attitude, a Method, a Discipline and an Indiscipline

Prior to being a method or a discipline, foresight is an attitude – so stated the French philosopher and teacher Gaston Berger (1896-1960), creator of this approach and proponent of the concept. In 1959, when he was Director General of French Higher Education, Berger described foresight through five requirements which, today, are more important than ever:

Look far ahead: foresight is essentially the study of the distant future (…) and of the impetus for change (…)

Take a broad view: linear extrapolations, which give our reasoning an appearance of scientific rigour, are dangerous if we forget that they are abstract (…)

Analyse in detail: foresight assumes utmost attention and unrelenting work (…)

Take risks: forecasting and foresight do not use the same methods. Nor should they be implemented by the same people. Foresight assumes a freedom not permitted by our requirement for urgency (…)

Think of Man: the future is not only what may “happen” or what is most likely to occur. It is also, and to an ever-increasing extent, what we hoped it would be[6].

Derived also from the thinking of pragmatist philosopher Maurice Blondel (1861-1949) [7], action is therefore going to be central to the futurist’s concerns. And, as highlighted by Jacques Lesourne (1928-2020), who studied at the Ecole Polytechnique, was an engineer of the Corps des Mines in Paris and who was one of the greatest pioneers of Foresight application and its teaching, there is a vast difference in outlook between futurists who reflect with a view to taking action and scientists who work with a view to broadening knowledge. The latter may reject a problem as premature. The former must accept it if it is important for stakeholders, and their duty is therefore to consider any relevant and plausible information, even if it is expressed in vague terms [8]. Although their focus is on the quest for knowledge, futurists will also be men and women of practical experience and concrete action.

Drawing his inspiration from the work carried out in the United States, as Gaston Berger had also done [9], the economist Michel Godet, who succeeded Jacques Lesourne to the Chair of Industrial Foresight at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris, also helped to give foresight its strong strategic dimension. Basing his views on the works of the American organisational theorist Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009), Godet emphasised foresight’s prescriptive vocation as well as its exploratory dimension [10]. Consequently, he added planning, which, in the words of Ackoff, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, involves conceiving a desirable future and devising the ways and means to achieve it [11].

With the benefit of his practical experience, particularly within businesses and territories, Michel Godet also added three further requirements to the five characteristics advocated for foresight by Gaston Berger:

See differently: distrust received ideas.

The consensual dream of current generations is often a temporary agreement to leave everything unchanged and to pass the burden of our collective irresponsible actions on to future generations.

Do it together: appropriation.

It is a bad idea to want to impose a good idea.

Use methods that are as rigorous and participatory as possible in order to reduce the inevitable collective inconsistencies. (…) Without cognitive foresight, declared Godet, President of the Scientific Council of DATAR [Interministerial Delegation for Regional Planning and Regional Attractiveness], in 2004, participatory foresight will drift aimlessly and go round in circles [12].

It is this notion of foresight that Michel Godet continues to describe as intellectual indiscipline, using this phrase as the subtitle of the first volume of his Manuel de prospective stratégique[13]. In this work, Godet, the former Director of Foresight at SEMA, points out that the wording is that of Pierre Massé (1898-1987). In his foreword to the first edition of the Prospective review, in 1973, Massé, who was the former General Commissioner of Planning under General de Gaulle, observed that the term, whose modern acceptance was attributable to Gaston Berger, was explicitly neither a science nor a doctrine but rather a pursuit. Straining the words, wrote Massé, might have raised questions over whether Foresight’s vocation for uncertainty condemned it to being, by definition, not a discipline, but an indiscipline which challenges cursory, dangerous forecasting based on extrapolation [14]. Massé, author of Le Plan ou l’Anti-hasard (1965) [15], answered his question himself: I don’t believe so, however, since we need a science of approximations, a sort of social topology that helps us find our way in an increasingly complex and changing world in which imagination, supplemented by discernment, attempts to identify significant future trends. (…) The object of foresight is not to dream, but to transform our dreams into projects. It is not a question of guessing the future as prophets and futurologists do, and not without some risk, but of helping to construct it, setting chance against the anti-chance created through human desire [16].

Thus, as a tool based on temporality, in other words, the complex relationship which the present establishes both backwards and forwards with the past and the future [17], foresight goes beyond the historicity of our thought mechanisms to project itself into the future and explore the possible, desirable and achievable paths before taking action.

Strengthened by the convergence of the Anglo-Saxon foresight and the Latin prospective works carried out in the early 2000s under the guidance of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research, foresight is a process of innovation and strategic transformation, based on systemics and the long term, for implementing present, operational actions. Systemics, because it involves complex systems analysis as well as modelling theory and practice. Long term, because it takes into account the long timescale dear to Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) [18] and presents a plural representation of the future in order to identify alternatives with a view to creating a single future [19]. Present, operational actions, because it constructs and implements a strategic desire to transform, set in motion and take action on history, territory and organisation.

This is the basis of a definition which I have continued to refine over time since the first version I wrote, initially for the European Commission [20], then for the Wallonia Evaluation and Foresight Society and DATAR [21].

Foresight is an independent, dialectic, rigorous approach conducted in an interdisciplinary manner and based on the long term.

Foresight can explain questions relating to the present and the future, firstly, by considering them within their holistic, systemic and complex framework and, secondly, by positioning them, beyond their historicity, within temporality. With a deliberate focus on project and action, its aim is to bring about one or more transformations within the system which it perceives through the use of collective intelligence[22].

Thus we can echo and supplement the elegant phrase of Jacques Lesourne: whenever there is a foresight reflection, there is decision to be taken [23], adding the words “and implemented”. We will confirm this in the analysis of the process.

Numerous debates have taken place within the futurist community on whether territorial foresight is different to business, industrial or technological foresight. Such discussions are rather pointless and I do not wish to be involved in them. I will, however, mention that one of the top experts in French territorial foresight, Guy Loinger (1943-2012) defined it as the activity whose purpose is to express alternative representations of the possible and desirable futures for a territory, with a view to developing territorial projects and local and regional public policies [24]. As Loinger, Director of the Interregional Observatory for Regional Foresight (OIPR), rightly observed, this definition clearly highlights the fact that foresight is a strategic reflection activity which takes place before the decision-making processes. It must be able to result in the operationalisation of the collectivity’s intervention within the territory. Practical experiments of this type have been carried out by The Destree Institute for twenty years, in addition to those undertaken at Walloon regional level. The following can be mentioned by way of example: Luxembourg 2010, Pays de Herve in the Future, Charleroi 2020, the Urban Community of Dunkirk, Picard Wallonia 2025, Côtes d’Armor 2020, Development Vision for the Basque Country, Sustainable Development Scheme for the Picardy Region, Normandie 2020+, Midi-Pyrénées Region, Lorraine Region, Bassin Cœur du Hainaut 2025, Regional Development Scheme for the Grande Région, etc. These are all territorial foresight works undertaken alone or in partnership, and an entire conference could be dedicated to describing them one by one.

Activity, attitude, approach, process, method, technique, tool – defining the purpose of foresight can be a confusing process. At a lecture he gave in Namur in 2009, Pierre Gonod (1925-2009), an expert in complex systems analysis, described foresight as heuristics, a process of rationality and a potential source of creativity, a veritable machine for asking questions [25].

I do not need to remind you that heuristics is the area of science whose purpose is to uncover the facts, and therefore the sources and the documents that underpin those facts, the latter part of this definition recalling, according to the philosophical vocabulary of André Lalande (1867-1963), the occupation of historians [26]. In my view, however, it is a necessity for all disciplines and approaches, scientific or otherwise. This reference to science is difficult to apply to all of the concerns in any discipline, but it can undoubtedly describe their processes and approaches. Heuristics is like a Russian doll. It aims to identify as exhaustively as possible all the relevant documentation on a subject, and, in addition to collecting the documents, to offer a detailed critique of the sources. As the sociologist and psychologist Claude-Pierre Vincent pointed out, heuristics also contains the ingredients of creation, intuition, creativity and strategic innovation. Vincent defines it broadly: all intellectual tools, all processes and all procedures, as well as all approaches that encourage “The art of discovery” and all approaches aimed at fostering “invention in science” [27]. It is also worth noting that the American mathematician George Pólya (1887-1985) observes on the subject of heuristics, since it deals with problem-solving, that one of its specific tasks is to express, in general terms, reasons for choosing subjects which, if investigated, could help us achieve the solution [28].

Asking the right question is central to any scientific approach as well as to foresight. That is why the phase involving the definition of long-term challenges is so important.


 2. A Robust Operational Process

The purpose of the foresight process is change. Not change for change’s sake at any time, as denounced by Peter Bishop in his courses [29], but change which makes it possible to address the long-term challenges and achieve the desired vision within the chosen timeframe. Gaston Berger had previously referred to the works of the German-born American psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), who had developed a change management model consisting of three phases, the most important of which was called transition: during this phase, behaviours and attitudes become unstable and contradictory and are experimented with by stakeholders who adopt some of them[30]. Inspired by this line of thinking and by other change models, some futurist colleagues and I have developed a seven-stage foresight process model comprising three phases[31]:

Evolution and preparation phase (Defining objectives, temporal and spatial positioning, management, scheduling, budget, communication, etc.)

 Foresight phase

  1. Identification (actors and factors) and foresight diagnosis.
  2. Defining the long-term issues.
  3. Developing the common vision.

Strategic phase

  1. Designating the strategic priorities.
  2. Assessing and selecting the concrete actions.
  3. Managing and monitoring the implementation.
  4. Evaluating the process and the results of the exercise.

The process is enriched throughout its course, firstly, internally through collective intelligence and, secondly, through outward monitoring in order to be alert to the emergences that always occur. The journey is a societal learning process for collecting, decoding and, above all, consolidating the information by calling on experts and bringing them together in deliberative forums. The objective of the exercise is to co-construct a sound body of knowledge which, when shared, will serve as the basis for expressing possibilities, desirable futures and strategy.

Over the years, the participation processes have been strengthened to ensure that the stakeholders become true players and that the involvement of actors is not only designed as a series of consultation or deliberation mechanisms but also offers genuine momentum for co-conception, co-construction and even co-decision [32].


3. Defeating the five horsemen of the Apocalypse

Bill Bramhall’s cartoon The five horsemen of the Apocalypse, which appeared in the New York Daily News editorial of 16 August 2021, perfectly illustrated my thoughts on the need for formal heuristics. Alongside war, famine, pestilence and death rides a fifth horseman. Death asks him who he is. The horseman, who is holding a smart phone or tablet, replies: misinformation. Conceived when misinformation was wreaking havoc during the coronavirus pandemic and at a time of full-blown Trumpism, this image is still relevant in many areas other than the pandemic.

Piero Dominici, a professor at the University of Perugia and a member of the World Science Academy, was a guest at one of my foresight and roadmap courses at the National Engineering School of Tunisia. During this course, he discussed the five illusions of hyper-technological civilisation: the illusion of rationality, the illusion of total control, the illusion of predictability, the illusion of measurability and the illusion of the power to eliminate error in our social systems and our lives [33]. These various certainties were overturned during the great hoax played by the very serious popular scientist Étienne Klein on 31 July 2022. The celebrated physician and scientific philosopher tweeted an image of the star Proxima Centauri, describing it as the star closest to the Sun, located 4.2 light years away from us (which seems accurate), and said that it had been captured by the James Webb telescope (JWST), launched several months earlier. Faced with the frenzy and the real risk of media uproar surrounding this information, Étienne Klein announced that the photo published was in fact a picture of a slice of chorizo against a black background. In sharing this image, Klein, former Research Director at the Atomic Energy Commission, had sought to urge caution at the publishing of images on social media, not imagining that the lack of criticism would send his message viral. It should also be mentioned that a quick search shows that Étienne Klein had himself shared a tweet by the astrophysicist Peter Coles from the University of Cardiff, dated the previous day, which had not had the same impact on social media. The original photo of the chorizo is actually older as it had been posted on 27 July 2018 by Jan Castenmiller, a retired Dutchman living in Vélez-Málaga, in Andalucia, who described it as a photo of a lunar eclipse. The uproar surrounding this slice of meat can be explained by three factors: the higher quality of the image, which had been slightly retouched, the enthusiasm surrounding the results produced by the new telescope and, above all, the excellent credentials of the person sharing the image [34].

This necessary traceability of sources is essential to the quality and reliability of information. However, it is being undermined. Not only by technical advances, particularly in the digital sector and in the field of AI, which make it possible to alter text, voice and image, but also through a form of lowering of standards on the part of the researchers themselves. This includes the increasingly common use of the particularly poor method of referencing sources, the so-called Harvard method, and the practice of filling scientific texts with vague references to style (Destatte, 1997), referring here to a work of 475 pages, when that is not the case – excuse the comparison – (Hobbes, 1993), obliging the reader to search for the evidence of what is being claimed in the 780 pages of the third Sirey edition of the English philosopher’s work, as I had to do recently. As Marc Bloch (1886-1944) points out in simple terms, indicating the provenance of a document merely means obeying a universal rule of honesty [35].

But that is not all: it is this very traceability of thought that is being called into question. In a recent economic magazine, one that is generally considered serious, a columnist considered that footnotes were a nightmare: directing the comprehension of a text means compromising how the reader understands it, he stated, being of the opinion that if young people were turning to slam, hip-hop or rap texts, that was because, at least such texts don’t have footnotes [36]. Worse still, in une histoire des notes de bas de page, which has been on the website since October 2022, the following appears:

As tedious to read as they are difficult to produce, the footnote is quickly becoming a nightmare for readers and students. For British playwright Noel Coward [37], “having to read footnotes resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.”

As an element of paratext, the footnote is more like a parasite. Yet it had all started so well. It began as a tale of historians. As the scientific nature of history increased, so the footnote became more important: the need to clearly cite one’s sources and the growing emphasis on evidence to support each hypothesis [38].

Describing notes as boring or unnecessary will do nothing to strengthen the heuristic qualities of our futurists, researchers, students and pupils. François Guizot (1787-1874), one of the first scientists to generalise the use of footnotes, would have described this attitude as regrettable levity. Guizot, the former head of government under King Louis-Philippe and also a historian, complained that he saw many informed minds limiting themselves to a few documents in support of their hypotheses rather than pursuing their research to establish the reality of the facts [39]. In this way, he highlighted the danger faced by teachers, researchers and “intellectuals”, the difficulty they have both in speaking or writing in a neutral, objective and dispassionate way, with the distance expected of the role or profession of someone who expresses their opinion, and in getting close to the truth or even speaking the truth.

Contemporary research sends us at least two messages. Firstly, that of rigour which, above all, involves knowing what one is talking about, what the problem is and what one is looking for. This positioning requires not only general culture and experience but also some learning about the subject. It is a phase in any research process, and also when participating in a consultation or a deliberative process, including foresight. The second message refers us to relativity and objectivity in relation to the subject and to the interpretation of the experience. If the passion that often motivates the researcher in a positive way can also be their internal enemy, how should we protect the citizens, actors and stakeholders who take part in a research and innovation process?

Most importantly, perhaps, Aristotle pointed out in the 4th century BC that persuading through the oratorical techniques of rhetoric does not mean demonstrating by means of persuasive techniques (inference, syllogisms and other enthymemes). Scientific practice involves proving, in other words establishing the evidence of one’s claim, which is completely different from rhetoric or dialectic [40]. In the world of foresight, but not only in that world, we have always argued in favour of seeking a balance between the factual (data gathering), interactive (deliberation) and conceptual (establishing the structural concepts) activities, in line with the creative method highlighted by Thierry Gaudin, former Director of Foresight and Evaluation at the French Research Ministry [41]. Such a balance can be sought based on the efforts and investments in time and resources made in the three approaches to a problem or challenge.

Well before our Renaissance thinkers, the North African scholar Ibn Khaldûn (1332-1406) called on people to combat the demon of lies with the light of reason. He encouraged the use of criticism to separate the wheat from the chaff and called on science to polish the truth so that critical insight may be applied to it [42]. The watchword here is analytical rigour, both qualitative and quantitative. In science, even in social science, logical rigour and empirical rigour come together to interpret, understand and explain [43]. Validation of data quality is universally essential: consistency of measurements, stability of series, continuity of measurement throughout the period analysed, existence of a genuine periodic variation, etc.[44]

Researchers who follow the path of foresight must be like the philosopher described by the grammarian and philosopher César Chesneau Dumarsais (1676-1756), who wrote the following definition in the Encyclopédie of 1765, edited by Denis Diderot, Jean Le Rond d’Alembert and Louis de Jaucourt:

Truth is not for the philosopher a mistress who corrupts his imagination and whom he believes is to be found everywhere; he contents himself with being able to unravel it where he can perceive it. He does not confound it with probability; he takes for true what is true, for false what is false, for doubtful what is doubtful, and for probable what is only probable. He does more, and here you have a great perfection of the philosopher: when he has no reason by which to judge, he knows how to live in suspension of judgment  [45].

Caution and rigour in heuristics cannot, however, lead to objectivism. Distinguishing truth from falsehood is absolutely essential. Remaining detached from the world and not intervening is definitely not the practice of either intellectuals [46] or futurists who, above all, are men and women of reflection and action.


Conclusion: Intellectual Courage

The quest for truth, detachment and autonomy of thought [47] are worthwhile only if they are accompanied by courage to tell the truth. We are all familiar with the wonderful words of SFIO [French Section of the Workers’ International] deputy Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) in his address to young people, given in Albi in 1903:

Courage is about seeking truth and speaking truth, not about submitting to a great triumphant lie or echoing ignorant applause or fanatical jeers with our hearts, our mouths or our hands [48].

We are much less familiar with the speech made by Raymond Aron (1905-1983) to the French Philosophy Society in June 1939, barely two months before the outbreak of the Second World War. Aron, the French historian and sociologist, underlined the importance of the qualities of discipline and technical competence and also intellectual courage to challenge everything and identify the issues on which the very existence of his country depended. Aron stated very clearly that the crisis would be lengthy and profound:

Whatever the immediate events, we will not emerge unscathed. The journey on which France and the countries of Europe are embarking does not have an immediate, miraculous conclusion. I think, therefore, that teachers like us can play a small part in this effort to safeguard the values we hold dear. Instead of shouting with the parties, we could strive to define, with the utmost good faith, the issues that have been raised and the means of addressing them [49].

 Leaving aside the idea that, as researchers, students or intellectuals, we would be in a privileged position due to the intellectual and material possibilities given to us[50], the fact remains that we have a great responsibility towards society. Do we exercise this responsibility to the extent demanded by our duty and the expectations of civil society? I do not think… not in Belgium, and especially not in Wallonia. The absence of an engaged, dynamic public space is a real problem. But it is not a fatal flaw.

With the increasingly glaring gap between, firstly, the public and collective policies pursued from European down to local level and, secondly, the needs created by the challenges arising from the Anthropocene era and the loss of social cohesion, it is time for the voices of the territories to be heard loud and clear again.

And for everything to be called into question again.


See also:

Ph. DESTATTE, What is foresight?, Blog PhD2050, May 30, 2013.

Ph. DESTATTE, Opinions which are partial have the effect of vitiating the rectitude of judgment”, Heuristics and criticism of sources in science, University of Mons – EUNICE, Mons, 21 October 2021, Blog PhD2050,


Philippe Destatte



[1] This text is the English version of my speech to the 2023 Science Congress, held at the University of Namur (Wallonia) on 23 and 24 August 2023.

[2] Antoine LE BLANC et Olivier MILHAUD, Sortir de nos enfermements ? Parcours géographiques, dans Perrine MICHON et Jean-Robert PITTE, A quoi sert la géographie?, p. 116, Paris, PuF, 2021.

[3] Pierre BOURDIEU, Science de la science et réflexivité, Cours au Collège de France 2000-2001, p. 173-174, Paris, Raisons d’agir Éditions, 2001. – Pierre BOURDIEU (1930-2002), Réflexivité narcissique et réflexivité scientifique (1993), in P. BOURDIEU, Retour sur la réflexivité,  p. 58, Paris, EHESS, 2022.

[4] Bernadette MERENNE-SCHOUMAKER et Anne BARTHELEMI dir., L’accès aux fonctions et l’aménagement des territoires face aux enjeux de notre société, dans Géo, n°85, Arlon, FEGEPRO, 2021. – Florian PONS, Sina SAFADI-KATOUZIAN et Chloë VIDAL, Penser et agir dans l’anthropocène, Quels apports de la prospective territoriale?, in Géographie et cultures, n°116, Hiver2020.

[5] La géographie, une clef pour notre futur, Comité national belge de Géographie, 30 mai 2016. – A. LE BLANC et O. MILHAUD, op. cit., p. 117.

[6] L’attitude prospective, in L’Encyclopédie française, t. XX, Le monde en devenir, 1959, in Gaston BERGER, Phénoménologie du temps et prospective, p. 270-275, Paris, PuF, 1964. (1959).

[7] The French philosopher Maurice Blondel developed the concept of prospection, which refers to action-oriented thinking: Maurice BLONDEL, Sur Prospection, in André LALANDE, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, p. 846, Paris, PuF, 1976.

[8] Jacques LESOURNE, Un homme de notre siècle, De polytechnique à la prospective et au journal Le Monde, p. 475, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2000.

[9]  With particular reference to social psychology: Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, Jeanne Watson, Bruce Westley. G. BERGER, Phénoménologie du temps et prospective…, p. 271.

[10] Maurice Blondel proposes to call Normative the methodical research whose aim is to study and provide the normal process by which beings achieve the design from which they proceed, the destiny to which they tend. M. BLONDEL, L’être et les êtres, Essai d’ontologie concrète et intégrale, p. 255, Paris, Félix Alcan, 1935.

[11] Russell Lincoln ACKOFF, A Concept of Corporate Planning, New York, Wiley, 1969. – M. GODET, Prospective et planification stratégique, p. 31, Paris, Economica, 1985.

[12] Michel GODET, Les régions face au futur, Foreword to G. LOINGER dir., La prospective régionale, De chemins en desseins, p. 8, Paris, L’Aube – DATAR, 2004. – See also : Michel GODET, De la rigueur pour une indiscipline intellectuelle, Assises de la Prospective, Université de Paris-Dauphine, Paris, 8-9 décembre 1999, p. 13. – M. GODET, Creating Futures, Scenario Planning as a Strategic Management Tool, p. 2, London-Paris-Genève, Economica, 2006.

[13] Michel GODET, Manuel de prospective stratégique, t. 1, Une indiscipline intellectuelle, Paris, Dunod, 1997.

[14] Pierre MASSÉ, De prospective à prospectives, dans Prospectives, Paris, PuF, n°1, Juin 1973, p. 4.

[15] P. MASSÉ, Le Plan ou l’Anti-hasard, coll. Idées, Paris, nrf-Gallimard, 1965.

[16] P. MASSÉ, De prospective à prospectives…, p. 4.

[17] Jean CHESNEAUX, Habiter le temps, p. 18-19, Paris, Bayard, 1996. – Reinhart KOSSELECK, Le futur passé, Paris, EHESS, 1990.

[18] Fernand BRAUDEL, Histoire et Sciences sociales, La longue durée, dans Annales, 1958, 13-4, p. 725-753.

[19] Jacques LESOURNE, Les mille sentiers de l’avenir, p. 11-12, Paris, Seghers, 1981.

[20] Voir notamment : Günter CLAR & Philippe DESTATTE, Regional Foresight, Boosting Regional Potential, Mutual Learning Platform Regional Foresight Report, Luxembourg, European Commission, Committee of the Regions and Innovative Regions in Europe Network, 2006.


[21] Ph. DESTATTE et Ph. DURANCE, Les mots-clés de la prospective territoriale, p. 46, Paris, La Documentation française, 2009. Philippe_Destatte_Philippe_Durance_Mots_cles_Prospective_Documentation_francaise_2009

[22] Ph. DESTATTE, What is foresight?, Blog PhD2050, May 30, 2013.

[23] J. LESOURNE, Conclusion, Assises de la prospective, Paris, Université Dauphine, 8 décembre 1999.

[24] Guy LOINGER, La prospective territoriale comme expression d’une nouvelle philosophie de l’action collective, in G. LOINGER dir., La prospective régionale, De chemins en desseins, p. 44-45, Paris, L’Aube – DATAR, 2004.

[25] Pierre GONOD, Conférence faite à la Plateforme d’Intelligence territoriale wallonne, Namur, Institut Destrée, 19 mai 2009.

[26] André LALANDE, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, p. 413, Paris, PUF, 1976. About heuristics, see also: DESTATTE, Opinions which are partial have the effect of vitiating the rectitude of judgment”, Heuristics and criticism of sources in science, University of Mons – EUNICE, Mons, 21 October 2021, Blog PhD2050,

[27] Claude-Pierre VINCENT, Heuristique, création, intuition et stratégies d’innovation, p. 32, Paris, Editions BoD, 2012. – Cette définition est fort proche de celle de l’Encyclopaedia Universalis : Jean-Pierre CHRÉTIEN-GONI, Heuristique, dans Encyclopædia Universalis, consulté le 6 mars 2023.

[28] George PóLYA, L’Heuristique est-elle un sujet d’étude raisonnable?, in Travail et Méthodes, p. 279, Paris, Sciences et Industrie, 1958.

[29] For an idea of Peter Bishop’s work, see: P. BISHOP & Andy HINES, Teaching about the Future, New York, Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012.

[30] Kurt LEWIN, Field Theory in Social Science, Harper Collins, 1951. – Psychologie dynamique, Les relations humaines, Paris, PuF, 1972.

[31] Ph. DESTATTE, La construction d’un modèle de processus prospectif, dans Philippe DURANCE & Régine MONTI dir., La prospective stratégique en action, Bilan et perspectives d’une indiscipline intellectuelle, p. 301-331, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2014. – You can find the Working Paper in English: Ph. DESTATTE, The construction of a foresight process model based on the interest in collective knowledge and learning platforms, The Destree Institute, May 13, 2009.

[32] Ph. DESTATTE, Citizens’ Engagement Approaches and Methods in R&I Foresight, Brussels, European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe Policy Support Facility, 2023.

[33] Piero DOMINICI, Managing Complexity ? Tunis, ENIT, 15 avril 2022.

[34] André GUNTHERT, Ce que montre le chorizo, in L’image sociale, 17 novembre 2022. – André Gunthert is Associate Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences sociales in Paris.

[35] Marc BLOCH, Apologie pour l’histoire ou Métier d’historien (1942), in Marc BLOCH, L’histoire, la Guerre, la Résistance, coll. Quarto, p. 911, Paris, Gallimard, 2006.

[36] Paul VACCA, L’enfer des notes de bas de page, in Trends-Tendances, 2 mars 2023, p. 18.

[37] Sir Noël Peirce COWARD (1899-1973) Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. Noël Coward, Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 Sep. 2023, Accessed 5 October 2023

[38] Histoire des notes de bas de page, Actualité prospective, 1er octobre 2022.

[39] François GUIZOT, History of the Origin of Representative Government in Europe, translated by Andrew E. Scobe, p. 4, London, Henry G. Bohn, 1852.

[40] ARISTOTE, According to Rhétorique, LI, 2, 1355sv, in Œuvres, coll. La Pléiade, p. 706 sv, Paris, Gallimard, 2014.

[41] Thierry GAUDIN, Discours de la méthode créatrice, Gordes, Ose Savoir – Le Relié, 2003.

[42] IBN KHALDÛN, Al-Muqaddima, Discours sur l’histoire universelle, p. 6, Arles, Acte Sud, 1997.

[43] Jean-Pierre OLIVIER de SARDAN, La rigueur du qualitatif, Les contraintes empiriques de l’interprétation socio-anthropologique, p. 8, Louvain-la-Neuve, Bruylant-Academia, 2008.

[44] Daniel CAUMONT & Silvester IVANAJ, Analyse des données, p. 244, Paris, Dunod, 2017.

[45] César CHESNEAU DU MARSAIS, Le philosophe, dans  Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers…, t. XII, p. 509, Neufchâtel, 1765.

[46] Gérard NOIRIEL, Dire la vérité au pouvoir, Les intellectuels en question, Paris, Agone, 2010.

[47] Norbert ELIAS, Involvement and Detachment, Basil Blackwell, 1987. –  Engagement et distanciation, Contribution à la sociologie de la connaissance (1983), p. 27-28, Paris, Fayard, 1993.

[48] Jean JAURES, Discours à la Jeunesse, Albi, 31 juillet 1903, in J. JAURES, Discours et conférences, coll. Champs classiques, p. 168, Paris, Flammarion, 2014.

[49] Raymond ARON, Communication devant la Société française de philosophie, 17 juin 1939, in R. ARON, Croire en la démocratie, 1933-1944, p. 102, Paris, Arthème Fayard – Pluriel, 2017.

[50] Noam CHOMSKY, The Responsability of Intellectuels, New York, The New York Press, 2017. – Noam CHOMSKY, De la responsabilité des intellectuels, p. 149, Paris, Agone, 2023.

Namur, October 15, 2023

The concept of terrorism is particularly sensitive when it is used to de-legitimize adversaries or opponents on the national and international stage in order to marginalize or even repress them [1]. The example of the Uighur separatists in Xinjiang is often cited because it implicates the Chinese government, but many other situations are similar [2]. Everyone can see how difficult it is to define terrorism outside the framework of the passions it generates through actions that are generally highly theatrical in order to have an impact that corresponds to its ultimate objectives. It is also quite classic to consider with one of its great specialists, the German-American historian Walter Z. Laqueur (1921-2018) that, given its diversity and the horror and fascination it inspires, defining terrorism and establishing a coherent theory of it would be an impossible task [3]. In fact, it is above all the notions of state terrorism and resistance or national liberation that pollute the academic and political efforts to base a definition on reason. Thus, we can follow Anthony Richards when he observes that viewing terrorism as a method rather than as inherent to any particular type of cause helps us to consider the phenomenon more objectively [4]. This method, as we know, consists of generating a psychological impact beyond the victims of the acts perpetrated. However, as the author, Professor of Law at the University of London, points out, the difficulty lies in showing the intention that is present or hidden behind the action taken [5].

So, we could try this definition inspired by the following reflections and the work of the French historian Jenny Raflik [6]: terrorism is a political project over a period, aimed at challenging the established order, attempting to bring it to an end and replacing it with a new order. To this end, it makes tactical use of transgressive violence, which, however, is presented and considered legitimate by the terrorist in the context of actuality.

That’s what we’re going to try to understand.

Photo Dreamstime – Aquarius83men

1. Two initial concerns

Returning to the issue of terrorism, I have two initial concerns. The first is that the issue is, of course, complex – more complex than is generally thought. It is far from being just a question of a few Arab countries and the Muslim religion. If I thought that was the case, I would have to stop writing now. Having studied Russian terrorism in Europe before the October Revolution as a historian, I know only too well that without a detailed knowledge of the language and culture, it is impossible to enter the mindset or networks, even retrospectively. This complexity must be considered, which is why I call my first approach The Road to Damascus, referring to the experience of the Apostle Paul of Tarsus. Like the former bounty hunter and persecutor of Christians, we have been blinded by the light of evidence, and we must pursue the truth with great humility if we are to regain a clear vision. This, of course, is the daily task of researchers and especially of foresighters. This idea was beautifully expressed by Michelangelo in the 16th century in a fresco in the Pauline Chapel in Rome and, closer to home, in a painting by Bertholet Flemalle in the 17th century in St Paul’s Cathedral in Liège (Wallonia). Incidentally, the New Testament is still relevant today: Jesus is said to have said, Go to Damascus, where it will be told you what to do. One thing is certain: contemporary interpretations are manifold…

My second initial concern is to point out that terrorism is not exempt from temporality, by which I mean the complex relationship of the present to both the past and the future. The public is regularly shocked by events that the media present as exceptional, unique or unprecedented. Yet we know that such events have occurred many times in the past, in one form or another, and that they are part of a long-standing trend and an already familiar pattern of development. For example, the accidental explosion of a bomb outside the Château de Villegas in Ganshoren, Brussels, at half past three on 23 February 1883, which killed its bearer, allowed the Belgian security services to partially uncover the network of the Narodovoletzi – the “bearers of the people’s will” of Odessa. It also allowed the historian who reconstructed the network to understand both how it worked and what motivated its members, to analyse how the anti-terrorist services viewed it, how they cooperated or did not cooperate, etc. This analysis is very useful for understanding and trying to explain what is happening today and what might happen tomorrow [7].


2. Some of the forms terrorism has taken in history

Temporality is based on the retrospective, or even – as we shall see – the retro-foresight. The retrospective is the basis of historicity that always subjective (or even intersubjective, as Edgar Morin would put it) connection we have with the past. Far from taking the past for granted, we are constantly revisiting it and finding there the questions we have about the present and, above all, the future. Is this not why the Italian historian Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) said that all history is contemporary?

I do not intend to recount the history of terrorism, or even of European terrorism, but it is certainly useful to keep in mind some of the forms it has taken in history – which is now beyond our power – to draw some conceptual or strategic lessons that we will need to face the future.

From the outset, temporality seems to be mixed with timelessness. The world-famous novel Alamut (1938) by the Slovenian writer Vladimir Bartol (Trieste, 1903 – Ljubljana, 1967) may be one of the keys to understanding the phenomenon of terrorism. On the one hand, it is inspired by the Ismaili sect and analyses the psychological traits of young fighters devoted to the cult of the Koran and raised with a fascination for duty and death that will allow them to enter paradise. Secondly, Alamut inspired the video game Assassin’s Creed, developed by Ubisoft Montreal for PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 in 2007 and for PC the following year. More than 100 million copies of the various entries in the series have been sold worldwide. Its influence has therefore been greater than an article in The Economist. The film realized in 2016 by the Australian director Justin Kurzel reinforced this messianic mythology whose formulas and principles are familiar: I divide mankind into two fundamentally different categories: a handful of people who understand reality and the huge majority who do not. Or again, Nothing is true; everything is permitted [8]. While researchers are aware of the importance of people’s worldviews in motivating individual or collective action, we must recognize that the frequency with which we now move between the real and the virtual world – not to mention our tendency to confuse the two – adds to the complexity of an issue such as terrorism.

Far from being the exclusive tool of cults, secret societies and resistance movements, terror is inherent in violence and war. In his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar recounts how the brilliance of his attacks – but also their brutality – both kept his friends loyal and, through fear, forced the wavering to accept offers of peace [9]. Experts in etymology and comparative linguistics know that variants of the Latin words terror and terrere have appeared in many forms over the centuries, long before the Terror proclaimed by the French National Assembly on 5 September 1793. We know of the terror inspired in us by the steppe peoples under Attila the Hun in the 5th century, the Mongol Genghis Khan in the 13th century and Tamerlane in the 14th century. The latter is known to have terrorized enemy cities and nations by building pyramids of severed heads, for example in Isfahan in 1387. But let us not jump to the conclusion that hell is other people. One of the field marshals at the head of the army of Maximilian of Bavaria’s Catholic League was Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, who was sometimes said to be Walloon [10]. During a campaign against the Protestant Evangelical Union during the Thirty Years’ War, he seized the German city of Magdeburg on 25 May 1631, and permitted the slaughter of 20,000 people as well as the visitation of numerous other atrocities on the population in order to ensure the surrender of the neighbouring cities. The Marquis de Sourdis, in Richelieu’s service, did likewise at Chatillon-sur-Saône four years later. Many Belgian cities suffered similar treatment during the German invasion in the Great War, such as Dinant on the Meuse on 23 August 1914 (605 deaths). The Nanking Massacre in late 1937 and early 1938 probably claimed nearly 250,000 lives, and perhaps represented the pinnacle of this type of terrorism. And there are also civil wars, which can sometimes – whether in a revolutionary period or not – visit terror on the national population, as we have already mentioned regarding the French Revolution. Such circumstances legitimize the massacre by the citizens of the Republic’s enemies: this is what happened, for example, in Lyon on 14 December 1793, and perhaps too in Ankara on 15 July 2016.

In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu used the term ‘terror’ in 1748 to refer to the principle of despotic government [11]. Long before him, in 1690, John Locke had stated in the first essay of his two Treatises on Government that ‘the magistrate’s sword [is] for a terror to evil doers, and by that terror to enforce men to observe the positive laws of the society’[12]. The use of the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorists’ began to spread from 1794, first in the sense of a regime of political terror and its partisans, and then in the broader sense of the systematic use of violence for political purposes. Incidentally, ‘anti-terrorism’ and ‘anti-terrorist’ appear just one year later, in 1795 [13].

Of course, modern mechanized weaponry makes mass violence possible on an unprecedented scale. The bombing of Guernica, the historic capital of the Basque country, on 23 April 1937, notoriously served as a kind of rehearsal for what was to ensue during the Second World War. The bombing of Rotterdam by the Luftwaffe on 14 May 1940 was undoubtedly also an act of terrorism. It is difficult to exempt from this sombre list the massive German, British and American bombardments of civilian targets, and especially of cities, during this conflict. As Ariel Merari points out, the ultimatum leaflets that were air-dropped in these areas attest to the desire to terrorize the civilian population directly [14]. The Allied and German services that counted the number of victims of the bombing raids on Germany estimated the death toll at around 400,000, more than 10% of whom were prisoners of war or foreigners. The number of civilians killed by the bombing of Japan was around 900,000, higher than the number of Japanese soldiers killed in combat [15].

The Second World War also provides an interesting illustration of the ambivalence of the concepts of terrorism and resistance. A striking example is the Manouchian network, which was so well known that it was the subject of a propaganda poster distributed by the Vichy regime in 1944. The Missak Manouchian group, made up of resistance fighters of foreign origin, Jews and communists, became known for its attacks on German pilots and soldiers on leave. Its members, who described themselves as irregular sharpshooters and partisans (‘francs-tireurs et partisans’, FTP), were condemned to death and executed by the Germans in 1944 as ‘terrorists’, then honoured as members of the resistance by Charles de Gaulle’s Free France after the liberation [16]. The same view was taken of the members of the Irgun when they attacked the British headquarters at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946, causing 91 deaths and numerous injuries among the British officials there. Another example of the difficulty of defining the concept of terrorism is the so-called Battle of Algiers, fought by French parachute regiments during the decolonization period from January to October 1957. It is clear that the radical anti-terrorist measures taken by the French military had some success because they themselves terrorized the nationalist indigenous peoples and the settlers who sympathized with them.

The very disparate actions that have been mentioned reveal the different forms that terrorism can take, and a longer-term process in which we are situated, which debunks the notion that what is happening to this generation is unique, novel or unprecedented. Confining our attention to modern times, we can also count as part of this process the numerous attacks and actions of anarchists, nihilists, revolutionary socialists, fascists and others throughout the 19th and 20th centuries: they include the assassination of Tsar Alexander II (1881), of President Sadi Carnot (1894) and of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Habsburg (1914), the Black September attacks at the Munich Olympics (1972), the actions of the Red Army Faction (Hanns-Martin Schleyer, 1977), the Red Brigade, Action directe and the Communist Combatant Cells, the bombing of Bologna railway station (2 August 1980), the attacks in Beirut against U.S. and French forces (23 October 1983), the killers of Brabant (28 deaths from 1983 to 1985), the attacks of the AIG such as the RER Line B bombing at Saint-Michel station in Paris on 28 July 1995, and that pivotal global moment on 11 September 2001 that has had so many repercussions for Europe.

This very incomplete inventory shows the diversity of forms that terrorism can assume [17]. It might have been expected to yield precise criteria for a general definition, but this is not in fact the case. As Ariel Merari shows, although terrorism may seem an immoral form of war, the profound collapse that the moral code of behaviour underwent in almost all wars on the part of all parties in the 20th century, including the targeting of civilians, shows that the difference between terrorism and other forms of war is one of interpretation [18].

If further demonstration of this relativity is required, take a look at the definition of ‘terrorisme’ in the French dictionary of Lachâtre in 1890. This was a popular dictionary, close to the labour movement. After recalling that the term refers to the reign of terror that reigned in France during part of the Revolution, Maurice Lachâtre added that terrorism is the most moving revolutionary era. He then defines a terrorist as a partisan, an agent of the system of terror, adding that the terrorists saved France [19].

What can we say other than that such comments on terrorism should make us humble?


3. Towards a definition of terrorism

It is conventional to begin discussions of terrorism by considering the difficulty of defining it in the scientific literature. We should avoid conflating it with all forms of political violence and ignoring state-sponsored forms of terrorism [20].

At a very early stage, however, in 1962, Raymond Aron made a decisive contribution by suggesting that ‘a terrorist action is referred to as such when its psychological effects are disproportionate to its purely physical results [21]. The various definitions offered by international organizations can help us understand this phenomenon. Thus, UN Resolution A/RES/54/110 of 2 February 2000 refers to criminal actions with political aims: criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes [22].

The 2021 NATO definition, taken from its English and French glossary, shares this idea of a political dimension: The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence, instiling fear and terror, against individuals or property in an attempt to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, or to gain control over a population, to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives [23].

The Luxembourg Council of the European Union in 2002 identified an intent to seriously intimidate a population, or unduly compelling a Government or international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act, or seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organization [24], an idea often found in national legislation, such as the Belgian law of 19 December 2003. The French historian Jenny Raflik stresses the interest of the approach to the phenomenon taken by the Arab Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, adopted in Cairo on 22 April 1998, which is both innovative in several respects yet includes limitations such as the possibility of excluding from the scope of terrorism struggles that could the declared legitimate [25]. The important exploratory work of the historian at the French Institute for Higher National Defence Studies led her to propose a definition that we endorse: terrorism is a political project over a period of time that aims to challenge the established order, to try to put a stop to it and/or to substitute a new order for it. To this end, it makes tactical use of transgressive violence, which, however, is presented and regarded as legitimate by the terrorist, in the context of actuality [26]. This definition seems highly relevant to us. First, because it objectifies terrorism and takes it seriously as a political project rather than as a deviation, which would undermine its importance and purposes. Next, because Jenny Raflik emphasises the use of transgressive violence as a means, together with the subjective element – the variance of perspective between perpetrator and victim. Finally, because this definition takes into account the temporality in which the tension between the immediate event and its far-reaching effects lies.


Five Considerations to Close the Paper but Not the Subject

1. Terrorism is not a recent phenomenon. It is part of a long-term development from antiquity to the present. It should be seen in temporality (relationships between past, present and future).

2. Terrorism is a complex issue that takes many forms and can be used by very different actors, individual or collective, private or public, who are inspired by a political project and, therefore, a strategic determination to act in order to maintain or change an existing situation. In defining terrorism, we should avoid conflating it with all forms of political violence and ignoring state-sponsored forms of terrorism.

3. The use of terror and terrorism against citizens is inherent in the political philosophy of our liberal societies, as understood in particular by John Locke and Montesquieu.

4. The legitimacy of this political project is subjective; its means are transgressive and intended to be reinforced by their psychological impact and media coverage.

5. Several examples of the evolution of relations between groups that were clearly seen as terrorists, with whom it seemed impossible to negotiate, show that this is not the case and that yesterday’s transgressive actions do not necessarily prevent people from sitting down to start fruitful negotiations. The development of relations between London and the IRA after the bloody events of the Second World War is interesting in this respect.

Once again, we can find reasons for hope in a landscape of despair. Provided we make the necessary efforts, based on reason and not passion.



Philippe Destatte


[1] A first and longer version of this paper has been written in the framework of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop, Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning, Emerging Technologies and New Counter-Terror Strategies, CSRA, Falls Church VA, 25 July 2016, edited:  Ph. DESTATTE, Counter-Terrorism in Europe 2030; Managing Efficiency and Civil Rights, in Theodore J. GORDON e.a., Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning, p. 87-105, NATO Science for Peace and Security Series – E: Human and Societal Dynamics, IOS Press, 2017. Philippe-Destatte_Counter-terrorism-Europe_NATO-IOS_2017

See also: Philippe DESTATTE, Elisabeta FLORESCU, Garry KESSLER, Hélène von REIBNITZ, Karlheinz STEINMÜLLER, Identifying Some Issues in the NATO Zone Through Trajectories About the Future of Terrorism and Counter-Terror Strategies, in Theodore J. GORDON e.a., Identification of Potential Terrorists and Adversary Planning, p. 16-24, NATO Science for Peace and Security Series – E: Human and Societal Dynamics, IOS Press, 2017.

[2] Ben SAUL, Defining Terrorism to protect Human Rights, in Deborah STAINES ed., Interrogating the War on Terror, Interdisciplinary Perspectives, p. 201-202, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.

[3] Walter LAQUEUR, Le terrorisme, p. 15, Paris, PuF, 1979. – W. LAQUEUR, Terrorism, London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1977. – W. LAQUEUR, No End to War, Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century, p. 238, London, Continuum International, 2003.

[4] Anthony RICHARDS, Defining Terrorism, in Andrew SILKE ed., Routledge Handbook of Terrorism and Counterterrorism, p. 17, London & New York, Routledge, 2020. – A. RICHARDS, Conceptualizing Terrorism, Oxford University Press, 2015.

[5] Ibidem, p. 19.

[6] Jenny RAFLIK, Terrorisme et mondialisation, approches historiques, p. 24, Paris, Gallimard, 2016. – Terrorismes en France, Une histoire XIXe-XXIe siècles, Paris, CERF, 2023.

[7] Ph. DESTATTE, Contribution à l’histoire de l’émigration russe à la fin du XIXe siècle, 1881-1899, Mémoire présenté pour l’obtention du grade de Licencié en Histoire, Liège, Université de Liège, Année académique 1978-1979, 240 p. – Ph. DESTATTE, Sûreté publique et Okhrana, Les Foyers d’émigrés russes en Belgique, 1881-1899, Conferentie Benerus: België, Nederland, Rusland: betrekkingen en beeldvorming, Rotterdam 7-8 mei 1987: Belgisch-Nederlandse conferentie over de politieke, economische en culturele betrekkingen tussen België c.q. Nederland en Rusland/de USSR met nadruk op de periode na 1917, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, Katholieke Universiteit (Leuven), Rijksuniversiteit Leiden, 1987.

[8] Vladimir BARTOL, Alamut, Libretto collection, Paris, Libella, 2012.

[9] Julius CAESAR, The Gallic Wars, translation by W. A. McDEVITTE and W. S. BOHN, Book 8, – de BURY, Histoire de la vie de Jules César, suivie d’une dissertation sur la liberté où l’on montre les avantages du Gouvernement monarchique sur le républicain, Paris, Didot, 1758. For example, p. 86 : ‘he impressed upon them the importance of becoming masters of a rich and opulent city, which would give them all things in abundance, and strike terror into the hearts of all the other cities that had left his party, if they triumphed before it was rescued’.

[10] Deutsche Geschichte in Dokumenten und Bildern, Band 1, Von der Reformation bis zum Dreißigjährigen Krieg 1500-1648, Die Apokalypse vor Ort – Die Zerstörung Magdeburgs (1631) – A Local Apocalypse, The Sack of Magdeburg (1631), German Historical Institute, Washington DC,

[11] The severity of punishments is fitter for despotic governments, whose principle is terror, than for a monarchy or a republic, whose spring is honour and virtue.’ MONTESQUIEU, The Spirit of the Laws, Book 6, Chapter 9, Geneva, 1748.

[12] (…) government being for the preservation of every man’s right and property, by preserving him from the violence or injury of others, is for the good of the governed: for the magistrate’s sword being for a “terror to evil doers,” and by that terror to enforce men to observe the positive laws of the society, made conformable to the laws of nature, for the public good, i.e., the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for; (…) John LOCKE, Two Treatises of Government, Ch. IX, Of Monarchy by Inheritance from Adam, 92, London, Thomas Tegg & alii, 1823. McMaster University Archive of the History of Economic Thought.

[13] Alain REY, Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, vol.3, p. 3803, Paris, Robert, 2006.

[14] Ariel MERARI, Du terrorisme comme stratégie d’insurrection, in Gérard CHALIAND and Arnaud BLIN ed., Histoire du terrorisme, De l’Antiquité à Daech, p. 31, Paris, Fayard, 2015.

[15] Thomas HIPPLER, Le gouvernement du ciel, Histoire globale des bombardements aériens, p. 156-160, Paris, Les prairies ordinaires, 2014.

[16] Denis PESCHANSKI, Claire MOURADIAN, Astrig ATAMIAN, Manouchian: Missak et Mélinée Manouchian, deux orphelins du génocide des Arméniens engagés dans la Résistance française, Paris, Textuel, 2023.

[17] See Ugur GURBUZ ed, Future Trends and New Approaches in Defeating the Terrorism Threat, Amsterdam-Berlin-Tokyo-Washington DC, IOS Press, 2013, especially Ozden CELIK, Terrorism Overview, p. 1-17 and Zeynep SUTALAND & Ugur GÜNGÖR, Future Trends in Terrorism, p. 75-87

[18] Ariel MERARI, op.cit., p. 42.

[19] Maurice LACHÂTRE, Dictionnaire français illustré, vol. 2, p. 1413, Paris, Librairie du Progrès, 1890.

[20] Anne-Marie LE GLOANNEC, Bastien IRONDELLE, David CADIER, New and evolving trends in international security, Transworld, FP7 Working Paper, 13, April 2013, p. 14.

[21] Raymond ARON, Paix et guerre entre les Nations, p. 176, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1962.

[22] United Nations, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, Measures to eliminate International Terrorism, A/RES/54/110

[23] NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions (English and French), NATO (NSO), 2021.

[24] Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on combating terrorism (2002/475/JHA), Official Journal L 164 , 22/06/2002 P. 0003 – 0007.

[25] Jenny RAFLIK, Terrorisme et mondialisation, approches historiques, p. 24, Paris, Gallimard, 2016. – It could also be interesting to open a discussion in order to compare this with Abu Mus’ab al Suri’s definition and typology of terrorism. See Key excerpts of The Global Islamic Resistance Call in Brynjar LIA, Architect of Global Jihad, The Life of al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, p. 382-383, London, Hurst & Company, 2014.

[26] J. RAFLIK, op. cit., p. 41.

Namur (Wallonia), May 5, 2023

The Regional Policy Declaration of 16 September 2019 indicated the desire of the Government of Wallonia to implement risk management tools to warn and react quickly in crises and during climate and health hazards [1]. The declaration also stated that measures would be adopted to protect water resources, particularly in the face of contamination risks, the need to maintain and develop natural wetland habitats, and supply problems [2]. There was also a need to anticipate other types of risks, such as digital and health risks (exposure to flooding [3]), risks leading to the exclusion and poverty [4], and chemical risks (phytosanitary [5]).

The major events experienced by Wallonia since the adoption of this document – the Covid-19 pandemic, climate stresses (brutal floods in 2021 with nearly 40 deaths, drought in 2022), and the multifactor energy crisis – have challenged all actors and citizens. The impacts of these events were, and still are, significant, even if they have been felt and experienced differently according to stakeholders and location. The pandemic did not affect the various regions in the same way: it had a greater impact on regions with higher population density, the flood-affected valleys where the presence of significant urbanisation and the resulting creation of artificial ground coverings was called into question, and the drought and heatwaves affected countryside and urban areas in different ways. In addition to housing density, there are other vulnerabilities and risk exposure factors, such as increasing age, the low socio-economic level of many residents, and their ability to meet the challenges, in other words, their resilience. There are also structural risk management issues across all sectors and at all administrative levels [6]. Location is also critical where the effects of the energy crisis are concerned: heating costs, travel costs, access to fossil fuels and renewable energies, etc. One could also examine the impacts of terrorism – which sometimes seems to have emerged from our intellectual outlook – in the light of location.

Photo Igor Kutnii – Dreamstime


1. The risks are associated with perfectly describable events

Twenty years ago, Michel Callon, Pierre Lascoumes and Yannick Barthe observed that the notion of risk is closely linked to the notion of rational decision-making. In their view, rational decision-making requires three conditions to be met before the decision-maker can draw comparisons between the options available to them. Firstly, there is the ability to draw up an exhaustive list of the available options. Next, for each option, the decision-maker must be able to describe the elements and entities that make up the world assumed by that option. Finally, an inventory must be produced of the significant interactions that are likely occur between the various elements and entities. Consequently, the authors highlight the notion of possible states of the world, which are like the scenarios used by futurists [7].

With some adjustments and amendments, the recommendations made by the OECD in its report entitled Boosting Resilience through Innovative Risk Governance (2014) could serve as the basis for a new approach to regional and territorial development matters:

– promoting future-oriented risk governance and taking account of complex risks;

– emphasising the role of trust and highlighting the long-term action taken by the public authorities to protect the population;

– adoption of a common definition of acceptable risk levels by stakeholders at all levels;

– defining an optimal array of tangible and intangible resilience measures (infrastructure measures and planning measures, for instance);

– adopting a whole society approach in order to involve all stakeholders in boosting resilience;

– acknowledging the important role played by institutions and institutional blocks in the effectiveness of risk management measures in order to increase resilience levels;

– using diagnostic frameworks to identify institutional barriers and to restructure incentives to promote resilience [8].

In Risk Society, the German sociologist Ulrich Beck (1944-2015) went further, pointing out that risks were not only about the consequences and damage that occur, but that they could also indicate a future that had to be prevented from happening. Our awareness of the risk lies not in the present but principally in the future, he writes [9]. Futurists know this: they manipulate the wild cards to identify the jokers that may appear in our trajectory, and they use them as stress tests for the system and as a means of measuring the extent to which such events can be transformed into genuine opportunities to implement a desirable vision of the future.


2. Uncertainty, the product of our ignorance

Although the terms risk and uncertainty are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Risk indicates a clearly defined danger associated with the occurrence of a perfectly describable event or series of events; it is not known if such events will occur, but it is known that they may occur [10]. Where statistical tools can be employed, risk is defined as the probability of an undesirable or unwanted event occurring and the scale of the impact of such an occurrence on the variable or system according to its vulnerability. Therefore, in addition to the probability factor regarding an event occurring, there is also a severity factor regarding the consequences of the event. This results in a third, subjective, factor which, based on the first two factors, assesses, and possibly quantifies the level of risk [11].

It is because the notion of risk plays a central role in the theory of rational decision-making and in the choice it assumes between several states of the world, or scenarios, that it is sensible – as stated by Callon et al. – to reserve its use for such perfectly codified situations [12]. Consequently, in uncertain situations, use of this notion of risk makes it impossible to list and to precisely describe either the options available to the decision-maker or the possible states of the world through which reliable foresight can be developed.

Uncertainty is the product of our incomplete knowledge of the state of the world – past, present or future –, observe the economists John Kay (University of Oxford) and Mervyn King (London School of Economics) [13]. Frequently, as highlighted by their French colleague Philippe Silberzahn, uncertainty results not from our difficulty in acquiring information, but from the fact that this information does not exist – or not yet [14]. The fundamental inability to predict the result of the change based on probability diverts us from risk culture. In his work Noise, A Flaw on Human Judgment, Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, uses the concepts of objective ignorance (the absolute limit of our ability to predict), imperfect information (what could be known but is not), and irreducible uncertainty (what it is impossible to know). This form of semantic radicalisation, in which Kahneman, a professor at Princeton, uses the word ignorance where we generally use uncertainty, allows him to limit the confusion with noise. Noise, which can be conceived as random dispersal, is also a form of uncertainty. It affects not only the state of the world, but also the judgments we make. Kahneman also uses this semantic change to warn us that we systematically underestimate objective ignorance, and therefore uncertainty. The internal signal is a self-administered reward, one people work hard (or sometimes not so hard) to achieve when they reach closure on a judgment. It is a satisfying emotional experience, a pleasing sense of coherence, in which the evidence considered and the judgment reached feel right [15].

In a broadened natural, political, economic, social and cultural space and a complex world, the constant emergence [16] of new factors and actors makes it impossible to build up and to have at our disposal reasonable, if not complete, knowledge of the environment and its effects – including disruptive effects – on the system and, therefore, of how the system will evolve.


3. Dealing with uncertainty

As the authors of Acting in an uncertain world have shown, in uncertain situations, foresight is impossible for decision-makers due to a lack of specific knowledge about the behaviours and interactions of the elements that make up the system, and of the actors and factors that constitute the environment. But ignorance is not inevitable and thinking in terms of uncertainty will in itself help to facilitate better understanding [17].

Ignorance is not new, and it did not emerge in the 21st century. What is new, and hopefully increasing, is awareness of this ignorance. However, as highlighted in a text produced back in 1982 by Daniel Kahneman and his psychologist colleague from Stanford University Amos Tversky (1937-1996), uncertainty is a fact with which all forms of life must be prepared to contend. For Kahneman and Tversky, the inventors of Prospect Theory [18], at all levels of biological complexity there is uncertainty about the significance of signs or stimuli and about the possible consequences of actions. At all levels, action must be taken before the uncertainty is resolved, and a proper balance must be achieved between a high level of specific readiness for the events that are most likely to occur and a general ability to respond appropriately when the unexpected happens[19].

Although the disruptive shocks we have experienced since the start of 2020 could be anticipated, their magnitude and complexity have taken all analysts by surprise [20]. It is possible that disasters of this type may happen again, and that others, which are currently of little or no concern, may happen in the future.

It therefore seems essential to question the various policies adopted in the light of new emergences, disasters, or other potential risks, whether natural or anthropogenic, a distinction which is difficult to draw on account of the increasing transformation of biophysical environments [21]. The concept of disaster can be enriched not only by its etymology, which indicates a sudden, dreadful shock causing significant loss of life, but also by systemics through the works of the mathematicians René Thom (1923-2002) and Erik Christopher Zeeman (1925-2016). It is therefore a question of discontinuities [22] that may arise in the evolution of a variable or system, leading to changes in its morphological stability. Consequently, disasters have more to do with system inputs and parameter space than with the changes they bring about. For Zeeman, a disaster occurs where a continuous variety of causes leads to a discontinued variation in effects [23].

The French geographer Jérôme Dunlop notes, in turn, that whereas a risk results from the combination of a vulnerability and a hazard, whose possible occurrence would destroy all or part of the stakes exposed to it (humans and wealth), the term disaster is used where the destroyed stakes are considered significant by the human group affected. The magnitude of the risk itself varies according to how high the stakes are and how probable it is that the hazard will occur. Human occupation also increases the probability of risks occurring in natural environments. The risk of flooding is generally increased through urbanisation of the major river basins and water courses and through the impermeablisation of the ground resulting from development of road networks and urban growth, and through changes in agricultural landscapes.[24] Consequently, the historian Niall Ferguson, professor at Oxford and at Harvard, rightly observes that the distinction between natural disasters and disasters caused by humans is purely artificial. There is, he notes, constant interaction between human societies and nature. The example he gives is one we have highlighted previously when referring to the Lisbon disaster: an endogenous shock destroyed human life and health according to the proximity of residents to the place of impact [25].


Conclusion: disruptive shocks as opportunities for structural transformations in a system that is initially cumbersome or blocked

There is a new focus on the global impact of humanity on the earth system as a whole. This is what we refer to today as the Anthropocene, interpreting this era as a rupture[26]. One could argue, therefore, that if human activity has affected nature in such a way that natural, hydrometeorological and geophysical disasters are on the rise, resulting in large numbers of victims, it is today essential for us to gain a clearer understanding of disasters and to anticipate risks [27].

For several decades, the research has recognised the vulnerability of territories and communities. Vulnerability, referred to above, could be described as a circumstance or a context specific to certain groups (or territories) which find themselves in a fragile situation in relation to certain risks, a situation caused by the constant social construction of risks. From that perspective, resilience would indicate the development, by the group or territory, of capabilities to deploy processes – which affect practices – to reduce their vulnerability to certain risks [28]. Researchers have created new concepts for understanding this phenomenon and identifying its various types: differential or differentiated vulnerability, accumulated vulnerability, and global vulnerability, etc. Now that our focus has been increased through the shocks we are experiencing in practice, we need to translate these questions into public and collective anticipation and prevention policies by determining, space by space, territory by territory, which risks we are facing, what our vulnerabilities are, and how the global vulnerabilities vary from place to place. Lastly, although there are links between vulnerability, underdevelopment and poverty, it appears that the ability to recover from a disaster and prepare for risks is more critical than the level of poverty [29] Analysis of risk factors, including climate-related [30], is encouraged by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR, formerly UNISDR) [31]. The works produced by this institution, particularly its assessment reports, may help to construct a helpful methodological framework.

In addition, we cannot ignore one of the conclusions of the works of the anthropologist and historian Virginia Garcia-Acosta, namely that the recurring presence of certain natural phenomena, such as storms, has led certain groups of humans to make cultural changes in their lives and in their material organisation, which may result in the implementation of survival strategies and adaptation possibilities [32]. As previously indicated by Edgar Morin in La Méthode, when mentioning the concept of disaster, the rupture and disintegration of an old form is the very process by which the new form is created [33]. In other words, disruptive shocks may represent genuine opportunities for structural transformations in a system that is initially cumbersome or blocked.

Any approach to risks and disasters involves grasping the issue of acceptable risk in a strategy and its implementation in practice, and therefore also addressing the difficult question of the precautionary principle, with the multiple regional development and land management tools [34].

Equipping ourselves with predictive tools, devices and processes for confronting uncertainty represents basic good sense for all forms of contemporary governance in our societies [35]. This approach would also mean that disruptive shocks could be regarded as opportunities for structural transformations in a system which initially seems cumbersome or blocked when faced with the scale of the challenges.


Philippe Destatte


[1] Déclaration de Politique régionale wallonne, 2019-2024, Namur, 16 septembre 2019, 122 p., p. 75.

[2] Ibidem, p. 82.

[3] Ibidem, p. 90.

[4] Ibidem, p. 117.

[5] Ibidem, p. 118.

[6] In his report Boosting Resilience through Innovative Risk Governance, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, p. 16, Paris, OECD, 2014, OECD writes: Nearly all OECD countries systematically consider disaster risk in sectoral public investment strategies and planning. the importance attributed to the local responsibilities, including risk sensitive regulation in land zoning and private real estate development – Also see: Bassin de la Loire, France, Étude de l’OCDE sur la gestion des risques d’inondation, Paris, OECD, 2010.

[7] Michel CALLON, Pierre LASCOUMES & Yannick BARTHES, Acting in an uncertain world: An essay on technical democracy, Harvard, MIT Press, 2009. p. 37-39 of the Paris, Seuil, 2001 edition.

[8] Boosting Resilience through Innovative Risk Governance, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, p. 17-18, Paris, OECD, 2014.

[9] Ulrich BECK, Risk Society, Towards a New Modernity, London, SAGE, 1992. – La société du risque, Sur la voie d’une autre modernité (1986), p. 60-61, Paris, Flammarion, 2008.

[10] M. CALLON, P. LASCOUMES et Y. BARTHES, op. cit., p. 37.

[11] Carl L. PRITCHARD, Risk Management, Concepts and Guidance, p. 7-8, Arlington VA, ESI, 1997.

[12] Ibidem, p. 39.

[13] John KAY & Mervyn KING, Radical Uncertainty, p. 37, London, The Bridge Press, 2021.

[14] Philippe SILBERZAHN, Bienvenue en incertitude ! Survivre et prospérer dans un monde de surprises, p. 82, Paris, Diateino, 2021.

[15] Daniel KAHNEMAN, Olivier SIBONY, Carl R. SUNSTEIN, Noise, A Flaw in Human Judgment, p. 144-146, New York, Little, Brown, Spark, 2021..

[16] Emergence can be defined as the unexpected appearance or evolution of a variable or system that cannot result from or be explained by the system’s constituents or previous conditions. The microbiologist Janine Guespin sees in this the existence of singular qualities of a system that can only exist under certain conditions: they can possibly be inter-converted while the system retains the same constituents subject to interactions of the same nature, if a parameter regulating the intensity of these interactions crosses a critical threshold during its variation. Janine GUESPIN-MICHEL coord. , Lucien SEVE e.a., Émergence, Complexité et dialectique, Sur les systèmes dynamiques non linéaires, p. 42, Paris, O. Jacob, 2005.

[17] M. CALLON, P. LASCOUMES et Y. BARTHES, Acting in an uncertain world…, p. 40sv.

[18] See: Frédéric MARTINEZ, L’individu face au risque : l’apport de Kahneman et Tversky, dans  Idées économiques et sociales, vol. 161, no. 3, 2010, p. 15-23.

[19] Uncertainty is a fact with which all forms of life must be prepared to contend. At all levels of biological complexity there is uncertainty about the significance of signs or stimuli and about the possible consequences of actions. At all levels, action must be taken before the uncertainty is resolved, and a proper balance must be achieved between a high level of specific readiness for the events that are most likely to occur and a general ability to respond appropriately when the unexpected happens. Daniel KAHNEMAN, Paul SLOVIC & Amos TVERSKY, Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases, p. 509-510, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

[20] See: Philippe DESTATTE, We are expected to look far ahead even though the future does not exist, Namur, Wallonia, August 28, 2021. Blog PhD2050,

[21] Cyria EMILIANOFF, Risque, in Jacques LEVY et Michel LUSSAULT, Dictionnaire de la Géographie, p. 804-805, Paris, Belin, 2003. The definition of risk in this book is: the probability of a danger threatening or affecting the life and, more generally, the environment of an individual or a group. – See also: Yannick LUNG, Auto-organisation, bifurcation, catastrophe… les ruptures de la dynamique spatiale, Talence, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 1987.

[22] Discontinuity refers to rapid and significant shifts in trajectories without the aspect of being mostly unanticipated or deeply surprising. Ozcan SARITAS & Jack SMITH, The Big Picture – trends, drivers, wild cards, discontinuities and weak signals, in Futures, vol. 43, 3, April 2011, p. 292-312.

[23] E.C. ZEEMAN, Catastrophe Theory, Selected Papers, 1972-1977, p. 615-638, Addison Wesley Publishing Co, Reading, Mass. – London – Amsterdam, 1977. – R. THOM, Paraboles et catastrophes, Entretiens sur les mathématiques, la science et la philosophie, p. 59sv, Paris, Flammarion, 1983.

[24] Jérôme DUNLOP, Les 100 mots de la géographie, p. 71-72, Paris, PUF, 2009.

[25] Ph. DESTATTE, We are expected to look far ahead even though the future does not exist…,

[26] Clive HAMILTON, The Anthropocene as rupture, in The Anthropocene Review, 3, 2, 2016, p. 93-106.

[27] Virginia GARCIA-ACOSTA, Catastrophes non naturelles et anthropocène, Leçons apprises à partir de perspectives anthropologiques et historiques, dans Rémi BEZAU & Catherine LARRERE dir., Penser l’anthropocène, p. 325sv, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2018.

[28] V. GARCIA-ACOSTA, Catastrophes non naturelles et anthropocène…, p. 33.

[29] V. GARCIA-ACOSTA, Catastrophes non naturelles et anthropocène…, p. 329-330.

[30] And the links between climate and health : Jacques BLAMONT, Introduction au siècle des menaces, p. 505sv, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2004

[31] The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction was established in 1999 to ensure the implementation of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

[32] V. GARCIA-ACOSTA, Prevencion de desastres, estrategias adaptivas y capital social, in Harlan KOFF ed., Social Cohesion bin Europe and the Americas, Power, Time and Space, p. 115-130, Berne, Peter Lang, 2009. – Catastrophes non naturelles et anthropocène…, p. 332.

[33] Edgar MORIN, La Méthode, 1. La nature de la nature, p. 44, Paris, Seuil, 1977. – René THOM, Stabilité culturelle et Morphogénèse, Essai d’une théorie génétique des modèles, Paris, Ediscience, 1972.

[34] An acute and difficult question if ever there was one in the “risk society”. See in particular: Dominique BOURG et Jean-Louis SCHLEGEL, Parer aux risques de demain, le principe de précaution, Paris, Seuil, 2001. – Ulrich BECK, Risk Society, Towards a New Modernity, London, Sage, 1992. – François EWALD, Aux risques d’innover, Les entreprises face au principe de précaution, Paris, Autrement, 2009.

[35] All governments, international bodies, universities and companies should have their own Cassandras, their “National Warning Office”, to identify worst-case scenarios, measure risks and design protection, prevention and mitigation strategies. See: Niall FERGUSON, Doom, The Politics of Catastrophe, New York, Penguin Press, 2021.

Paris, Cloud Business Center, March 30, 2023

The question posed to me by the French Ministry of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion during the fourth meeting of their national land-use planners’ network (RNA) concerns the innovative or even disruptive lessons that are emerging from the European foresight work on the cities of the future[1]. Among the multitude of works undertaken within the European Commission – particularly by the Directorate General for Regional Policies and the Directorate General for Research –, the Committee of the Regions and networks such as ESPON, some drastic choices have been necessary to try, at the same time, to find a common thread for this intervention. As with any foresight process, this contribution will start with aspirations and imagination and end with the genuine anticipation strategy: how to act before events occur, to trigger them or prevent them? [2]

 Consequently, after reviewing the very creative, community-based Stories from 2050, we will examine two structured foresight reports, Cities of Tomorrow (2011) and The Future of Cities (2020), which, along with other sources, helped to construct the New Leipzig Charter of 30 November 2020. I shall conclude with the issue of the means for the policies advocated, which I believe to be a fundamental issue in most European countries and especially in France and Wallonia.


1. Stories from 2050

Although, as a rule, I am not particularly keen on the use of individual storytelling in foresight, preferring collective intelligence as a methodological principle, it is important to acknowledge the interest in the initiative launched by the DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission concerning the stories from 2050 [3]. From listening to their authors, these are radical, inspiring, and stimulating accounts of the challenges and opportunities presented by our future. Some of them focus on the future of cities. Written in 2020 and 2021, they are largely characterised by the traumas caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and by the increased awareness of the challenges arising from this new period in global history which is called the Anthropocene [4].

The European Commission conceived this work as a process for listening to society. Our duty observes Jean-Éric Paquet, is not only to tell but also to listen [5]. Thus, the Director-General for Research is increasingly of the opinion that foresight constitutes a space for engaging with citizens and listening to what they have to say. This approach is consistent with the efforts made by his department to fall within the scope of citizen science.

In the dozens of texts gathered and drafted in a variety of formats and with wide-ranging content, the Commission has faced a few observations. Firstly, the fact that creativity and innovation are needed more than ever to deal with the challenges of this century. Next, the idea that searching for another Earth, which features prominently in these stories, is an important ambition, but that what humans need to focus on most of all is to protect the only planet we currently have. Lastly, the notion that the European research and innovation policy can make good use of these works, as mentioned by Nikos Kastrinos and Jürgen Wengel [6].

These two DG Research managers note that the narrative that technology and innovation will solve problems and bring happiness for everyone in cities where life is good and where businesses flourish without detrimental externalities does not exist. This discourse has become pointless and obsolete. Nikos Kastrinos and Jürgen Wengel also observe that, according to the foresight stories, the source of the problems lies not in a lack of creativity and innovation, but rather in the primary and egoistical reality of human beings, who are fundamentally predatory. The community stories themselves seem to express notions of empathy, respect for others and constant striving. While this distances us from Research and Innovation, this society of the future certainly brings us closer to a better humanity [7].

I have picked out three of these stories which I think are characteristic of the effort made. The first is entitled The Foresighter Pledge and places great emphasis on anticipation [8]. The second story I have chosen concerns the construction of the city of Nüwa, on Mars, and highlights local autonomy and self-sufficiency [9]. The third is the story of the future protopians, who focus on a non-violent, inclusive world made up of “radical tenderness”, tolerance and celebration of life [10].

The Stories from 2050 project demonstrate the capacity of citizens to engage in long-term reflection and generate useful ideas for shaping a new society. The citizens themselves really enjoyed this exercise [11]. For the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation, the interest in the initiative helps to move away from a model of technological and scientistic thought in which all the problems of the future can be solved and instead, by listening to society, demonstrate that the challenges are complex and that, in a modest way, human beings have a central role to play in solving the problems.


2. A European model of urban development

Moving from foresight to strategy, which is itself an integral part of foresight, there are two works on the future of cities that should be mentioned. The first is called Cities of Tomorrow, Challenges, visions, ways forward, a work in which my colleagues of The Destree Institute and I were involved as foresight experts for the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission in 2010 and 2011, under the direction of Corinne Hermant – de Callattaÿ and Christian Svantfeldt [12]. The second, more recent work, entitled The Futures of Cities, was overseen by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in 2019 and published in 2020.


2.1. Cities of Tomorrow (2011)

The first exercise addressed several issues, including the question of whether a European urban development model existed [13]. The response was positive, and this model was clearly described in the work: an integrated and long-term approach, advanced places for social progress, platforms for democracy, places for green regeneration, and mechanisms for attractiveness and economic growth.

The shared vision of the European urban development model is an integrated approach which takes account of all aspects of sustainable development. Thus, the European cities of tomorrow are:

– advanced places for social progress;

– platforms for democracy, cultural dialogue and diversity;

– places for green, ecological or environmental regeneration;

– attractive places that are engines of economic growth [14].

 This vision brings together the main aims behind all the European policies in the 2010s, incorporating sustainability, territorial balance, polycentrism, limited urban sprawl, and quality and well-being of habitat and environment. The authors state as follows: The future urban territorial development pattern reflects a sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and balanced territorial organisation with a polycentric urban structure; contains strong metropolitan regions and other strong urban areas, such as regional centres, especially outside the core areas of Europe, which provide good accessibility to the services of general economic interest; is characterised by a compact settlement structure with limited urban sprawl through a strong control of land supply and speculative development; enjoys a high level of protection and quality of the environment around cities – nature, landscape, forestry, water resources, agricultural areas, etc. – and strong links and articulation between cities and their environments [15].

The issue of climate change and its energy corollary may not appear prominently, as has generally been the case in most works since the Paris Agreements of 12 December 2015, although they do feature heavily in the earlier works and in the report itself. In the preface by European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, the city is still regarded as an essential asset for mitigating the impact of climate change[16]. Thus, continues the report, cities have a critical role to play in reducing CO2 emissions and tackling climate change. It goes on to explain that energy consumption in urban areas is associated mainly with transport and housing and is therefore responsible for a large proportion of CO2 emissions. Referring to the World Energy Outlook, the report observes that around two thirds of final energy demand is associated with urban consumption and up to 70% of CO2 emissions are generated in cities. The authors are therefore able to conclude that the urban way of life is both the problem and the solution [17].

The most promising model is that of the diverse city, a place of social cohesion and cultural and human diversity in which the different spatial and social perspectives of the inhabitants are taken into account [18]. The Leipzig Charter on the Sustainable European Cities, adopted in 2007, is used to design a compact, environmentally friendly city: grouped habitats, planning methods to prevent urban sprawl, management of land supply, restriction of speculative trends, district diversity, involvement of stakeholders and inhabitants, and so on [19].


2.2. The Future of Cities (2019)

At least three of the key messages of the report entitled The Future of Cities, produced in 2019 by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, are of interest to us in the first instance: the performance of cities in terms of resource use and their energy efficiency, the imbalances, disparities and even divergences that affect them, and the interaction which they can develop with themselves, in other words, their inhabitants. The three messages are as follows:

The fight for sustainability will be greatly influenced by what happens in cities. While cities usually place greater pressure on natural resources, they perform better in the use of resources and have a greater potential for energy efficiency. Actions on environmental sustainability, including climate change, are already being taken by many cities.


– There is a risk of polarisation both within and between cities. On the one hand, being unable to take stock of the issues highlighted will lead to even more inequalities within a city. On the other hand, a diverging path between cities falling behind and cities capitalising on emerging trends may cause additional social and economic imbalance between different urban areas.

– The close linkage between space/service/people is at the core of cities’ capacities to respond to people’s needs and to manage new challenges in a wider context, beyond administrative boundaries and sectorial domains.  A truly holistic approach is needed to optimise the provision of services and create an intelligent interaction between the city and its inhabitants while maintaining or enhancing quality of life. [20]

The report helpfully presents the challenges faced by cities in the form of a system, with fourteen subsystems in which health, climate, resilience, environmental footprint, urban governance and innovation coexist with mobility, housing, services, the environment, etc.

The exercise conveys the ambitions set out during the 2018 European Mayors’ Convention [21], which linked the climate and energy objectives with the European time frames for reducing carbon emissions. At the Convention, the 8,800 ambitious cities pledged to contribute to the objectives to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, by 40% by 2030, and to decarbonise their cities by 2050.

Governance is placed at the service of the climate and energy objectives, with strategic guidelines for achieving them:

– government by offering services and especially financial resources;

– co-construction and civic facilitation of policies;

– municipal autonomy;

– regulation and planning for the transport, mobility, lighting, urban planning, development, and renewable energy sectors.

It is also the responsibility of these cities of the future to exploit their innovation potential. The report highlights the Future Agenda 2017 formula, whereby cities are often places of great energy and optimism and that is where most humans choose to live, work, and interact with each other. Consequently, according to this same source, cities are places of innovation, where ideas are generated from which, to a large extent, economic growth emerges [22]. Thus, the Joint Research Centre report emphasises the fact that, within a co-construction rationale, citizens can play a major role in identifying and solving urban challenges.


3. The New Leipzig Charter (2020)

The New Leipzig Charter of 20 November 2020, which is familiar to all developers and urban planners, is partly the result of the foresight works to which it refers. The Charter calls for alignment of European urban development policies in a model highlighted through its three priority areas: the just city (inclusive, cohesive, learning), the green city (decarbonised, low-waste, regenerative) and the productive city [23] At the heart of its vision, its purposes are the common good, public well-being, quality of services and empowerment of the actors who enable participation, deliberation, and co-construction of collective policies.

The integrated, place-based approach, which had already been included in the 2007 Charter, is still the guiding principle in the 2020 text. However, the perspective is widened to incorporate deprived neighbourhoods, functional areas and the entire urban context.

Multilevel governance highlights the need for strong, coordinated urban policies, in other words, sound financial policies, from European to local level, that are consistent with sustainability.

Citizen participation must be combined with co-creation, co-design and tackling inequalities and social breakdown in cities, by employing tools and mechanisms in the areas of housing, attractiveness for business, land-use planning, and environmental regeneration.

For its implementation, the signatories of the charter sought a stronger strategic alignment between the Union’s Territorial Agenda 2030 [24], the urban aspect of the cohesion policy, the national urban policy frameworks, and the Urban Agenda for the European Union [25].


4. Conclusion: a city which generates economic and financial value

The idea that cities contribute to both problems and solutions is well established today in our mental landscape. Although they may be places with a concentration of problems – idleness, unemployment, social breakdown, transmission of disease, exclusion, segregation, racism, xenophobia, violence –, they are also the preferred places for curing such ills by mobilising the appropriate resources.

The urban governance survey carried out in 2016 by the London School of Economics, before the most recent spate of crises, showed that half of city representatives regarded the lack of funds as the greatest challenge in urban governance, followed by politicisation of local issues, the complexity of managing contemporary urban problems, and inadequate or outdated political silos [26]. The JRC report also noted that the inadequacy of budgetary resources was one of the major challenges in urban governance [27].

Cities which do not produce economic or financial excesses are, and will be, incapable of coping with the current and future challenges, which, as we know, are vast. I hardly need to restate that decarbonisation will be very expensive. The effects of climate change will require costly repair and preventive work.

The crises already suffered, the “whatever it costs” mentality in the public responses to social rebellions [28], the Covid-19 pandemic, and the effects of the war in Ukraine and its consequences in terms of energy regulation and military investment, have considerably exacerbated a major public finance crisis. This has already been part of our political, economic, and social landscape since the beginning of the century and has been amplified by the major shock of 2008-2009, whose consequences continue to affect us today. In addition to the budgetary deficit, there is, as we have seen, the egotism of societal individualism which, in some people – both rich and poor –, goes as far as refusing to pay tax. The worries are real when one measures the scale of our countries’ debt and the negative primary balances of our budgets.

Budgetary depletion leaves the door open to developers who go against the common interests highlighted by the New Leipzig Charter. The elected representatives, formerly builders, and today transients, as one mayor pointed out, could tomorrow be financially powerless. Some of them already are, those who have no purpose other than trying to give meaning to the predations of those who supplant them and the common interest they hold.

The main remedy for this problem lies in multilevel participation, which ranges from traditional consultation to discussion, community deliberation and co-construction with stakeholders [29]. In his concept of the plural city, the sociologist Jan Vranken, from the University of Antwerp, invited us as citizens, or as mere residents, to several forums in which the city’s financial issues could be discussed freely since, as he pointed out, the public budgeting exercise affects everyone [30].

The remedy can also be found in the productive city section in the New Leipzig Charter. This implies, as in the 1987 Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, an economy that produces excesses as a guarantee of its sustainability. Thus, maintaining high levels of productivity will be critically important in retaining production within city boundaries. As highlighted in a 2020 report by the European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion (ORATE), if we wish to maintain and develop productive activities in cities in the long term, it is essential to understand the reasons why manufacturing activities have been able to take place in cities and to promote innovation and entrepreneurial activities. Identifying and developing appropriate sites should promote the return of industry in cities[31].

This is certainly the price of ensuring the autonomy and well-being of the inhabitants of our European cities and their elected representatives.


Philippe Destatte



[1] Quatrième rencontre du Réseau national français des Aménageurs (RNA), Ministère de la Transition écologique et de la Cohésion des Territoires, Paris, March, 30 2023.

[2] Philippe DESTATTE, What is foresight? Blog PhD2050, Brussels, May 30, 2013. – Ph. DESTATTE, From anticipation to action: an essential foresight path for businesses and organisations, Blog PhD2050, Namur, February 1st,  2014.

[3] Tanja SCHINDLER, Graciela GUADARRAMA BAENA, ea, Stories from 2050, Radical, inspiring and thought-provoking narratives around challenges and opportunities of our futures, Brussels, European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, October 2021.

[4] We live in the Anthropocene, the geological age where humans have the most significant impact and influence on climate, the environment, and the entire planet. Biodiversity on Earth is shrinking at a frightening pace. The extinction of animal species caused by human activity may lead to the next wave of mass extinction since the disappearance of the dinosaurs. No wonder space travel has always fascinated humankind, therefore fictional space travel was used in this process to question whether it is one – possible and second – desirable, to leave Earth behind and disrupt another planet. Furthermore, space travel fantasies and aspirations are linked to the quest for knowledge and exploration, encouraging participants to go beyond their usual thinking and leave current barriers and obstacles behind. Stories from 2050…, p. 13.

[5] Our duty is not only to tell, but also to listen, Jean-Eric PAQUET, Foreword, in Stories from 2050…, p. 5.

[6] Nikos KASTRINOS & Jürgen WENGUEL, Epilogue: What can EU R&I policy lean from Stories from 2050? in Stories from 2050…, p. 107sv.

[7] Ibidem, p. 108-109.

[8] The Foresight Pledge, in Stories from 2050, p. 75, EC, DG Research, 2021.

[9] Totti KONNOLA, Inside the first self-sustainable city on Mars, ready for humans in 2100, March 24, 2021.

[10] Protopian Future, in Stories from 2050…, p. 95. – Protopia refers to a society that, instead of solving all its problems as in a utopia, or falling into severe dysfunction as in a dystopia, progresses gradually over a long period of time, thanks to the way technological advances reinforce the natural process of evolution. Kevin KELLY, What Technology wants, London, Penguin, 2011.

[11] Tanjia SCHINDLER, Stories from 2050, Project Overview and Process, Mutual Learning Exercise, Research and Innovation Foresight, Policy and Practice, Citizens’ Engagement Approaches & Methods on good practices in the use of Foresight in R&I policy planning and programming, Strengthening the role of foresight in the process of identifying research priorities, 31 January, 1 & 2 February 2023.

[12] Corinne HERMANT- de CALLATTAŸ et Christian SVANTFELDT, Cities of Tomorrow, Challenges, visions, ways forward, Brussels, European Commission, Directorate General for Regional Policy, 2011. – See also: Chr. SVANFELDT, C. HERMANT- de CALLATAŸ, La “ville de demain” vue par l’Union européenne, in Les Cahiers du Développement social urbain, 2012/2 (N° 56), p. 52-54.

[13] The ‘European model of the city’ is a fascinating issue. On the one hand, it captures essential features of European cultural history, and it is deeply rooted in the past and, hence, related to the identity question. On the other, it captures essential aspects of the political vision of the European Union and, hence, of the future as envisaged by the underlying society. Cities of Tomorrow…, p. 1.

[14] Cities of Tomorrow…, p. 10-11.

[15] Cities of Tomorrow…, p. 12.

[16] Cities of Tomorrow, p. III.

[17] Cities of Tomorrow, p. 5. – The report highlights that 2/3 of final energy demand is linked to urban consumption and up to 70% of CO2 emissions are generated in cities, even though they are inhabited by 50% of the world’s population in 2010), referring to the World Energy Outlook 2008. Let us note that according to the World Energy Outlook 2022: 70% of the world’s population could be living in cities in 2050, i.e. an increase of 2 billion inhabitants in cities worldwide (p. 110 and 464 – This analysis can be found in the report Futures of Cities in 2019: While being responsible for a high level of energy consumption and, therefore, generating about 70% of global GHG emissions, cities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Cities are most effective at taking measures to tackle climate change when aligned with each other and with national- and regional-level actors with whom they can share greater climate ambition and capacity. In the last two decades, city ambition has risen remarkably to go beyond the national governments’ climate-change targets as the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C warns that current nationally determined contributions for the Paris Agreement are not sufficient. Cities need support from their partners in national and regional governments, the private sector, academia, and civil society to fully meet and exceed these ambitious targets. The Future of Cities, JRC, 2019, p. 82.

[18] Cities of Tomorrow, p. 35.

[19] Cities of Tomorrow, p. 43-48.

[20] The Future of Cities, Main messages, European Commission, Urban Data Platform, 2019. Future of Cities…, p. 8-9.

[21] Covenant of Mayors: cities at the forefront of climate action, February 19, 2018.

[22] Cities are often places of great energy and optimism. They are where most of us choose to live, work and interact with others. As a result, cities are where innovation happens, where ideas are formed from which economic growth largely stems. Future of Cities, Insights from Multiple Expert Discussions Around the World, p. 3, London, Futureagenda 2017. – The Future of Cities, p. 105.

[23] The New Leipzig Charter, The Transformative power of cities for the common good, 30 November 2020.

[24] Territorial Agenda, A future for all places, December 1st 2020.

[25] Implementing the New Leipzig Charter through multi-level governance, Next Steps for the Urban Agenda for the EU, p. 4,, 2020.

[26] The Urban Governance Survey, 2016, Cities UN Habitat and the United Cities and Local Governments, London School of Economics, 2016. – The Future of Cities…, p. 129 & 149.

[27] The Future of Cities…, p. 106.

[28]According to Anne de Guigné, the budgetary impact of the Yellow Vests crisis amounted to €17 billion in new expenditure or lower revenue.. Anne DE GUIGNE, Emmanuel Macron et la dette : six ans de rendez-vous manqués, dans Le Figaro Économie, 29 mars 2023, p. 24.

[29] Michel FOUDRIAT, La co-construction en actes, Savoirs et savoir-faire pratiques pour faciliter sa mise en œuvre, Montrouge, ESF, 2021.

[30] Cities of Tomorrow…, p. 35.

[31] Europe’s productive cities and metros, Policy Brief, p. 2, Luxembourg, European Union, ESPON, 2021.

Brussels, January 28, 2023

To Professor Charles Hyart


1. Russia is a European power

Россия есть Европейская держава

Russia is a European power. This was a phrase I often heard repeated by Charles Hyart (1913-2014), my teacher of language and of history of Russian civilisation at the University of Liège[1]. It appears in Article 6 of the Nakaz of Empress Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796), the Instruction she issued in 1767 to the Legislative Commission responsible for harmonising the laws. This work was an authentic treatise on political philosophy, inspired by L’esprit des Lois (1748) of Montesquieu (1689-1755) and by the Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794). It was written in French, then translated into Russian by the Tsarina herself [2]. The phrase appearing in this Article 6 underlines that there was, at least in the minds of certain leaders – despots, enlightened or otherwise –, a desire to impose the notion of a European Russia on both Russians and Westerners.

This orientation did not first emerge in the 18th century. Ever since Ivan IV, known as Grozny, the Terrible (1530-1584), the first Tsar of Russia who reigned from 1547 to 1584, Russia had regularly opened itself up to the West, and in particular to the English through the Northern ports. Peter the Great (1672-1725), who reigned from 1694 to 1725, began a genuine process to westernise the country. This movement continued until the Common European Home, the concept created by Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022), even if there were a number of pendulum swings which saw Russia’s European identity sometimes enhanced and sometimes rejected[3]. Some actors viewed the westernisation of their country as a process of derussification. They considered it a betrayal of the triumphant heritage of Byzantium from which Russia arose. They opposed Westernisation, which they regarded as deviance, in the name of slavophilia – Slav nationalism –, asianity or eurasianism, which were permeating the vastness of the two continents straddled by Russia[4].

But it was also in the name of this vastness that, despite her intellectual proximity to Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and to Alembert (1717-1783), Catherine the Great wrote in Articles 9 and 11 of her Instruction that:

[…] The sovereign is absolute; for there is no other authority but that which centers in his single person that can act with a vigour proportionate to the extent of such a vast dominion. […] Every other form of government whatsoever would not only have been prejudicial to Russia, but would even have proved its entire ruin [5].

We will not descend into such determinism.

The Western Europeans’ view of Russia also varied: the violent presence of the Cossacks of Tsar Alexander I  (1777-1825), conqueror of Napoleon (1769-1821), experienced by Liège, the Ardenne, then Paris in 1814, and then the fear of troops from a Russia who was “the policeman of Europe”, the Russia of Nicolas I (1796-1855), threatening the Belgian Revolution of 1830 from afar, gave way, after the Crimean War (1853-1856) [6], to the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1892 and to the bloody confrontation of 1914-1918 which led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of 3 March 1918. This treaty, in which the central empires imposed peace on the Eastern front, meant, for Russia, the loss of Ukraine, the Baltic States and the Caucasus, against the backdrop of the anti-Bolshevik crusades pursued by the Allies: the English, French, Italian, American and Japanese intervened directly and militarily until 1920 [7].

Then came the fascination exerted by Petrograd, then Moscow, the new capital of a Bolshevik socialism, on our intellectuals and proletariat, until the end of the 20th century for some. A land existed, said André Gide (1869-1951) in 1936, where utopia was becoming reality [8], and which, increasingly, asserted itself as a global superpower with the United States, as French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) had foreseen a century earlier, in 1835, in Democracy in America:

There are, at the present time, two great nations in the world which seem to tend towards the same end, although they started from different points: I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have grown up unnoticed; and whilst the attention of mankind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly assumed a most prominent place amongst the nations; and the world learned their existence and their greatness at almost the same time.

All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and only to be charged with the maintenance of their power; but these are still in the act of growth; all the others are stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these are proceeding with ease and with celerity along a path to which the human eye can assign no term [9].


2. The Second Russian Revolution

The arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin in March 1985 was a major bifurcation which triggered a reversion movement in Europe. The backdrop was characterised by the partial failure of the implementation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), held in Helsinki in 1975 [10]. It was also a period of tensions over the siting of missiles in Europe, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the Polish crisis in the early 1980s.

From 1985 to 1986, the reforming Russian leader developed an idea which he presented in a speech he gave in London in 1984: in his view, Europe is our common home [11]. This initial signal enabled the European Economic Community, the following year, to begin negotiations with Moscow for the purpose of preparing a draft agreement on trade and cooperation. One of Gorbachev’s collaborators, Vladimir Lukin, a diplomat at the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation (MID), noted in 1988 that the European Common Home proclaimed by President Gorbachev represents the home of a civilisation on the periphery of which we have remained for a long time. Lukin, the future ambassador to Washington, noted that this process, which at that time was growing in Russia and in a number of countries in the East, had, everywhere, the same historical dimension, namely the dimension of a return towards Europe [12].

With his New Thinking, Gorbachev continued his reform of the USSR [13]. In his famous speech of 7 December 1988 at the United Nations in New York, the Kremlin leader showed a new face of Russia and undertook to withdraw from Germany and from Eastern Europe a substantial portion of the Soviet troops stationed there.

A few months later, on 6 July 1989, before the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where, in 1959, General de Gaulle (1890-1970) had evoked the idea of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals [14], Mikhail Gorbachev announced the repeal of the Brezhnev doctrine. This dealt with the right of the USSR to intervene in the socialist countries to defend the Communist doctrine and its territorial acquisitions. It was in this speech that the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party repeated the words of Victor Hugo (1802-1885) on the United States of Europe, uttered in 1849:

[…] the day will come when you, France, you, Russia, you, Italy, you, England, you Germany — all of you, all the nations of the continent — will, without losing your distinguishing features and your splendid distinctiveness, merge inseparably into some high society and form a European brotherhood … the day will come when only the battlefield will be markets open for trade and minds open to ideas [15].

President Mikhail Gorbachev at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, 6 July 1989 (Photo capture INA)

In this speech, Gorbachev gave a broad explanation of his European Home concept and concluded that, by uniting, Europeans would be able to address the challenges of the 21st century.

[…] We are convinced that what they need is one Europe — peaceful and democratic, a Europe that maintains all its diversity and common humanistic ideas, a prosperous Europe that extends its hand to the rest of the world. A Europe that confidently advances into the future. It is in such a Europe that we visualise our own future [16].

At the time, this Soviet project, with its increasingly social-democrat orientation, was strongly supported by French President François Mitterrand (1916-1996) who tried to bolster its content, notably when he outlined the following plan on television on 31 December 1989:

On the basis of the Helsinki agreements, I expect to see the birth of a European Confederation, in the true sense of the word, in the 1990s, which will involve all states of our continent in a common organisation with continuous exchange, peace and security [17].

In Mitterrand’s view, the Pan-European union, the confederation he announced in his speech at the Elysée Palace, was not intended to replace the EEC.

In this context, the Warsaw Pact member countries and the NATO countries signed the Paris Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Likewise, in the wake of this, Moscow endorsed the Charter for a New Europe, adopted by the 34 countries at the end of the same summit, organised ahead of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) of 19-21 November 1990 [18]. This charter dealt with respect for democratic pluralism and human rights and freedoms, and it aimed to open a new era:

We, the Heads of State or Government of the States participating in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, have assembled in Paris at a time of profound change and historic expectations. The era of confrontation and division of Europe has ended. We declare that henceforth our, relations will be founded on respect and co-operation. Europe is liberating itself from the legacy of the past. The courage of men and women, the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of the ideas of the Helsinki Final Act have opened a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe [19].

 Hopes were clearly very high. In fact, according to Professor Hiski Haukkala, by signing the Paris Charter, Gorbachev signaled the end of a competing Soviet normative agenda for the future development of the European international society. Once again it was Europe’s turn to condition Russia’s place in Europe [20].


3. The seeds of a future problem

However, in late June 1991, after the Conference of the European Confederation held in Prague, on the initiative of François Mitterrand and endorsed by Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), President of Czechoslovakia, it seemed that it was a failure [21]. Mitterrand’s former advisor on the matter wrote that, in this case, the French President’s only mistake was being right too soon. His clear thinking collided with the convergence of conservatism (that of the Americans, who primarily wanted to maintain their influence in Europe) and impatience (that of the countries of Eastern Europe, who were keen to climb aboard the Community train) [22]. The acceleration of the processes of opening up to the countries of the East, German reunification, and the hostility of the United States to a process in which they were not involved caused the demise of the Confederation and the Common Home [23]. Jacques Lévesque, Professor at UQAM, expressed it thus:

The rapid and unexpected collapse of the regimes of Eastern Europe brought about the ruin of Gorbachev’s ideology of transition and European policy by depriving it of the essential drivers for its implementation and caused the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself [24].

In December 1991, Gorbachev’s USSR imploded in favour of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), dominated by the Russian Federation.

In spring 1992, after these events, Andrei Kozyrev, Foreign Minister under Russian President Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007), stressed the future importance for Russia of being part of the European structures and confirmed the value of active participation in the European process. Use of the norms and expertise accumulated in the European context would, he observed, be of great help in solving the internal problems of Russia and of the other former Soviet republics[25]. Under his influence, Russia applied for membership of the Council of Europe in May 1992, joining it on 28 February 1996 [26]. This was a significant step, too often forgotten. In November 1992, Russia also entered into negotiations with the EEC with a view to a partnership and cooperation agreement on shared democratic values, respect for human rights, and entrepreneurship. This agreement was signed on 24 June 1994 in Corfu (Italy), where Russia and the European Union declared themselves mutual strategic partners [27]. This was another important step in the rapprochement between Russia and Europe. This rapprochement was not merely a signature on paper: from 1990 to 1994, the EEC was responsible for 60% of the international aid to Russia via the TACIS programme [28], and it became one of Moscow’s leading commercial partners, representing more than a third of Russia’s foreign trade [29].

This process of rapprochement suffered as a result of NATO’s marginalisation of Russia during the Balkan wars [30]. This marginalisation triggered anti-Western sentiments and cost Kozyrev his job, despite his efforts to bring about, in the face of increasingly strong Russian nationalist pressure, a switch from his policy to a defence of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a vital interest of Russia [31].

In January 1996, Kozyrev was replaced by Yevgeny Primakov (1929-2015). A brilliant academic who spoke several languages, including Arabic and French, Primakov was in favour of a multipolar diplomacy in which Russia would assume a Eurasian power role, including in the ‘near abroad’ countries of the former Soviet republics. This multipolarity was viewed on the other side of the Atlantic as a desire to harm the United States on all fronts [32]. Europe, however, was still a favoured partner of Russia when a strengthened partnership agreement was signed in November 1997 [33]. The attractiveness of Europe for the Russians had lost the euphoria of the early days, especially as Brussels was showing increasing irritation through its constant criticisms, particularly concerning the Chechen question. In March 1999, it was the unilateral intervention triggered by the US Administration in Kosovo which caused a crisis with NATO; it reached its climax with the occupation by Russian paratroopers of Slatina-Pristina airport on 12 June 1999 [34]. This was also the time of the NATO expansion to include the “countries of the East”.

The US leaders and their West German counterparts skilfully derailed Gorbachev’s plans, offering NATO membership to East Germany, without making any formal promises, not in writing at any rate, on the future of the alliance [35]. But Mary Elise Sarotte, Professor of history at the University of Southern California, highlighted this when she recalled that James Baker, former Secretary of State under George H. W. Bush (1924-2018), from 1989 to 1993, had written in his memoirs: almost every achievement contains within its success the seeds of a future problem. She observed that, by design, Russia was left on the periphery of a post-Cold War Europe. A young KGB officer serving in East Germany in 1989 offered his own recollection of the era in an interview a decade later, in which he remembered returning to Moscow full of bitterness at how “the Soviet Union had lost its position in Europe” [36].

His name was Vladimir Putin, and he would one day have the power to act on that bitterness [37].


4. Outstretched hand and closed fist

The arrival of Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin took place against a background of détente with the West, when the post-9/11 war on terror and the development of energy cooperation with Western Europe were major factors.

As the first Russian leader to address the Bundestag, in September 2001, Vladimir Putin began his speech in Russian then continued at length in the language of Goethe, Schiller and Kant. He underlined the importance of European culture by recalling the significant contribution made by Russia to that culture which, he noted, has known no borders and has always been a common asset. And he continued:

As for European integration, we not just support these processes, but we are looking to them with hope. We view them as a people who have learned the lesson of the Cold War and the peril of the ideology of occupation very well. But here, I think, it would be pertinent to add that Europe did not gain from that division either.

It is my firm conviction that in today’s rapidly changing world, in a world witnessing truly dramatic demographic changes and an exceptionally high economic growth in some regions, Europe also has an immediate interest in promoting relations with Russia.

No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent centre of world politics soundly and for a long time if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential [38].

Alongside this outstretched hand, the Kremlin leader lamented the objections that remained with the West and demanded loyalty from NATO by questioning the soundness of the expansion to the East and bemoaning the inability to reach an agreement on antimissile defense systems. Closing his speech about German-Russian relations, Vladimir Putin spoke of his conviction that Germany and Russia were turning over a new page in their relations, thereby making our joint contribution to building a common European home [39].

In the years that followed, Europe became the principal commercial partner of a Russia whose GDP growth reached 7% per year from 2000 to 2007 [40]. This favourable climate meant that the Russian-European Summit in St Petersburg in May 2003 was a great success. At this Summit, the Russian and European diplomats defined four spaces: a common economic space, a common space of freedom, security and justice, a common space of cooperation in the field of external security, and a common space on research and education [41]. The Moscow Summit of May 2005 outlined a series of roadmaps for the implementation of these cooperation spaces founded on security and stability. The Russians and Europeans agreed to actively promote them in a mutually beneficial manner, through close result-oriented EU-Russia collaboration and dialogue, thereby contributing effectively to creating a greater Europe without dividing lines and based on common values [42].

However, once again the geopolitical context collapsed. The Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow (2002) and in Beslan (2004), the effects of the eastward expansion of the European Union in 2004 to include eight post-communist countries, meaning that Russia’s ‘near abroad’ – especially Belarus and Ukraine – became Europe’s ‘near abroad’, and the suspicion of European support for the colour revolutions – Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 – led to a new Russian distrust of Europe. Simultaneously, the blatant human rights violations of Vladimir Putin’s regime and especially the assassination, in 2006, of Moscow-based journalist Anna Politkovskaya dashed the European hopes that had arisen from the 2003 Summit.

Russian president Vladimir Putin delivers his remarks about “Russia’s Role in World Politics” during the 43rd Annual Conference on Security Policy in Munich, Germany, Feb. 10, 2007. The theme for the conference is “Global Crisis-Global Responsibilities.” Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby (released)

It was a frustrated Vladimir Putin who attended the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy on 10 February 2007. As Professor Richard Sakwa from the University of Kent wrote, Putin, who was probably the most European leader his country had ever known, intended to bring his country into a new phase of international relations [43]. The Russian president issued a direct challenge to the unipolar model established by the role of the United States in the world and advocated a return to a multipolar world which took account of the economic realities of the planet: China, India, and BRICS, including Russia, had emerged, he pointed out. And although the Kremlin leader at the end of his mandate again evoked the idea of “the great European family”, he mainly denounced the insecurity which the NATO expansion was causing at the Russian borders, stating:

I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernisation of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? [44]

When the new president Dmitri Medvedev entered office on 7 May 2008, all this tension seemed to be forgotten. The Foreign Policy Concept which the President of the Russian Federation approved on 15 July 2008 called for strategic relations to be established with the European Union on a solid, modern legal basis and for a legal space to be created under the auspices of the Council of Europe which would extend across the whole of Europe.

The main objective of the Russian foreign policy on the European track is to create a truly open, democratic system of regional collective security and cooperation ensuring the unity of the Euro-Atlantic region, from Vancouver to Vladivostok, in such a way as not to allow its new fragmentation and reproduction of bloc-based approaches which still persist in the European architecture that took shape during the Cold War period. This is precisely the essence of the initiative aimed at concluding a European security treaty, the elaboration of which could be launched at a pan-European summit [45].

Thereupon, Moscow called for the construction of a genuinely unified Europe, without dividing lines, through equal interaction between Russia, the European Union and the United States. In addition, since Russia was asserting itself as the biggest European State with a multinational and multiconfessional society and centuries-old history, the Kremlin offered to play a constructive role in ensuring a civilizational compatibility of Europe, and harmonious integration of religious minorities, including in view of the various existing migration trends. The new policy concept also called for a strengthening of the role of the Council of Europe, and of the OSCE, and announced the desire of the Russian Federation to develop its relations with the European Union, a major trade, economic and foreign-policy partner. Russia also stated that it was interested in establishing a strategic partnership with the European Union and mutually beneficial relations with the countries in the Union [46].

The ambiguities between the Atlantic democracies also increased. Whereas the United States primarily viewed NATO as a leadership instrument whose role included bringing partners together on missions that might extend beyond the European theatre, the countries of Eastern Europe essentially saw NATO as an instrument of peace in Europe. For their part, the new members from Central and Eastern Europe viewed the Alliance as a bulwark against a Russia which they still feared. As Charles Kupchan wrote, the preoccupation of these countries rendered them open to a Euro-Atlantic order focused more on NATO than on the European Union. This analysis led the professor of International Relations at Georgetown University in Washington, to argue in favour of allowing Russia to join the Atlantic Alliance [47].

To respond to NATO’s continued expansion eastwards, the new military doctrine of Moscow regarded the enlargement of NATO as a major external threat, especially when the alliance contemplated allowing Georgia and Ukraine to join. In anticipation of the annual OSCE meeting in Athens, on 1 December 2009, Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation since 2004, presented a draft treaty on European security, which worried the Europeans and irritated Washington. This reorganisation of the security architecture was based on the idea that any action taken by one of the parties, individually or collectively, including as part of an international organisation, alliance or military coalition, had to take into account the interests of the other signatory parties to the treaty. The European Union responded politely, while drawing attention to the fact that this new proposal should in no way affect the current security obligations of the Member States of the Union [48].

In 2010, a number of initiatives appeared to offer a new momentum in relations between Russia and the West. At the United Nations, Russia voted in favour of sanctions against Iran, which was perceived positively in Brussels. As Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin welcomed his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk in Katyn and expressed remorse regarding the massacre carried out in Poland in 1940 on the orders of Stalin (1878-1953). In April 2010, in Prague, President Dmitri Medvedev signed the New Start Treaty with President Barack Obama with the aim of limiting the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The following month, NATO troops, at the cordial invitation of the Russians, marched in Red Square to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazism [49]. Efforts were also maintained on both sides to cement certain cooperation activities. At the EU-Russia Summit at Rostov-on-Don, in spring 2010, a Partnership for Modernisation (P4M) was launched in a relaxed atmosphere, but it failed to deliver any significant improvement in a relationship which some people already viewed as a compromise [50]. It is true that there was a growing feeling of unease in Europe over the reliability of the Russian energy supply [51]. The conflict in South Ossetia between Russia and a Georgia which seemed to be aligning itself with the West also increased tensions at diplomatic and military levels.


5. Relations during the stalemate

In July 2013, however, Russian minister Sergey Lavrov published an article in the highly respected international academic publication, the Journal of Common Market Studies; the former Russian representative at the UN (1994-2004) stated that:

European history cannot be imagined without Russia, just as the history of Russia cannot be imagined apart from Europe. For centuries, Russia has been involved in shaping European reality in its political, economic and cultural dimensions. Yet the debate of how close Russia and its west European partners can be and to what degree Russia is a European Country has also been going on for centuries.

Minister Lavrov also pointed out that, in recent years, […] we have an unprecedented opportunity to fulfil the dream of a united Europe [52]. Nevertheless, it was debatable whether that opportunity had passed.


President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy at the European University in St. Petersburg, 5 September 2013 (Photo European University)

Less than two months later, on 5 September 2013, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who was in St Petersburg for the G20 meeting, delivered a lecture at the European University. His words echoed those of Victor Hugo in 1849 and of Vladimir Putin in 2001, among others:

[…] We Europeans, we know one another. We – the French, the Prussians then Germans, the Swedes, the Dutch, the Italians, the Poles, the British, the Russians, and all the others, we have read each other’s books, we listened to each other’s music, we believed in the same God, we have engaged in battles between various sides, we spoke and traded with, and learned from each other, and at times have misunderstood each other. Perhaps we are, as has been said, one “European family”. But then again, one must be careful with a word like that, because to me it immediately brings to mind the first line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”! I would say that the European family can be happy in its own way. I would say that the European family can be happy in its own way [53].

However, as with Putin’s speech in the Bundestag, the remainder of the text hinted at problems, with Herman Van Rompuy observing:

We share common borders, and also common neighbours. Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova which matter to us both, have to define their own path. But in our view, for Ukraine, an Association Agreement with the European Union would not damage the country’s long-standing ties with Russia. Why should it have to be a case of ‘either/or’? [54]

The creation of the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in 2010 and the ambition to transform it rapidly into a genuine Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) could be interpreted as an initiative aimed at countering the growing presence of the European Union in the post-Soviet area. The Euromaidan demonstrations, which broke out in Ukraine in 2013 at the refusal of President Viktor Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement with the EU in favour of an agreement with Russia, seemed to realise the Kremlin’s worst fears of seeing its ‘near abroad’ grow in importance.

The annexation of Crimea in March 2014, and in particular the shooting down over the Donetsk region of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on 17 July 2014, triggered European economic sanctions. These sanctions accelerated the breakdown in relations, especially as they significantly encouraged the rapprochement between Brussels and Kiyv: on 16 September 2014, the Association Agreement was ratified by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the European Parliament. Recalling the statement by US Vice-President Joe Biden that the American leadership had cajoled Europe into imposing sanctions on Russia even though the EU had initially been opposed, Sergey Lavrov pointed out that, for several years, Russia had over-estimated the independence of the European Union and even big European countries. The Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation repeated this view in 2017 [55].

Echoing the words of Russian historian Sergei Medvedev, relations between Europe and Russia had then reached stalemate [56]. At a meeting in Brussels on 14 March 2016 chaired by the Italian politician Federica Mogherini, European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Foreign Ministers of the 28 Member States unanimously adopted five principles aimed at guiding the Union’s policy on Russia:

– implementation of the Minsk agreement on the Donbas region of September 2014 and February 2015[57] as the key condition for any substantial change in the European Union’s stance towards Russia;

– strengthened relations with the EU’s Eastern partners and other neighbours, in particular in Central Asia;

– strengthening the resilience of the EU (for example, energy security, hybrid threats, or strategic communication);

– the need for selective engagement with Russia on issues of interest to the EU;

– the need to engage in people-to-people contacts and support Russian civil society[58].

These clearly stated positions illustrated but also contributed to the estrangement between Europe and the Russian Federation. Russia was also, and increasingly, openly ignoring the Union as an institution, as demonstrated by the visit to Moscow, in February 2021, of Josep Borrell, which coincided with the expulsion of European diplomats in the case involving Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny [59]. Russia seems to be gradually detaching itself from Europe, wrote the EU High Representative upon his return from this difficult trip[60].

The European Union’s commitment towards the Ukrainians had become increasingly evident since the Russian aggression of 24 February 2022. At the Foreign Affairs Council of 17 October 2022, the ministers took a number of important decisions after being informed of the military escalation and the strikes on Kiyv by the Russian army. They agreed to establish an EU military assistance mission to support the Ukrainian armed forces. The mission would train around 15,000 soldiers on EU territory. They also agreed to allocate €500 million in respect of the European Peace Facility to finance supplies intended for the Ukrainian forces, thus increasing military assistance to Ukraine to €3.1 billion[61].

This commitment clearly provided arguments for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when he declared, on 20 October 2022, that the supplies of weapons from the European Union to Kiyv made it a “stakeholder in the conflict” in Ukraine and that countries who supply weapons to Ukraine were “sponsors of terrorism[62].


6. Conclusion: power is not an emotion

6.1. From Kant to Hobbes…

Since their earliest contacts, the countries and peoples of Western Europe have had complex relations with Russia. The analysis of these relations is based on the preliminary questions of, firstly, what Russia is and, secondly, what Europe is, questions which are impossible to answer. Intuitively, we feel that it is an issue of temporality: the complex relationship between our present and our past, between history and future: the world to come, aspirations, plans.

The European Union and Russia do not use the same geopolitical grammar [63], since, in Moscow’s view, Europe often discredits itself through its soft power, which is perceived by the Kremlin, and by other governments, as a weak and haphazard hieratic policy. The shift in the discourse of several representatives of the European Union since the aggression in March 2022 has also surprised observers. This was the case when, on 13 October 2022, European Commission Vice-President and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, declared, in response to the bellicose rhetoric of Vladimir Putin, that a Russian nuclear attack against Ukraine would provoke such a powerful answer that the Russian army would be annihilated [64]. The nature and the legitimacy of such statements is debatable. As Kathleen R. McNamara, Professor at Georgetown University and an expert in European issues, wrote in an article of The Washington Post entitled Is Venus becoming Mars?, whereas, previously, the European Union had sought to rise above the fray in the struggles between major powers, attempting to offer a peaceful alternative to violence and coercion, European leaders seemed to be trying to remake the European DNA and become a traditional power player [65]. This change was particularly surprising to McNamara since, in her book on constructing authority in the Union, published in 2017, she argued that the policy of the European Union, since it sought to complement rather than compete with the nation States that form the Union, rendered its authority inherently fragile [66].

The American neo-conservative historian and political scientist Robert Kagan, who was based in Brussels in the early 2000s, had also described the European Union as a particularly weak and passive actor in international relations, denouncing it as entering a posthistorical paradise of peace and relative prosperity by referencing the realisation of the Perpetual Peace of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), published in 1795 [67]. Kagan also expressed in a very gendered and well-known phrase that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. He observed that rather than viewing the collapse of the Soviet Union as an opportunity to flex global muscles, Europeans took it as an opportunity to cash in on a sizable peace dividend [68].

Kagan, who wrote Of Paradise and Power in 2003, denounced both Gaullism and Ostpolitik, as well as the European conviction that the United States’ stance towards the Soviet Union was too confrontational, too militaristic, and too dangerous. In this work, which focused on relations between the United States and Europe, Kagan drew a distinction between Western Europe, especially France and Germany, and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which, because of their different histories, had a historically ingrained fear of Russian power and, therefore, a more American perception of Hobbesian realities [69]. To explain this analysis, it is worth noting that in Leviathan, his famous treaty published in 1651, the English philosopher Hobbes (1588-1679) stated that:

[…] Fear of oppression disposes a man to strike first, or to seek aid through society, for there is no other way for a man to secure his life and liberty.

Men who distrust their own subtlety are in better shape for victory than those who suppose themselves to be wise or crafty. For the latter love to consult, whereas the former (fearing to be outdone in any negotiations) prefer to strike first  [70].

 Yet since fear was a communicative passion, it placed men in a state of perpetual defiance in which Hobbes calls for a war of every man against every man.

In this war of every man against every man nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place there. Where there is no common power, there is no law; and where there is no law, there is no injustice. In war the two chief virtues are force and fraud. Justice and injustice are not among the faculties of the body or of the mind [71].

The French philosopher and political scientist Jean-Marc Ferry, who taught at the Free University of Brussels and at the University of Nantes, offered a rather curt criticism of Kagan’s analysis, stating that the American had not understood the philosophical breakthrough which meant that the European Union, and in particular some of its Member States (France, Germany and Belgium), were leaning towards the increasingly important perspective of a cosmopolitan rule of law [72]. Ferry observed that the nations of Europe were weaker half a century ago than they were today, including in relation to America.

Today, they have the power – he continues – to assert a “Kantian” orientation towards the United States.

Ferry criticised Kagan for confusing and conflating power and violence. The philosopher pointed out that Europe’s challenge was precisely that it could have power in Europe without resorting to violence.

As “Kantians”, Europeans rely on a power which is a moral and a critical power rather than a physical power. […]  It is clear that if, like the United States, one claims always to be right and only ever to fight for the Righteous (since adversaries embody evil, we ourselves would embody good), it would be difficult to have a genuine discourse on Right. It demands a historical – as it were – sensitivity to what Hegel called “causality of fate”. There is, on the part of the Americans, barely any serious attempt to understand the historical reasons why the vast majority of the States is organised in an authoritarian, or even totalitarian, way; and that, therefore, it is unrealistic to want to introduce democracy by force without considering the context. However, Europeans are undoubtedly sensitive to history – almost overly so [73].

Returning to Josep Borrell, in his speech to the ambassadors on 10 October 2022, the High Representative of the European Union endorsed the view that we Europeans are too much Kantians and not enough Hobbesians [74]. As the researcher Kathleen McNamara noted in The Washington Post, the reference to Hobbes is a striking reminder of the Kagan’s disdainful view of the European Union as a weak, cosmopolitan actor [75]. However, McNamara also observed that there was no robust military capacity behind the threat uttered by Josep Borrell on 13 October that would ensure the annihilation of the Russian army.

This view is also repeated more scathingly by Dmitri Medvedev, Vice-President of the Russian Security Council, in Pravda on 14 October 2022, when he described Josep Borrel as a great strategist and great military leader in a non-existent European army [76].


6.2. More RealPolitik for Europe?

In a collective work published in September 2022 entitled “Ukraine, the first global war”, Nicole Gnesotto observed that, for Europe to be a power, its responsibility would involve agreeing to examine its principles against reality. (…) An end to the Ukrainian crisis, she points out, assumes that Europe accepts that it must go beyond the diplomacy of values and return to Realpolitik [77]. In her recent work “Europe: adapt or perish”, the French historian recalls the importance of the report produced by the former Belgian statesman Pierre Harmel (1911-2009) in 1967 for the North Atlantic Council. This new edition from the new alliance evangelist, to echo the words of the former Foreign Minister in a speech in the Belgian Chamber [78], aimed not only to ensure a collective defence of the Atlantic area but also attempted to reduce East-West tensions. As Harmel wrote:

The easing of tensions is not the final objective: the ultimate goal of the Alliance is to achieve a just and lasting peaceful order in Europe, accompanied by the appropriate security guarantees, the ultimate goal of the alliance [79].

This purpose of the Harmel Exercise is still fundamentally relevant. Moreover, evoking the failure of an attempt to rebuild relations between Europe and Russia on the initiative of France in May 2021, Gnesotto called for military power to be put in its proper place, for it to be made an essential element of diplomatic credibility, a tool at the service of intelligence, negotiation, and persuasion [80].

It is said that now is not the time. But there will come a time when the grievances of the various parties on the ground will have to be taken into consideration [81].

However, this was also the conviction which Dominique de Villepin expressed very clearly when talking about innovation in diplomacy and in capacity to propose a new way: even, stated the former Prime Minister of France during the presidency of Jacques Chirac (1932-2019),

[…] when one has an adversary whom one believes to be in the wrong, a war criminal, evil, one must go part of the way. Otherwise, nothing happens [82].

The French sociologist Edgar Morin goes further: he outlines, even for today, the foundations of a peaceful compromise between the warring parties. At the end of his analysis, he advocates for Ukraine a neutrality similar to Austria, or even European integration. And he adds that it would be important to envisage, in future, the inclusion of Russia in the European Union as a positive outcome of Russian-Western relations. Anticipating possible strong reactions from readers, Morin observes that:

The anti-Russian hysteria, not only in Ukraine but also in the West, and especially in France, should eventually decline and disappear, in the same way as the nationalist hysteria of Nazi Germany and the anti-German hysteria which identified Germany and Nazism [83].

 In his work on perpetual peace, the great Prussian philosopher Kant observed that, in any event, the battlefield is the only court in which States argue for their rights; but victory, through which they win the case, does not decide in favour of their cause [84]. Admittedly, this was before the United Nations tried unsuccessfully, after two global holocausts, to establish the Perpetual Peace he held so dear.

Nevertheless, I feel that Europe must not abandon its Kantian ambition to favour the power of law over that of violence. However, one can concur with Henry Kissinger’s view that the most effective foreign policy is one that marries the principles of power and legitimacy [85], provided that the legitimacy is also the legitimacy of Law: power and legitimacy in a Europe which is faithful to its values and avoids the American debate between deep-engagers who favour US leadership via NATO and restrainers who favour disengagement and observe that their troops have remained twice as long on operations since the end of the Cold War than during that period [86].

It is for the Europeans themselves to take responsibility for who they are; if possible from the Atlantic to the Urals.

Admittedly, the price to pay for the Union seems very high today, since it involves having, simultaneously, a European diplomacy equal to the task, in other words one which relies more on power than on emotion, a military power which guards and protects us and gives us independence from the United States, and a diplomatic power which offers a genuine opportunity to communicate with a voice other than violence.


Philippe Destatte



[1] This text originated in a lecture presented at the Blue-Point in Liège on 24 October 2022 at the initiative of Rotary International. I would like to thank Caroline Goffinet and Alain Lesage for their initiative. I am grateful to my historian colleague Paul Delforge for his careful review of the manuscript and his suggestions. As the subject is particularly vast, we will refer to the recent abundant scientific literature on the subject, including: Tom CASIER and Joan DE BARDELEBEN ed., EU-Russia Relations in Crisis, Understanding Diverging Perceptions, Abingdon, Routledge, 2018. – David MAXINE, Jackie GOWER, Hiski HAUKKALA ed., National Perspectives on Russia European Foreign Policy in the Making, Abingdon, Routledge, 2013. – Tuomas FORSBERG & Hiski HAUKKALA, The European Union and Russia, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. – Romanova, Tatiana ROMANOVA and David MAXINE ed., The Routledge Handbook of EU-Russia Relations, Structures, Actors, Issues, Abingdon: Routledge, 2021. – Stephan KEUKELEIRE & Tom DELREUX, The Foreign Policy of the European Union, Bloomsbury Academic, 2022.

[2] Nicholas V. RIASANOVSKY, Histoire de la Russie des origines à nos jours, p. 283-285, Oxford University Press – Robert Laffont, 2014. – Iver B. NEUMANN, Russia’s Standing as a Great Power, 1494-1815, in Ted HOPF ed., Russia’s European Choice, p. 13-34, New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.

[3] Tom CASIER, Gorbachev’s ‘Common European Home’ and its relevance for Russian foreign policy today. Debater a Europa, 2018, 18, p. 17-34.

[4] Walter LAQUEUR, Russian Nationalism, in Foreign Affairs, vol. 71, nr 5, Winter 1992-1993, p. 103-116.

[5] Marie-Pierre REY, La Russie face à l’Europe, d’Ivan le Terrible à Vladimir Poutine, p. 144, Paris, Flammarion, 2002.

[6] That humiliating defeat ended the half-century in which Russia was the sole guardian of the system in Europe. Hiski HAUKKALA, A Norm-Maker or a Norm-Taker? The Changing Normative Parameters of Russia’s Place in Europe, in Ted HOPF ed., Russia’s European Choice ..,. p. 41 & 43. – H. Haukkala is Professor of International Relations, Faculty of Management and Business at the University of Tampere.

[7] N. V. RIASANOVSKY, Histoire de la Russie…, p. 522-523.

[8] André GIDE, Retour de l’URSS, Paris, Gallimard, 1936. Rappelé par Marie-Pierre REY, La Russie face à l’Europe, d’Ivan le Terrible à Vladimir Poutine, p. 12, Paris, Flammarion, 2002.

[9] Alexis de TOCQUEVILLE, Democracy in America, Translator Henry Reeve, p. 485,

[10] Hiski HAUKKALA, A Norm-Maker or a Norm-Taker? The Changing Normative Parameters of Russia’s Place in Europe, in Ted HOPF ed., Russia’s European Choice ..,. p. 47.

[11] M.-P. REY, Europe is our Common Home, A study of Gorbachev’s Diplomatic Concept, in The Cold War History Journal, volume 4, n°2, Janvier 2004, p.33–65. at the United Nations, President Gorbachev, addressed at the United Nations General Assembly, December 7, 1988. – Text provided by the Soviet Mission, Associated Press, – See Richard SAKWA, Gorbachev and His Reforms, 1985-1990, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1990.

[12] Vladimir LUKIN, in Moskovskie Novosti, n° 38, 1988, in Neil MALCOM ed., Russia and Europe: An End to Confrontation?, p.14, London, Pinter, 1994 – M.-P. REY, “Europe is our Common Home”: A study of Gorbachev’s diplomatic concept, in Cold War History, vol. 4, 2, p. 33-65, 2004.

[13] Mikhail GORBACHEV, Perestroika: New Thinking for our Country and the World, New York, Harper & Collins, 1987.

[14] C. de GAULLE, Discours de Strasbourg du 23 novembre 1959.

[15] Inaugural speech of the Peace Congress, delivered in Paris on 21 August 1849 in Victor HUGO, Œuvres complètes, Actes et Paroles, t.1., Paris Hetzel, 1882. – Stéphanie TONNERRE-SEYCHELLES, Victor Hugo et les Etats-Unis d’Europe, 8 avril 2019. Blog Gallica,

[16] Address given by Mikhail Gorbachev to the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 6 July 1989) Hugo said that the day would come when you, France, you, Russia, you, Italy, you, England, you Germany — all of you, all the nations of the continent — will, without losing your distinguishing features and your splendid distinctiveness, merge inseparably into some high society and form a European brotherhood (…). The day would come when the only battlefield would be markets open for trade and minds open to ideas. (…) We are convinced that what they need is one Europe — peaceful and democratic, a Europe that maintains all its diversity and common humanistic ideas, a prosperous Europe that extends its hand to the rest of the world. A Europe that confidently advances into the future. It is in such a Europe that we visualise our own future.

[17] Allocution de M. François Mitterrand, Président de la République, à l’occasion de la présentation de ses vœux, Paris, dimanche 31 décembre 1989, Texte intégral, République française, Vie publique.

[18]. Hubert Védrine notes: for the United States, it is intolerable to think of founding a European confederation without them. Hubert VEDRINE, Les mondes de François Mitterrand, Paris, A. Fayard, 1996. – in Une vision du monde, p. 489-491, Paris, Bouquins, 2022.

[19] Charter of Paris for a New Europe, Paris, November 21, 1991.

[20] H. HAUKKALA, A Norm-Maker or a Norm-Taker? The Changing Normative Parameters of Russia’s Place in Europe, in Ted HOPF ed., Russia’s European Choice ..,. p. 52.

[21] The newspaper Le Monde described the Prague Conference of 12-14 June 1991 as being as politically inoffensive as a Sorbonne symposium, see: Une initiative controversée de M. Mitterrand, Prague accueille les Assises de la Confédération européenne, in Le Monde, 13 juin 1991. – The place of the United States in this initiative seemed to be at the heart of the press conference of the two presidents at the end of the conference: Conférence de presse conjointe de M. François Mitterrand, Président de la République, et M. Vaclav Havel, président de la République tchécoslovaque, notamment sur le rôle des Etats-Unis dans la construction de l’Europe, la notion géographique de l’Europe et l’éventuelle intégration de la Tchécoslovaquie à l’OTAN, Prague, June 14, 1991, République française, Vie publique.

[22] Jean MUSITELLI, François Mitterrand, architecte de la Grande Europe, Paris, Institut François Mitterrand, 5 février 2012. Our translation. – Frédéric BOZO, Mitterrand, la fin de la guerre froide et l’unification allemande, p. 344-361, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2005. – Sylvain KAHN, Histoire de la construction de l’Europe depuis 1945, p. 224, Paris, PuF, 2021.

[23] M.-P. REY, La Russie face à l’Europe…, p. 429.

[24] Jacques LEVESQUE, 1989, la fin d’un empire, L’URSS et la libération de l’Europe de l’Est, Paris, Presses de Science Po, 1995. – The Enigma of 1989: The USSR and the Liberation of Eastern Europe, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997. – J. LEVESQUE, Soviet Approaches to Eastern Europe at the Beginning of 1989, in CWIHP Bulletin, 12/13, 2001.

[25] Andrei KOZYREV, Russia: A Chance for Survival, in Foreign Affairs, vol. 71, no 2, Spring 1992, p. 1-16.

[26] The Duma ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by the Federal Law of 30 March 1998.

[27] S. KAHN, Histoire de la construction de l’Europe…, p. 279.

[28] The EU’s TACIS programme supports democratisation, strengthening of the rule of law and the transition to a market economy in the New Independent States (NIS), which emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union. These countries are the following: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.

[29] M.-P. REY, La Russie face à l’Europe…, p. 433.

[30] Ph. DESTATTE, Russia in Nato, Thinking the Unthinkable? in Cadmus Journal, Report to the World Academy of Art and Science on War in Ukraine, Global Perspectives on Causes and Consequences, p. 38-76, July 2022.

[31] Julie DESCHEPPER, Le moment Kozyrev : retour sur les fondements de la politique étrangère post-soviétique, in La Revue russe, n°45, 2015, Les années Eltsine, p. 79-89. p. 86.

[32] N. S. RIASANOVSKY, Histoire de la Russie…, p. 748. L’historien américain écrit : pour monter une coalition mondiale antiaméricaine sous la bannière de la “multipolarité”, la Russie est prête à tous les sacrifices (…).

[33] ACCORD DE PARTENARIAT ET DE COOPÉRATION établissant un partenariat entre les Communautés européennes et leurs États membres, d’une part, et la Fédération de Russie, d’autre part, 28 novembre 1997.

[34] Mary Elise SAROTTE, Not one inch, America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, p. 308, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2021. – Bill CLINTON, My Life, Ma vie, Random House – Odile Jacob, 2004, p. 902-903.

[35] Ph. DESTATTE, Russia in Nato, Thinking the Unthinkable? in Cadmus Journal, Report to the World Academy of Art and Science on War in Ukraine, Global Perspectives on Causes and Consequences, p. 38-76, July 2022.

[36] M. E. SAROTTE, Not one inch…, p. 19-20.

[37] Mary Elise SAROTTE, A Broken Promise? What the West Really Told Moscow about NATO expansion, in Foreign Affairs, Sept-Oct 2014, p. 90-97.

[38] Vladimir PUTIN, Speech in the Bundestag of the Federal Republic of Germany, September 25, 2001.

Vidéo :

[39] I am convinced that today we are turning over a new page in our bilateral relations, thereby making our joint contribution to building a common European home. Vladimir PUTIN, Speech in the Bundestag… September 25, 2001.

[40] Hiski HAUKKALA, From Cooperative to Contested Europe? The Conflict in Ukraine as a Culmination of a Long-Term Crisis in EU–Russia Relations, in Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 2015, 23:1, p. 25-40, p. 30.

[41] M.-P. REY, La Russie face à l’Europe…, p. 437.

[42] Richard SAKWA, Russia against the Rest, The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order, p. 256, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

[43] Richard SAKWA, Frontline Ukraine, Crisis in Borderlands, p. 30-31, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2021.

[44] The stones and concrete blocks of the Berlin Wall have long been distributed as souvenirs. But we should not forget that the fall of the Berlin Wall was possible thanks to a historic choice – one that was also made by our people, the people of Russia – a choice in favour of democracy, freedom, openness and a sincere partnership with all the members of the big European family. Vladimir PUTIN, Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, February 10, 2007.

Video :

[45] The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, 12 January 2008. Approved by the President 15 July 2008.

[46] The Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, 12 January 2008.

[47] Charles A. KUPCHAN, NATO’s Final Frontier, Why Russia Should join the Atlantic Alliance, in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 89, Nr 3, May-June 2010, p. 100-112, p. 103.

[48]  Conclusions of the EU/Russia Summit European Parliament resolution of 17 June 2010 on the conclusions of the EU/Russia summit, 31 May – 1 June 2010.

[49] Walter LAQUEUR, Moscow’s Modernization Dilemma, Is Russia charting a New Foreign Policy, in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 89, Nr 6, Nov. – Dec. 2010, p. 153-160.

[50] H. HAUKKALA, From Cooperative to Contested Europe?, p. 30sv. – Boris TOUMANOV, Un peu de détente politique à Rostov, dans La Libre Belgique, 31 mai 2010.

[51] In January 2009, Russia pretended to stop gas deliveries to Europe. S. KAHN, op. cit., p. 271.

[52] Sergey LAVROV, State of the Union Russia-EU: Prospects for Partnership in the Changing World, in Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 51, p. 6-12, July 9, 2013.

[53] Herman VAN ROMPUY, Russia and Europe, Today, Lecture at the European University at Saint-Petersburg, 5 September 2013.

[54] Ibidem.

[55] Richard SAKWA, Russia against the Rest. The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order, p. 259-260 and 261, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017. – Exclusive: “We will survive sanctions” says Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to FRANCE24, 17 Dec. 2014. On 17 December 2014,.

[56] Stalemate may be the most appropriate definition of the present quality of EU – Sergei MEDVEDEV, The Stalemate in EU-Russia Relations, Between ‘Sovereignty’ and ‘Europeanisation, in Ted HOPF ed, Russia’s European Choice, p. 215–232, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. – H. HAUKKALA, From Cooperative to Contested Europe?, p. 30. – Fabienne BOSSUYT & Peter VAN ELSUWEGE ed, Principled Pragmatism in Practice, The EU’s Policy Towards Russia after Crimea, Leiden, Brill, 2021. – Derek AVERRE & Kataryna WOLCZUK eds, The Ukraine Conflict: Security, Identity and Politics in the Wider Europe, Abingdon, Routledge, 2018. – Marco SIDDI, The partnership that failed: EU-Russia relations and the war in Ukraine.

[57] S. KAHN, op. cit., p. 279.

[58] Foreign Affairs Council, 14 March 2016, European Council, Council of the European Union,

See also: Facts and figures about EU-Russia Relations. Nov. 4, 2022.

[59] Tatiana KASTOUEVA-JEAN, La Russie après la réforme constitutionnelle, dans Thierry de MONTBRIAL et Dominique DAVID, RAMSES 2022, p. 147, Paris, IFRI-Dunod, 2021.

[60] Josep BORRELL, Ma visite à Moscou et l’avenir des relations entre l’UE et la Russie, Bruxelles, European Union External Action (EEAS), 7 février 2021.

[61] Foreign Affairs Council, 17 October 2022.

[62] Guerre en Ukraine : la Russie accuse l’Union européenne d’être partie prenante dans le conflit, Paris, AFP, 20 octobre 2022.

[63] Sylvain KAHN, Histoire de la construction de l’Europe…, p. 323.

[64] Jorge LIBOREIRO, Ukraine war: Russian army will be “annihilated” if it launches a nuclear attack, warns Josep Borrell, in Euronews, October 14, 2022. EU diplomat says Russian army will be ‘annihilated’ if Putin nukes Ukraine Josep Borrell said that the West’s answer to a nuclear attack would be ‘powerful’ but not nuclear. Le Monde with AFP, October 13, 2022.

[65] Kathleen R. MCNAMARA, The EU is turning geopolitical. Is Venus becoming Mars?, EU Diplomat Josep Borrell warned the Russian Army will be “annihilated” if it launches a nuclear attack. These words suggest a more assertive European Union, in The Washington Post, October 17, 2022.

[66] K. MCNAMARA, Politics of Everyday Europe: Constructing Authority in the European Union, Oxford University Press, 2017.

[67] Immanuel KANT, Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace and History, Translated by David L. Colclasure, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2006. – E. KANT, Œuvres philosophiques, III, Les derniers écrits, coll. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris, Gallimard – NRF, 1986.

[68]. Robert KAGAN, Power and Weakness, Policy Review, June & July 2002, p. 1-2 & 8. – K. MCNAMARA, Politics of Everyday Europe…

[69] Robert KAGAN, Of Paradise and Power, America and Europe in the New World Order, p. 5-6, New York, Knopf Publishing Group, 2003.

[70] Hobbes’s Leviathan, Reprinted from the edition of 1651, Oxford, At the Clarendom Press – Oxford University Press, 1909-1965. – Brigitte GEONGET, Le concept kantien d’insociable sociabilité, Éléments pour une étude généalogique : Kant entre Hobbes et Rousseau, in Revue germanique internationale, 6, 1996.

[71] Thomas HOBBES, Leviathan… – Jean TERREL, Thomas Hobbes : philosopher par temps de crises, Paris, PuF, 2012.

[72] The concept obviously refers to the idea of a League of Nations and cosmopolitical law between the citizens of a universal state, dear to KANT in his text Idée d’une histoire universelle au point de vue cosmopolitique (1784) dans E. KANT, Œuvres philosophiques, II, Des prolégomènes aux écrits de 1791, coll. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, p. 187-205 (traduction of Luc Ferry), Paris, Gallimard – NRF, 1985.

[73] Jean-Marc FERRY, A propos de La puissance et la faiblesse de Robert Kagan, Les Etats-Unis et l’Europe, ou le choc de deux universalismes, in Septentrion, p. 263-278, Jean-Marc Ferry, interview with Muriel Ruol, La puissance et la faiblesse. Les États-Unis et l’Europe, Bruxelles, La Revue nouvelle, janv.-fév. 2004/n° 1-2. BEN Mokhtar BARKA, Jean-Marie RUIZ, dir., États-Unis / Europe : Des modèles en miroir, Villeneuve d’Ascq, Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2006.

[74] EU Ambassadors Annual Conference 2022: Opening Speech by High Representative Josep Borrell, Brussels, October 10, 2022.

[75] K. MCNAMARA, Politics of Everyday Europe…

[76] Medvedev: Borrell’s remarks about Russian nuclear strike, in Pravda, 14 October 2022.

[77] Nicole GNESOTTO, La puissance n’est pas l’émotion, Conversation avec Laurent Greilsamer, dans E. FOTTORINO dir., Ukraine, Première guerre mondialisée, p. 37, Paris, Éditions Le 1, 2022. Texte du 9 mars 2022.

[78] Vincent DUJARDIN, Pierre Harmel, Biographie, p. 620, Bruxelles, Le Cri, 2004. – Annales parlementaires, Chambre, 26 avril 1966, p. 26.

[79] V. DUJARDIN, Pierre Harmel…, p. 649.

[80] N. GNESOTTO, L’Europe: changer ou périr, p. 217, Paris, Tallandier, 2022.

[81] Emma ASHFORD, The Ukraine War will end with negotiations, Now is not the time for talks, but America must lay the groundwork, in Foreign Affairs, October 31, 2022.

[82] Dominique de VILLEPIN, Pour stopper la guerre, le “principe actif” de la diplomatie, dans E. FOTTORINO dir., Ukraine, Première guerre mondialisée…, p. 46.

[83] Edgar MORIN, Pour le compromis et la paix, dans Éric FOTTORINO dir., Ukraine, Première guerre mondialisée…, p. 33.

[84] E. KANT, Projet de paix perpétuelle, coll. La Pléiade…, p. 347.

[85] Richard SAKWA, Russia against the Rest, The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order, p. 255, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

[86] Jolyon HOWORTH, Les Etats-Unis face à leurs engagements extérieurs, Deep engagement contre restreint, dans Thierry de MONTBRIAL et Dominique DAVID, RAMSES 2023, p. 232-235, Paris, Ifri-Dunod, 2024. – Andrew J. BACEVICH, The Age of illusions: How America Squandered its Cold War Victory, New York, Metropolitan Books, 2020.

Hour-en-Famenne, 10 décembre 2022

La Déclaration de Politique régionale wallonne du 16 septembre 2019 indiquait la volonté du Gouvernement de Wallonie de mettre en place des outils de gestion des risques afin de pouvoir prévenir et réagir rapidement lors des crises et aussi d’aléas climatiques et sanitaires (p. 75). La DPR précisait également que des mesures seraient prises pour protéger les ressources en eau, notamment face aux risques de pollutions, au maintien et au développement des habitats naturels humides ou aux problèmes d’approvisionnement (p. 82). D’autres types de risques devaient également être anticipés comme les risques numériques et sanitaires (exposition aux ondes, p. 90), les risques menant à l’exclusion et à la pauvreté (p. 117), les risques chimiques (phytosanitaires, p. 118), etc. [1]

Les événements majeurs que la Wallonie a connus depuis l’adoption de ce document – la pandémie liée au Covid-19, les stress climatiques (inondations de 2021, sécheresse de 2022), la crise énergétique multifactorielle – ont interpellé l’ensemble des acteurs, des citoyennes et des citoyens. Les impacts de ces événements ont été et restent considérables, même s’ils ont connu et connaissent des impacts différents selon les parties prenantes et les localisations. Ainsi, la pandémie n’a pas frappé les différents territoires de manière identique : elle s’est attaquée davantage aux régions présentant une densité élevée ; les inondations ont frappé des vallées où la présence d’une urbanisation importante induisant une artificialisation des sols a été mise en question, la sécheresse et les grandes chaleurs ont des effets différents sur les campagnes ou dans les zones urbaines. À la densité de l’habitat s’ajoutent d’autres facteurs de vulnérabilité, d’exposition au risque, comme l’âge croissant et le faible niveau socio-économique de nombreux habitants, leur capacité à relever les défis, c’est-à-dire leur résilience. Des questions structurelles de gestion des risques à l’échelle de l’ensemble des secteurs et des échelons administratifs se posent également [2]. En ce qui concerne les effets de la crise énergétique, la localisation est également déterminante : coût du chauffage, coût des déplacements, accès aux énergies fossiles et renouvelables, etc. On pourrait également analyser les impacts du terrorisme – qui semble parfois sorti de notre horizon intellectuel – à l’aune de cette localisation.


1. Les risques sont associés à des événements parfaitement descriptibles

Voici déjà plus de vingt ans, Michel Callon, Pierre Lascoumes et Yannick Barthe ont observé que la notion de risque est étroitement associée à celle de décision rationnelle. Selon eux, cette dernière nécessite la réunion de trois conditions pour que le décideur puisse établir des comparaisons entre les options qui s’ouvrent à lui. D’abord, être capable d’établir, de manière exhaustive, la liste des options ouvertes. Ensuite, il faut que, pour chaque option, le décideur soit en mesure de décrire les éléments, entités, qui composent le monde supposé par cette option. Enfin, il s’agit de réaliser l’inventaire des interactions significatives qui sont susceptibles de se produire entre ces différents éléments, entités. Les auteurs rappellent dès lors la notion d’états du monde possibles, qui se rapprochent des scénarios des prospectivistes [3].

Ajustées et amendées, les recommandations que faisait l’OCDE dans son rapport Renforcer la résilience grâce à une gouvernance innovante des risques (2014), pourraient servir de base à une nouvelle approche dans les matières du développement régional et territorial :

– favoriser une gouvernance des risques tournée vers l’avenir et tenant compte des
risques complexes ;

– insister sur le rôle de la confiance et mettre en avant l’action de longue haleine menée par les pouvoirs publics pour protéger la population ;

– adopter une définition commune des niveaux de risques acceptables par les parties
prenantes de tous niveaux ;

– définir une panoplie optimale de mesures de résilience d’ordre matériel et immatériel
(mesures portant sur les infrastructures et mesures de planification, par exemple) ;

– adopter une démarche à l’échelle de l’ensemble de la société afin d’associer tous les
acteurs au renforcement de la résilience ;

– reconnaître le rôle important des institutions et des blocages institutionnels dans
l’efficacité des mesures de gestion des risques afin d’augmenter le niveau de
résilience ;

– recourir à des cadres de diagnostic pour recenser les barrières d’ordre institutionnel
et réorganiser les incitations de façon à favoriser la résilience [4].

Dans La société du risque, le sociologue allemand Ulrich Beck (1944-2015) est allé plus loin, rappelant que les risques ne se résument pas aux conséquences et aux dommages survenus, mais qu’ils peuvent aussi désigner un futur qu’il s’agit d’empêcher d’advenir. La conscience que l’on a du risque ne se situe pas dans le présent, mais essentiellement dans l’avenir, écrit-il [5]. Les prospectivistes le savent, eux qui manient les Wild Cards, tant pour identifier des jokers qui peuvent survenir dans notre trajectoire que pour les utiliser comme stress tests sur le système et mesurer dans quelle mesure ces événements peuvent se transformer en opportunités réelles pour mettre en œuvre une vision souhaitable de l’avenir.


2. L’incertitude, produit de notre ignorance

Bien que les termes de risque et d’incertitude soient souvent utilisés de manière interchangeable, ils ne sont pas identiques. Ainsi, le risque désigne-t-il un danger bien identifié, associé à l’occurrence d’un événement ou d’une série d’événements, parfaitement descriptibles, dont on ne sait pas s’ils se produiront, mais dont on sait qu’ils sont susceptibles de se produire [6]. Quand des outils statistiques peuvent être mobilisés, on définit le risque comme la probabilité qu’un événement non souhaitable, indésirable, se produise et l’importance de l’impact de cette occurrence sur la variable ou le système en fonction de sa vulnérabilité. Ainsi, au facteur de probabilité qu’un événement advienne, s’ajoute un facteur de sévérité des conséquences de cet événement. Il en résulte un troisième facteur, subjectif, qui, sur base des deux premiers, évalue et éventuellement quantifie le niveau de risque [7].

C’est parce que la notion de risque joue un rôle capital dans la théorie de la décision rationnelle et dans le choix qu’elle suppose entre plusieurs états du monde ou scénarios, qu’il est sage – disent Callon et alii, de réserver son usage à ces situations parfaitement codifiées [8]. Dès lors, dans les situations d’incertitude, l’utilisation de cette notion de risque ne permet pas d’établir la liste et de décrire de manière précise les options du décideur ni l’état des mondes possibles qui permettraient d’élaborer une anticipation sérieuse.

Photo Mudwalker – Dreamstime

Dans un espace naturel, politique, économique, social, culturel, élargi et un monde complexe, l’émergence [12] incessante de facteurs et d’acteurs nouveaux rend impossible de construire et de disposer d’une connaissance raisonnable, sinon complète, de l’environnement, de ses effets – y compris perturbateurs – sur le système et donc de l’évolution de celui-ci.


3. Faire face à l’incertitude

Ainsi que les auteurs d’Agir dans un monde incertain l’ont montré, en situation d’incertitude, l’anticipation est impossible pour le décideur par défaut de connaissance précise des comportements et des interactions des éléments du système, des acteurs et facteurs qui constituent l’environnement. Mais, l’ignorance n’est pas une fatalité et (…) raisonner en termes d’incertitude, c’est déjà se donner les moyens d’en prendre la mesure [13].

En effet, l’ignorance n’est pas nouvelle et ne naît pas au XXIe siècle. Ce qui est nouveau, et – espérons-le, grandissant, c’est la conscience de cette ignorance. Néanmoins, comme le rappelaient, dans un texte produit en 1982 déjà, Daniel Kahneman et son collègue psychologue de l’Université de Stanford, Amos Tversky (1937-1996), l’incertitude est un fait auquel toutes les formes de vie doivent être préparées à faire face. Pour les inventeurs de la Théorie des perspectives [14] (Prospect Theory), à tous les niveaux de complexité biologique, il existe une incertitude quant à la signification des signes ou des stimuli et aux conséquences possibles des actions. À tous les niveaux, des mesures doivent être prises avant que l’incertitude ne soit levée, et un équilibre doit être atteint entre un niveau élevé de préparation spécifique aux événements les plus susceptibles de se produire et une capacité générale à réagir de manière appropriée lorsque l’inattendu se produit [15].

Si les chocs perturbateurs que nous avons connus depuis le début 2020 pouvaient être anticipés, leur puissance et leur complexité ont surpris tous les analystes [16]. Il n’est pas exclu que des catastrophes de ce type puissent se reproduire, ni que d’autres, ne faisant actuellement l’objet d’aucunes ou de peu de préoccupations, puissent se produire à l’avenir.

Il paraît dès lors indispensable de questionner les différentes politiques menées à l’aune de nouvelles émergences, de catastrophes ou d’autres risques potentiels qu’ils soient naturels ou anthropiques, distinction difficile à établir du fait de la transformation croissante des milieux biophysiques [17]. Le concept de catastrophe peut être nourri par l’étymologie indiquant non seulement un bouleversement brusque et effroyable – qui provoque la mort de nombreuses personnes -, mais aussi par la systémique au travers des travaux des mathématiciens René Thom (1923-2002) et d’Erik Christopher Zeeman (1925-2016). Il s’agit alors de discontinuités qui peuvent se présenter dans l’évolution d’une variable ou d’un système, entraînant des modifications de sa stabilité morphologique. Ainsi, la catastrophe relève-t-elle davantage des variables d’entrée (inputs) du système, de l’espace des paramètres, que du résultat de leurs évolutions. Pour Zeeman, il y a catastrophe lorsqu’une variété continue des causes entraîne une variation discontinue des effets [18].

Le géographe français Jérôme Dunlop note quant à lui que, alors qu’un risque résulte de la combinaison d’une vulnérabilité et d’un aléa, dont l’éventuelle occurrence détruirait tout ou partie des enjeux qui lui étaient exposés (êtres humains et richesses), on parle de catastrophe quand les enjeux détruits sont estimés majeurs par le groupe humain atteint. L’importance du risque lui-même varie avec l’importance des enjeux et celle de la probabilité d’occurrence de l’aléa. L’occupation humaine augmente d’ailleurs la probabilité de leur occurrence sur les milieux naturels. Ainsi, les risques d’inondations sont-ils largement majorés par l’urbanisation des lits majeurs des cours d’eau et par l’imperméabilisation des sols qui résulte du développement des réseaux routiers et de la croissance urbaine, ou encore par les mutations des paysages agraires [19]. Dès lors, c’est avec raison que l’historien Niall Ferguson, professeur à Oxford et à Harvard, observe que la distinction entre les catastrophes naturelles et les catastrophes causées par les êtres humains est purement artificielle. Il existe, constate-t-il, une interaction constante entre les sociétés humaines et la nature. L’exemple qu’il donne est que nous avons déjà mis en évidence en nous référant au désastre de Lisbonne : un choc endogène détruit la santé et la vie humaines en fonction de la proximité des habitats du lieu de l’impact [20].


Conclusion : les chocs perturbateurs comme occasions de transformations structurelles dans un système initialement pataud, voire bloqué

Une attention nouvelle se porte sur l’impact global de l’humanité sur le système terrestre dans son ensemble. C’est ce qu’on appelle aujourd’hui, l’anthropocène, en lisant cette époque comme une rupture [21].  Ainsi, peut-on considérer que si l’activité humaine a affecté la nature de telle sorte que les catastrophes naturelles, hydrométéorologiques et géophysiques se multiplient en faisant de nombreuses victimes, il est aujourd’hui indispensable de mieux appréhender les catastrophes et d’anticiper les risques [22].

La recherche a, depuis quelques décennies, pris conscience de la vulnérabilité  des territoires et des communautés. La vulnérabilité, déjà évoquée, pourrait être décrite comme une circonstance ou un contexte propre à certains groupes (ou territoires) qui se trouvent dans une situation de fragilité face à certains risques, et causée par la construction sociale persistante des risques. Dans cette perspective, la résilience désignerait le développement par le groupe ou le territoire des capacités de déployer des processus – ayant une incidence sur les pratiques – afin de réduire leur vulnérabilité à certains risques [23]. Les chercheurs ont construit de nouveaux concepts pour saisir ce phénomène et en identifier les types : vulnérabilité différentielle ou différenciée, vulnérabilité accumulée et vulnérabilité globale, etc. Il s’agit maintenant, notre attention étant renforcée par les chocs que nous subissons concrètement, de traduire ces questionnements en politiques publiques et collectives d’anticipation et de prévention, en déterminant, espace par espace, territoire par territoire, à quels risques nous sommes confrontés, quelles sont nos propres vulnérabilités ou comment se déclinent ici et là les vulnérabilités globales. Enfin, s’il existe des relations entre la vulnérabilité, le sous-développement et la pauvreté, il apparaît que la capacité de se remettre d’une catastrophe et de se préparer contre les risques est un élément plus critique que le niveau de pauvreté [24]. L’analyse des facteurs de risques, y compris climatiques [25], est encouragée par le Bureau des Nations Unies pour la Réduction des Risques de Catastrophes (UNISDR-UNDRR) [26]. Les travaux de cette institution, notamment ses rapports d’évaluation peuvent contribuer à construire un cadre méthodologique utile.

Complémentairement, on ne peut passer sous silence une des conclusions des travaux de l’anthropologue et historienne Virginia Garcia-Acosta, à savoir que la présence périodique de certains phénomènes naturels, comme les ouragans, a permis à certains groupes humains de pratiquer des changements culturels dans leur vie et leur organisation matérielle pouvant conduire à l’application de stratégies de survie et de possibilités d’adaptation [27]. Ainsi, comme l’indiquait déjà Edgar Morin dans La Méthode, en évoquant le concept de catastrophe, la rupture et désintégration d’une ancienne forme est le processus constitutif même de la nouvelle [28]. En d’autres termes, les chocs perturbateurs pourraient constituer de vraies occasions de transformations structurelles dans un système initialement pataud, voire bloqué.

Toute approche des risques et des catastrophes implique d’appréhender la question du risque acceptable dans une stratégie et sa mise en œuvre concrète, donc, également d’aborder la question difficile du principe de précaution, avec les outils multiples du développement régional et de l’aménagement des territoires [29].

Se doter d’outils, de dispositifs et de processus anticipateurs pour affronter l’incertitude constitue une sagesse de base de toute gouvernance contemporaine de nos sociétés [30]. Cette approche permettrait également de considérer les chocs perturbateurs comme autant d’occasions de transformations structurelles dans un système initialement pataud, voire bloqué face à l’ampleur des défis.


Philippe Destatte


[1] Déclaration de Politique régionale wallonne, 2019-2024, Namur, 16 septembre 2019, 122 p.

[2] Dans son rapport Boosting Resilience through Innovative Risk Governance, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, p. 16, Paris, OECD, 2014, l’OCDE écrit que : dans leur quasi-totalité, les pays de l’OCDE prennent systématiquement en compte les risques de catastrophe dans leurs stratégies et leurs plans sectoriels en matière d’investissements publics. L’importance attribuée à l’échelon local est illustrée par la mise en place de cadres juridiques pour les responsabilités locales avec, notamment, une réglementation tenant compte des risques pour l’occupation des sols et la promotion immobilière privée. – Voir aussi : Bassin de la Loire, France, Étude de l’OCDE sur la gestion des risques d’inondation, Paris, OCDE, 2010.

[3] Michel CALLON, Pierre LASCOUMES et Yannick BARTHES, Agir dans un monde incertain, Essai sur la démocratie technique, p. 37-39, Paris, Seuil, 2001.

[4] Boosting Resilience through Innovative Risk Governance, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, p. 17-18, Paris, OECD, 2014.

[5] Ulrich BECK, La société du risque, Sur la voie d’une autre modernité (1986), p. 60-61, Paris, Flammarion, 2008.

[6] M. CALLON, P. LASCOUMES et Y. BARTHES, op. cit., p. 37.

[7] Carl L. PRITCHARD, Risk Management, Concepts and Guidance, p. 7-8, Arlington VA, ESI, 1997.

[8] Ibidem, p. 39.

[9] John KAY & Mervyn KING, Radical Uncertainty, p. 37, London, The Bridge Press, 2021.

[10] Philippe SILBERZAHN, Bienvenue en incertitude ! Survivre et prospérer dans un monde de surprises, p. 82, Paris, Diateino, 2021.

[11] Daniel KAHNEMAN, Olivier SIBONY, Carl R. SUNSTEIN, Noise, Pourquoi nous faisons des erreurs de jugement et comment les éviter, p. 144-146, citation p. 152, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2021.

[12] L’émergence peut être définie comme l’apparition ou l’évolution inattendue d’une variable ou d’un système qui ne peut résulter ou être expliqué à partir d’éléments constitutifs ou de conditions antérieures du système. La microbiologiste Janine Guespin y voit l’existence de qualités singulières d’un système qui ne peuvent exister que dans certaines conditions : elles peuvent éventuellement s’inter-convertir alors que le système conserve les mêmes constituants soumis à des interactions de même nature, si un paramètre réglant l’intensité de ces interactions franchit, lors de sa variation, un seuil critique. Janine GUESPIN-MICHEL coord. , Lucien SEVE e.a., Émergence, Complexité et dialectique, Sur les systèmes dynamiques non linéaires, p. 42, Paris, O. Jacob, 2005.

[13] M. CALLON, P. LASCOUMES et Y. BARTHES, Agir dans un monde incertain, p. 40sv et citation p. 41.

[14] Théorie descriptive de la décision en situation risquée. Voir Frédéric MARTINEZ, L’individu face au risque : l’apport de Kahneman et Tversky, dans  Idées économiques et sociales, vol. 161, no. 3, 2010, p. 15-23.

[15] Uncertainty is a fact with which all forms of life must be prepared to contend. At all levels of biological complexity there is uncertainty about the significance of signs or stimuli and about the possible consequences of actions. At all levels, action must be taken before the uncertainty is resolved, and a proper balance must be achieved between a high level of specific readiness for the events that are most likely to occur and a general ability to respond appropriately when the unexpected happens. Daniel KAHNEMAN, Paul SLOVIC & Amos TVERSKY, Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases, p. 509-510, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

[16] Voir Ph. DESTATTE, On demande de voir loin alors que le futur n’existe pas, Blog PhD2050, Hour-en-Famenne, 20 août 2021.

[17] Cyria EMILIANOFF, Risque, dans Jacques LEVY et Michel LUSSAULT, Dictionnaire de la Géographie, p. 804-805, Paris, Belin, 2003. La définition du risque dans cet ouvrage est : probabilité d’un danger menaçant ou portant atteinte à la vie et, plus globalement, au cadre d’existence d’un individu ou d’un collectif. – Voir aussi : Yannick LUNG, Auto-organisation, bifurcation, catastrophe… les ruptures de la dynamique spatiale, Talence, Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 1987.

[18] E.C. ZEEMAN, Catastrophe Theory, Selected Papers, 1972-1977, p. 615-638, Addison Wesley Publishing Co, Reading, Mass. – London – Amsterdam, 1977. – R. THOM, Paraboles et catastrophes, Entretiens sur les mathématiques, la science et la philosophie, p. 59sv, Paris, Flammarion, 1983.

[19] Jérôme DUNLOP, Les 100 mots de la géographie, p. 71-72, Paris, PUF, 2009.

[20] Philippe DESTATTE, On demande de voir loin alors que le futur n’existe pas, Hour-en-Famenne, 20 août 2021, Blog PhD2050,

[21] Clive HAMILTON, The Anthropocene as rupture, in The Anthropocene Review, 3, 2, 2016, p. 93-106.

[22] Virginia GARCIA-ACOSTA, Catastrophes non naturelles et anthropocène, Leçons apprises à partir de perspectives anthropologiques et historiques, dans Rémi BEZAU & Catherine LARRERE dir., Penser l’anthropocène, p. 325sv, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2018.

[23] V. GARCIA-ACOSTA, Catastrophes non naturelles et anthropocène…, p. 33.

[24] V. GARCIA-ACOSTA, Catastrophes non naturelles et anthropocène…, p. 329-330.

[25] Et les liens climat-santé : Jacques BLAMONT, Introduction au siècle des menaces, p. 505sv, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2004

[26] Le Bureau des Nations Unies pour la réduction des risques de catastrophe a été créé en 1999 pour assurer la mise en œuvre de la Stratégie internationale de Prévention des catastrophes.

[27] V. GARCIA-ACOSTA, Prevencion de desastres, estrategias adaptivas y capital social, in Harlan KOFF ed., Social Cohesion bin Europe and the Americas, Power, Time and Space, p. 115-130, Berne, Peter Lang, 2009. – Catastrophes non naturelles et anthropocène…, p. 332.

[28] Edgar MORIN, La Méthode, 1. La nature de la nature, p. 44, Paris, Seuil, 1977. – René THOM, Stabilité culturelle et Morphogénèse, Essai d’une théorie génétique des modèles, Paris, Ediscience, 1972.

[29] Questionnement aigu et difficile s’il en est dans la “société du risque”. Voir notamment Dominique BOURG et Jean-Louis SCHLEGEL, Parer aux risques de demain, le principe de précaution, Paris, Seuil, 2001. – Ulrich BECK, Risk Society, Towards a New Modernity, London, Sage, 1992. – François EWALD, Aux risques d’innover, Les entreprises face au principe de précaution, Paris, Autrement, 2009.

[30] Tous les gouvernements, les organismes internationaux, les universités et les entreprises devraient avoir leur Cassandre, leur “Office national des avertissements”, chargés d’identifier les pires scénarios, de mesurer les risques et de concevoir des stratégies de protection, de prévention et d’atténuation. Niall FERGUSON, Apocalypses, De l’antiquité à nos jours, p. 393, Paris, Saint-Simon, 2021.

Namur, January 16, 2022

When the deputy editor of the daily newspaper L’Echo, Serge Quoidbach, invited me, along with the three other participants at the roundtable discussion on the future of Wallonia, to propose a specific project, which was clear and straightforward and which unified all the Region’s stakeholders, I accepted immediately [1]. The specification from Serge Quoidbach, took its inspiration from the analysis of the economist Mariana Mazzucato, who had alluded to the simple, easily understood idea contained in the speech given by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy at Rice University in Houston on 12 September 1962 [2]. In its tagline we choose to go to the Moon in this decade, the President of the United States encapsulated the determination of the forces that would be mobilised, across all sectors of society. For Mariana Mazzucato, author of Mission Economy, A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, and The Entrepreneurial State [3], this goal, which was achieved in 1969 by the Apollo 11 Mission, stemmed from a new form of collaboration between the public authorities and the business community, resulting in benefits for the whole of society.


1. Once a wildcard, now a desirable future

The Wallonia Institute of Technology project, which is part of the 2068 Wallonia Odyssey vision, an operational foresight initiative launched by the Wallonia Union of Companies (UWE), is similar to the goal expressed by President Kennedy. It fully meets the requirement specified by L’Echo: it was conceived during a dialogue between researchers, public authorities, and representatives of the business world. Without divulging any secrets – this entire process has been managed transparently and in a spirit of partnership on the initiative of the managing director of the UWE, Olivier de Wasseige –, the Wallonia Institute of Technology was introduced as a wildcard [4] in October 2019, during a seminar on the impacts of future technological waves in the digital world and artificial intelligence on society and the opportunities and necessities induced for the business community. This seminar, which was held in two sessions, in Crealys (Namur) and then in Wavre, and driven by Pascal Poty (Digital Wallonia) and Antonio Galvanin (Proximus), identified 2030 as the deadline for regaining control of a foresight trajectory deemed hitherto chaotic. The working group felt that the creation of this Wallonia Institute of Technology was the moment when the stakeholders unexpectedly managed to reconfigure the political, territorial, and technological society of Wallonia and unite their efforts around an innovative concept. A most satisfying occasion, therefore.

The idea has flourished during the 2068 Wallonia Odyssey process. Once an unthinkable event, the Wallonia Institute of Technology has become a desirable future and is seen as a response to the long-term challenges in the goals of the vision developed and approved by the dozens of people taking part in the exercise. Discussions were held on creating a Wallonia Institute of Technology (WIT) as a genuine tool for structuring research and development and innovation, launched and funded jointly by the Government of Wallonia in partnership with businesses. The participants felt that, in the redeployment plan for Wallonia, the WIT was probably the most dynamic resource.

The vision specifies this tool: based on universities which have themselves been modernised, drawing inspiration from the German Fraunhofer models, the Carnot Institutes in France, and the Flemish VIB (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie) and IMEC (Interuniversity MicroElectronics Centre) initiatives, this fundamental initiative has ended the fragmented nature of research in Wallonia.

 By rationalising the numerous research centres, Wallonia has now reached a critical European size in terms of R&D.

 In addition, this action represents an integration template for all the ecosystems in Wallonia dating back to the start of the 21st century, which are too individualistic, too dispersed and too local.

 Based on technological convergence, and geared towards a more environmentally friendly future, the mission of the WIT is to focus on concrete solutions for the benefit of society, through businesses, based on the thematic areas supported by the competitiveness clusters, including plans for energy transition, energy storage, carbon capture at source, and sustainable and carbon-neutral cities.

These resources have encouraged the capitalisation of human intelligence, which has given meaning and energy to the younger generations through their mastery of technology and their job-creating competitiveness [5].

This action supported by the UWE is still in progress and is being adapted and adjusted based on the work being undertaken to monitor ongoing changes. Consideration of the strategy also raises the question of whether the desirable is possible. There are two parts to this question: firstly, are we capable of bringing the research organisations together to form critical European masses, and of overcoming the causes, both historical and institutional, of fragmented research? Secondly, do we have the budgetary resources to mobilise the research and development community, as Flanders has been able to do?

These questions are not new. They were put to the Regional Foresight College of Wallonia which, during its Wallonia 2030 and Bifurcations 2019 and 2024 exercises, discussed the long-term challenges associated with research and development. These mainly involved the necessary critical mass at the European level to address the fragmented nature of the research centres and their obvious competition, particularly in the context of calls for projects linked to European Structural Funds [6]. In parallel, the work undertaken by The Destree Institute in 2016 and 2017 on behalf of the Liège-Luxembourg Academic Pole revealed the limited public investment in R&D in Wallonia and, at the same time, the outperformance of one province – Walloon Brabant – and of one particular sector – life sciences, boosted by the company GSK. In 2017, apart from the new province, all the provinces of Wallonia had a total R&D expenditure per inhabitant lower than the European average (628 euro/inhabitant), the average of Wallonia (743.30 euro/inhabitant) and the Belgian average (1,045.50 euro/inhabitant). The total R&D expenditure in Walloon Brabant that year (the most recent year available in the Eurostat data) was 3,513.60 euro per inhabitant.

It is worth mentioning that, in Wallonia, 77% of R&D is carried out by businesses, 21% by universities, and less than 1% by the public authorities (figures for 2017). In addition, as also highlighted in the report of the Scientific Policy Council in 2020, the public authorities, as performers of R&D, play a very marginal role in the Wallonia Region. This is explained by the fact that the Wallonia Region has few public research centres [7].

This data, which highlights the fragility of the R&D landscape in Wallonia, justified the need to develop a process for closer integration of the research centres, in addition to the networking effort implemented by Wal-Tech for the approved research centres [8]. Nevertheless, on the one hand, this approach seems rather modest in the light of the challenges we are facing and, on the other, contact with the field shows that the stakeholders’ intentions appear to be a long way from integration, with each organisation jealously guarding its own, generally rather meagre, patch. The real question is whether anyone thinks that the Region is able to provide 600 or 700 million euro annually to create a IMEC [9] in Wallonia.


2. The exponential rate of technological development requires a commonality of interest and of resources

As an astute observer of technological trends, the analyst and multi-entrepreneur Azeem Azhar rejected the notion that technology is a neutral force, separate from humanity, that will develop outside society. It is, however, closely linked to the way in which we approach it, even if it remains fundamentally difficult, in an era of exponential technological development, to say how new innovations will transform our society. Such innovations interact constantly in our relationships with the economy, work, politics and our living environments. As the exponential era accelerates, observes Azhar, so general-purpose technologies disrupt our rules, norms, values and expectations and affect all our institutions. For this reason, he concludes, we need new forms of political and economic organisation[10]. He is thinking, naturally, of institutions that are sufficiently resilient, in other words, robust enough to handle constant change and flexible enough to adapt quickly. But, above all, we need to construct institutions that allow disparate groups of people to work together, cooperate and exchange ideas, which Azhar refers to as commonality [11]. More than simple cooperation or partnership, this commonality seems to be a genuine sharing of interests, resources and available assets to address challenges[12].

This idea of commonality is what led us, several years ago, to argue in favour of a University of Wallonia established across five or six geographical centres: the University of Wallonia in Mons, the University of Wallonia in Charleroi, the University of Wallonia in Liège, the University of Wallonia in Louvain-la-Neuve, the University of Wallonia in Namur, and the University of Wallonia in Brussels – if the Free University of Brussels (ULB) and the University Saint-Louis want to come on board [13]. The National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS) would be included in this list, particularly as we believe it to be exemplary in certain respects. The rights and powers of the University of Wallonia would be exercised by the Board of its Governors and Directors: the President of the University, the rectors of each of the constituent universities throughout their term, the representatives of the university community (students, scientific staff, teaching faculty, technical staff), and eight qualified people appointed by the Government of Wallonia, including four prominent foreign individuals and four individuals from the private research and business sector. The Board of the Governors would be chaired by the President of the University of Wallonia, appointed for five years by the government of Wallonia on a proposal from the Board of the Governors. The President would deal exclusively with the work and duties associated with their position. The President and the Board of the Governors would ensure consistency and coordination of the research and teaching activities between the constituent universities through a policy of excellence, specialisation, and integration of the various sections, departments, institutes and research centres. The University of Wallonia would also include all University colleges and institutions offering short-term higher education in Wallonia.

This reform is based on radical empowerment and accountability for the university sector which, as a result, has a coherent decision-making structure for achieving objectives set collectively with representatives of society. It also allows each higher education and research institution to take its place within a group and contribute to developing a common trajectory and plan for society and citizens and for businesses, including associations. The latter will be able to help fund the university research and training, all the more so since they will be close to it and involved in it [14].

We should add that it is within this radically reworked framework of our higher education and research landscape that we want to position the Wallonia Institute of Technology (WIT), not by taking our inspiration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of a privatisation approach, but based instead on outstanding quality and openness to the world, to society and to businesses. This restructured university environment in Wallonia must also be consistent with the notions of scientific independence and creative potential, also inspired by the FNRS[15], which represent the best aspects of these institutions. It is, therefore, the commonality approach that must inspire them, including those that, today, are not part of the group.


3. The Wallonia Institute of Technology: A simple job?

Well, no, implementing this plan by 2030 is not straightforward. Nor was it for JFK and NASA to land their countrymen on the moon. But this was the requirement specified by the newspaper L’Echo. And long before this, as I have also mentioned, it was the 2068 Wallonia Odyssey initiative of the UWE and its 600 or more individual and institutional partners.

I will take the plunge by describing The Wallonia Institute of Technology, and then outlining the principles and the funding of this body within the University of Wallonia.

3.1. The Wallonia Institute of Technology is, like its Massachusetts counterpart, a multidisciplinary research institute specialising in technological convergence and dedicated to science and innovation. It is a central creation of the new University of Wallonia, and of the Government of the federal entity Wallonia, which has entered contractual relations with all the former universities to engender a new research and development and innovation approach for the benefit of citizens and businesses. In addition to the fundamental and applied research funds formerly allocated by the Wallonia Region and the French Speeking Community for the benefit of the universities, the Government has provided one billion euro per year to fund this initiative. These funds have been transferred from the regional support packages allocated to businesses, employment, and research (3.3 billion euro in the initial 2019 budget for the Wallonia Region). The initiative is supported and integrated into the Walloon economic ecosystem by the University, which now enjoys full autonomy, while the public authorities look after the partnership assessment of the impacts and results and check the legality of the decisions and expenditure in accordance with the management contract that is to be drawn up.

3.2. The principles on which the WIT is established within the University of Wallonia

3.2.1. Neither the University of Wallonia nor the Wallonia Institute of Technology require any additional structures. It is a question of integrating the existing tools into a polycentric approach with the philosophy of pooling and optimising resources based on a common vision in which the scientific, educational, and social roles are clearly redefined.

3.2.2. The University and the WIT have complete autonomy (including budgetary) from the Government, other than monitoring the impact analysis of the annual budget, which must comply with the decree that redefined the landscape and granted strategic autonomy to the University of Wallonia, including the WIT. Michel Morant and Emmanuel Hassan, on behalf of the LIEU network, drew on the works of the European University Association recently to highlight the benefits of university autonomy: academic autonomy, to determine student admissions, selection criteria, programmes and content, etc., organisational autonomy, to select, appoint and reject the academic authorities based on their own criteria, include external members in their governance organs, etc., financial autonomy, to manage the surpluses at their disposal, borrow, determine student registration fees, etc., and, lastly, human resources management autonomy, enabling universities to decide the recruitment procedures for academic and administrative staff, determine salaries, promotion criteria, etc. According to the authors, greater university autonomy appears to be a major factor in institutionalising the transfer of knowledge[16]. All these types of autonomy should be applicable to the University of Wallonia, whose mission will be to align the various standards in a cost-effective way.

3.2.3.  The auditing and partnership assessment for the new venture will be managed by the Court of Auditors, on the initiative of the Parliament of Wallonia.

3.2.4. The Wallonia Institute of Technology is an integrator of strategic fundamental research and high-level applied research. It engages in technological convergence and focuses on a few specific axes, under the supervision of the University’s Council of Governors and with the support of its scientific committee.

3.2.5. The purpose of the University is universal, and its territory is Europe and the world. The University of Wallonia will therefore capitalise on the international and interregional networks and partnerships established by each of its constituent institutions. Strengthening its influence in the European research and higher education sector should enable it to improve the calibre and quality of its key personnel.

3.3. Funding for the University of Wallonia and the WIT

3.3.1. The University of Wallonia has a total annual budget of around two billion euro from funds of the French Speeking Community of Belgium (1.6 billion euro)[17] and the Wallonia Region (around 300 million euro). The budget of the FNRS and the associated funds (around a hundred million euro from the French Community) are included in this figure [18].

3.3.2. The Wallonia Institute of Technology has a further sum of one billion euro, from the Wallonia Region support package for businesses, employment and research.

3.3.3. The mission of the approved research centres is to join this scheme, along with their regional funding, which should be encouraged by the Region and approved by the University of Wallonia.

I have been asked whether the Government and its administration will be sidelined by the autonomy of this scheme. That is certainly not the case. Both institutions relinquish their power of initiative in favour of a safeguarding role upstream and downstream of the process. For even a hopeless optimist like myself knows the major risk facing this project: that the universities remain committed to the old paradigm that of compromises and sharing resources, influences, and territories. And they excel in this area, as we know. Quite the opposite of the commonality promoted in this text.


Conclusion: the requirement to revolutionise our strategies and ways of thinking

The constitution of a Wallonia Institute of Technology, an organisation attracting laboratories and research centres into the university environment of genuine strategic and budgetary capability that is the University of Wallonia, could be the ideal time to implement a different regime to those described by Nathan Charlier for Flanders and Wallonia, which, ultimately, fail to meet the expectations both governments and societies and of researchers [19]. A new, ambitious model, conceived within a framework of autonomy and pragmatism, could go beyond the regimes of Science, Endless Frontier and economising the value attributed to research by strategic science, without being indifferent to society or to industrial application. Modernisation of fundamental research could be achieved in Wallonia through the independent decisions of the Council of Governors, which would recall the precepts of former European Commissioner Philippe Busquin, who always considered it necessary to allocate a large proportion of resources to fundamental research, believing it was, in the long term, a key element of innovation[20]. But without neglecting thorough applied research and keeping a constant eye on the business environment.

Tools such as Welbio [21] or Trail [22] would be invaluable for building effective interfaces, but there are others in other fields. The competitiveness clusters, possibly restricted in number and better financed, could continue their role as integrators of commercial, research and training activities in specific intersecting and promising fields, both regionally and internationally.

In addition, the challenges are not only in the area of research. While mention is frequently made – and rightly so – of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM), it is also time, as Azeem Azhar reminds us, to bring about a reconciliation between science and literature (humanities), the two cultures highlighted back in 1959 by Charles Percy Snow (1905-1980) [23] and still as far apart as ever. There are new frontiers to be crossed in the areas of teaching and higher education. Furthermore, Mieke De Ketelaere, a researcher at IMEC and an artificial intelligence expert, recently underlined the long-term importance of human skills: children, she writes, must prepare themselves for a digital future in which social skills have their place. Let us not take these skills away from them by making them think like computers [24].

Like going to the Moon in the 1960s, the creation of The Wallonia Institute of Technology at the heart of the University of Wallonia is a formidable challenge for the region and a vital tool for its necessary transformation. In his 1962 speech, mentioned above, President Kennedy outlined his motivation, which could also be ours.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too [25].

This path requires us to revolutionise our strategies and our ways of thinking. To surpass ourselves.

Some will say it is impossible. Others, those on whom we rely, will get down to work.


Philippe Destatte



[1] This text is based on the background paper written for the panel organised by the newspaper L’Écho, Quatre personnalités se penchant sur l’avenir de la Wallonie, Le territoire wallon mine d’or pour l’emploi, Panel hosted by Serge QUOIDBACH, Alain NARINX, François-Xavier LEFEVRE and Benoît MAHIEU, with Florence Bosco, Isabelle Ferreras, Marie-Hélène Ska, and Philippe Destatte, in L’Écho, 18 December 2021, p. 15-18.

[2] Mariana MAZZUCATO, Mission Economy, A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, p. 3, Dublin, Allen Lane, 2021.

[3] M. MAZZUCATO, The Entrepreneurial State, Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths, New York, Public Affairs, 2015.

[4] In foresight, a wildcard is an unexpected, surprising and unlikely event which may have considerable impacts if it occurs.

[5] Odyssée 2068, Une vision commune porteuse de sens, Finalité 2:

[6] See also Ph. DESTATTE, La Wallonie doit reprendre confiance!, in Wallonie, Review of [Economic and Social Council of Wallonia, no.129, February 2016, p. 51-53:  – Ph. DESTATTE, Des jardins d’innovations: un nouveau paradigme industriel pour la Wallonie, Blog PhD2050, Namur, 11 November 2018:

[7] Évaluation de la politique scientifique de la Wallonie et de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2018 and 2019, p. 48/103, CESE Wallonie, Pôle Politique scientifique [Scientific Policy Centre], December 2020.

[8] Wal-Tech, Mission:

[9] IMEC:

[10] Azeem AZHAR, Exponential, How Accelerating Technology is leaving us behind and what to do about it?, p. 254-258, London, Random House Business, 2021.

[11] A. AZHAR, Exponential…, p. 255.

[12] Commonality, the state of sharing features or attributes, a commonality of interest ensures cooperation. Angus STEVENSON ed., Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 2010.

[13] Integration of the ULB and the UCLOUVAIN sites in Brussels, including Saint-Louis, would make it possible to dispense with difficult discussions such as those mentioned by Vincent VANDENBERGHE, Réflexions en matière de financement de l’enseignement supérieur en Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Louvain-la-Neuve, 8 July 2021.

[14] Ph. DESTATTE, L’Université de Wallonie pour pousser jusqu’au bout la logique de mutualisation, Blog PhD2050, Namur, 14 April 2014,

[15] I am thinking of the debate initiated by the minister Jean-Marc Nollet in July 2013 on the notion of possible societal impacts of research. See Nathan CHARLIER, Gouverner la recherche entre excellence scientifique et pertinence sociétale, Une comparaison des régimes flamand et wallon de politique scientifique, p. 73-74, Liège, Presses universitaires de Liège, 2021.

[16] Michel MORANT et Emmanuel HASSAN, Vers un nouveau modèle pour la valorisation universitaire? Étude d’impact et d’évolution visant à améliorer la valorisation des résultats de la recherche universitaire, Report produced for the Minister for Higher Education and Research, p. 149-150, Liège, Réseau Liaison Entreprises-Universités, 31 October 2020.

[17] Projets de décrets comprenant les budgets pour l’année 2022 de la Communauté française, Rapport approuvé par la Chambre française de la Cour des Comptes, 26 November 2021, p. 27/63.

[18] The amounts have been identified based on the initial 2019 budget.

[19] Nathan CHARLIER, Gouverner la recherche entre excellence scientifique et pertinence sociétale…, p. 272 et seq.

[20] Laurent ZANELLA, L’Europe a besoin de plus d’Europe, avec Philippe Busquin, dans FNRS News, 121, February 2021, p. 42.

[21] Welbio is a virtual institute offering research programmes in the health sector (cancer, immunology, neurobiology, microbiology, metabolic diseases, asthma, cardiology, etc.). Welbio is involved, as a representative mission of the Walloon Region, in the Fonds de la recherche fondamentale stratégique [Strategic Fundamental Research Fund] (FRFS), a specialist fund of the FNRS. Welbio, in FNRS News, June 2021, no. 122, p. 16. – Céline RASE, WELBIO: le pas de la recherche fondamentale vers l’industrie, dans FNRS News, October 2019, p. 52-53.

[22] Launched on 10 September 2020, the objectives of TRAIL (TRusted AI Labs) is to offer all operators in the socio-economic sector the expertise and tools developed in the field of artificial intelligence by the five French-speaking universities (UCLouvain, UMONS, ULB, ULiège and UNamur) and the four approved research centres working in AI (Cenaero, CETIC, Multitel and Sirris) in partnership with the Agence du Numérique and AI4Belgium. TRAIL helps to mobilise research and innovation capabilities in the Walloon and Brussels Regions to support their socio-economic development in the field of artificial intelligence in line with the regional policies pursued in this field.

[23] Charles Percy SNOW, The Two Cultures, Cambridge University Press, 2012. – A. AZHAR, op. cit., p. 7.

[24] Geertrui Mieke DE KETELAERE, Homme versus machine, L’intelligence artificielle démystifiée, p. 168, Kalmthout, Pelckmans, 2020.

[25] John F. KENNEDY, Moon Speech – Rice Stadium, September 12, 1962,

Washington, September 8, 2021

200 Leaders Call for New UN Office to Coordinate Global Research to Prevent Human Extinction

Earth’s magnetic shield weakening, ocean-poisoning hydrogen-sulfide gas from advanced global warning, out-of-control nanotech and AI, are among the possible future threats to humanity, warn The Millennium Project, World Futures Studies Federation, and the Association of Professional Futurists.

In an open letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, internet pioneer Vint Cerf, Nobel Prize Laureate Oscar Arias, and other technological, business, political, technological, environmental, and academic leaders around the world are calling for a new UN Office of Strategic Threats to coordinate global research on long-range strategic or existential threats to humanity, and to their prevention.

The letter [attached] requests that the UN Secretariat conduct a feasibility study for the proposed UN Office. “The immediate crises always seem to overrule the long-term concerns about the future of humanity. So, we need a specific UN Office that just focuses on what could make us go extinct and how to prevent it,” said Jerome Glenn, CEO of The Millennium Project.”

The UN already has agencies that are addressing many of the serious trends today—such as decreasing fresh water per capita, concentration of wealth, and ethnic violence—but these do not pose a threat to the survival of our species.

Long-term threats

However, there are long-term threats that do, such as the ten below:

  • Weakening of the Earth’s magnetic shield that protects us from deadly solar radiation
  • Massive discharges of hydrogen sulfate (H2S) from de-oxygenated oceans, caused by advanced global warming
  • Malicious nanotechnology (including the “gray goo” problem)
  • Loss of control over future forms of artificial intelligence
  • A single individual acting alone, who could one day create and deploy a weapon of mass destruction (most likely from synthetic biology)
  • Nuclear war escalation
  • Uncontrollable, more-severe pandemics
  • A particle accelerator accident
  • Solar gamma-ray bursts
  • An asteroid collision.

“There is no single point for collaboration in the UN system that addresses such long-term threats to human survival,” said Ambassador Héctor Casanueva, former Chilean Ambassador to UN multilateral organizations in Geneva. “A UN Office on Strategic and Existential Threats to humanity could identify, monitor, anticipate, and coordinate strategic research on a global scale to prevent these threats, he suggested. “It would serve international agencies, multilateral organizations, nation-states, and humanity in general.”

The idea of a new UN Office was raised during the celebration of the annual “World Future Day” on March 1, 2021, a global online conference of nearly a thousand experts from 65 countries. The Millennium Project, which hosts World Future Day, suggested that a resolution be offered at the next UN General Assembly, to be held in September 2021. It would give the UN Secretariat the mandate to conduct a feasibility study of the proposed UN Office of Strategic Threats.

Open letter to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for feasibility study of a UN Office of Strategic Threats

September 8, 2021

Dear Mr. Secretary General,

Long-range strategic threats to the survival of humanity are well-documented, ranging from the potential of advanced artificial intelligence growing beyond human control to weakening magnetic fields that protect life on Earth.

Although the United Nations includes agencies that are addressing many of the problems facing humanity today, there is no central office to identify, monitor, anticipate, and coordinate research on long-term strategic threats to humanity.

A UN Office on Strategic Threats, which would centralize and coordinate information and prospective studies on a global scale, could serve international agencies, multilateral organizations, nation-states, the private sector, academia, and humanity in general. We think that the Office could be created without putting pressure on the budget of the organization, reallocating resources and coordinating its work with universities and research centers around the world.

This idea was raised and discussed in detail during World Future Day, March 1, 2021, a 24-hour conversation of nearly a thousand experts from 65 countries, organized by several international associations of futurists and think tanks to discuss strategies for improving the global future.

The signatories of this open letter – academics, diplomats, scientists, and experts in foresight and strategy from different countries and sectors – ask Your Excellency to welcome and facilitate the adoption of a UN General Assembly Resolution at this September’s General Assembly that would give the General Secretariat the mandate to conduct a feasibility study on establishing a UN Office on Strategic Threats.


  1. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Author, Geostrategist, Former Dir. of Foreign Policy & Security Think Tank, Sri Lanka
  2. Nancy Ellen Abrams, Author, Philosopher of Science, Attorney at Law, USA
  3. Sergio Abreu, Secretary General, Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), Uruguay
  4. Philip Omoniyi Adetiloye, Professor, Federal University of Agriculture, Nigeria
  5. Rosa Alegria, Representative, Teach the Future Brazil, Brazil
  6. Soledad, Alvear, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Former Senator, Chile
  7. Jan Amkreutz, Author, futurist, speaker, The Netherlands & USA
  8. Janna Q. Anderson, Executive Director, Imagining the Internet Center, Elon University, USA
  9. Yul Anderson, President, African American Future Society, USA
  10. Amara D. Angelica, Editor-at-Large, KurzweilAI, USA
  11. Shahar Avin, Senior Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk University of Cambridge, UK
  12. Diana Baciuna, Local Councillor, Bucharest Borough 4, Romania
  13. Guillermina Baena Paz, VP Latin America WFSF, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico
  14. Ying Bai, Vice President, Academy of Soft Technology, China
  15. SJ  Beard, Academic Programme Manager, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk Cambridge, UK
  16. Clem Bezold, Co-Founder, Institute for Alternative Futures, USA
  17. James Boyd, Complex Systems, SingularityNet, USA
  18. Pedro Bretes Amador, CEO and Co-Founder, NewWay, Foresight, Portugal
  19. Gregory Brown, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University, Senior Analyst, CENTRA Technology, USA
  20. Steve Brown, Founder, The Futures Collaborative, USA
  21. James E. Burke, Foresight and Solutions Navigator, DeepDive Foresight, USA
  22. Iurie Calestru, Program Director, Institute for Development and Expertise of Projects, Moldova
  23. Franklin A. Carrero-Martinez, Sr. Dir. Global Sustainability, National Academy of Sciences, Eng., and Med., USA
  24. Hector Casanueva, VP Chilean Council of Foresight and Strategy, Former Amb. Geneva, Prof.-Res. University of Alcalá, Chile & Spain
  25. Shiela R. Castillo, Futures Learning Advisor, The Center For Engaged Foresight, Philippines
  26. Vint Cerf, Internet Pioneer, Google, USA
  27. Sadok Chaabane, Former Min. of Justice & Higher Educ., GM, Polytechnique Internationale University, Tunisia
  28. Richard J. Chasdi, Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University, USA
  29. Puruesh Chaudhary, Founder &President , AGAHI, Pakistan
  30. Marvin Cheung, Board Member, Unbuilt Labs, USA
  31. Thomas J. Christiffel, Principal, Regional Intelligence-Regional Communities, USA
  32. Epaminondas Christophilopoulos, Deputy Chair Foresight Team, Office of the President of  Greece, Greece
  33. Reynaldo Treviño, Cisneros, Consultant, Systems and Strategic Planning, Mexico
  34. Anthony Clayton, Professor, University of West Indies, Jamaica
  35. Deborah Clifford, Head of Finance, Woolworths, South Africa
  36. Jose Cordeiro, Executive Director, Ibero-American Foresight Network, Venezuela and Spain
  37. Raluca Coscodaru, Consultant/Professor, Innovation and entrepreneurship, Romania
  38. Catherine, Cosgrove, Futurist, Canada
  39. William Cosgrove, Former Vice President, World Bank, Canada
  40. Shermon Cruz, Executive Director, Center for Engaged Foresight, Philippines
  41. Cornelia Daheim, Founder & Dir. Future Impacts; Chair, Futures Circle, Min. of Educ. and Res., Germany
  42. Jim Dator, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Hawaii
  43. Philippe Destatte, Director, The Destree Institute, Belgium
  44. Mara Di Berardo, Technologist, Institute Nanoscience of the National Research Council , Italy
  45. Simone Di Zio, Associate Professor, University G. d’Annunzio, Italy
  46. Pedro Miguel Diegues, Consultant, Foresight & Strategy, Portugal
  47. Peachie Dioquino-Valera, Advisor, Center for Engaged Foresight, Philippines
  48. Hugh T. Dugan, Former Special Assistant to the President, National Security Council, USA
  49. Paul Epping, Chairman, Xponential, The Netherlands
  50.  Jelel Ezzine, President, Tunisian Association for the Advancement of ST&I (TAASTI), Tunisia
  51. Daniel Faggella, CEO, Emerj Artificial Intelligence Research, USA
  52. Horacio Martin Ferber, Faculty, National University of Avellaneda, Argentina
  53. Elizabeth Florescu, Director of Research, The Millennium Project, Canada
  54. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Former President of Chile, Chile
  55. Michael Friebe, Prof. Health Tech., Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Germany
  56. Caroline Figuères, Former Director, International Inst. for Com. and Dev.(IICD), The Netherlands
  57. Luciano Gallón, Professor, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia
  58. Adolfo Arreola García, Professor, Anáhuac University, Mexico
  59. Banning Garrett, Faculty, Singularity University, USA
  60. Lydia Garrido Luzardo, UNESCO Chair Anticipation and Resilience, SARAS Institute, Uruguay
  61. Jose María Gil Robles, Former President , European Parliament, Spain
  62. Fausto Carbajal Glass, Member, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)., Mexico
  63. Jerome C. Glenn, CEO, The Millennium Project, USA
  64. Willis Goldbeck, Founder, Foresight Education, USA
  65. Blaž Golob, CEO GFS Institute, Chair, Forum on Future of Europe, Slovenia
  66. Abhik Gupta, Vice-Chairperson, Tripura State Higher Education Council, India
  67. Antonio Gutelli, Docente, Juan A. Maza University, Argentina
  68. Miguel Angel Gutierrez, Director, Centro Latinomericano de Globalización y Prospectiva, Argentina
  69. Mohammad Habib, Partner, Director, MENA Region, Siegel® MCAN, Jordan
  70. Cathy Hackl, Chief Metaverse Officer, Futures Intelligence Group, USA
  71. William E. Halal, CEO, TechCast International, USA
  72. Aharon Hauptman, Fellow, Zvi Meitar Institute for Implications of Emerging Technologies, Israel
  73. Peter Hayward, Co-host,, Australia
  74. Sirkka Heinonen, Professor Emeriti, Finland Futures Research Centre, Finland
  75. Lucio Mauricio Henao Vélez, CEO,, Colombia
  76. Éva Hideg, Professor, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
  77. Brock Hinzmann, Partner, Business Futures Network, USA
  78. Cyrus Hodes, Chair AI Initiative, The Future Society, France
  79. Razvan, Hoinaru, Former Chief of Staff, EPP Romanian Delegation, EU Parliament, Romania
  80. Philip Horvath, Partner, Luman, Germany
  81. Adriana Hoyos, Professor/Senior Fellow, Instituto de Empresa (IE) Harvard University, Spain & USA
  82. Arnoldo de Hoyos, Professor, Pontificial Catholic University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
  83. Claudio Huepe, Director, Center of Sustainable Energy, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile
  84. Barry B. Hughes, Professor, University of Denver, USA
  85. Jan Hurwitch, Director, Visionary Ethics Foundation, Costa Rica
  86. Asif Iftikhar, Teaching Fellow, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan
  87. Enrique V. Iglesias, Former President, Intern-American Development Bank, Uruguay
  88. Lester Ingber, CEO, Physical Studies Institute LLC, USA
  89. Jose Miguel Insulza, former Secretary General, Organization of American States (OAS), Chile
  90. Silvia Iratchet, Institutional Relations, Suma Veritas Foundation, Argentina
  91. Abulgasem Issa, Associate Professor, Libyan Authority for Scientific Researches, Libya
  92. Garry Jacobs, President & CEO, World Academy of Art and Science, India
  93. Maciej Jagaciak, Member of the Board, Polish Society for Futures Studies, Poland
  94. Alejandro Jara, Former Associate DG WTO Geneva, Former Ambassador, Chile
  95. Robert E. Jarrett, Senior Fellow (ret.), US Army Environmental Policy Institute, USA
  96. Weiquing Jiang, Chairman, UN Ethics Chinese Union, China
  97. Zhouying Jin, Prof. and Former Director, Center for Technology Innovation and Strategy, Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China
  98. Maria João Rodrigues, Pres. Foundation for European Progressive Studies, Former Min. Employment, Former MEP and VP of the Group of the Socialists and Democrats, European Parliament, Portugal
  99.  Christopher B. Jones, Faculty, Walden University, USA
  100.  Michel Judkiewicz, Managing Director, Silver-Brains, Belgium
  101. Ted M. Kahn, CEO, DesignWorlds for Learning, USA
  102. David Kalisz, Head of Department , Management & Strategy, Paris School of Business, France
  103. Nikolaos Kastrinos, (signed in personal capacity) Foresight Team Leader, DG Research & Innovation, European Commission, Belgium
  104. Charlotte Kemp, Vice President, Global Speakers Federation, South Africa
  105. Stephen Killelea, Founder & Executive Chairman, Institute for Economics and Peace, Australia
  106. Tony Kim, President, Future Design Lab, South Korea
  107. Yusuke Kishita, Associate Professor, University of Tokyo, Japan
  108. Eric Klien, President, Lifeboat Foundation, USA
  109. Dana Klisanin, CEO, Evolutionary Guidance Media R&D, USA
  110. Norbert Kołos, Managing Partner, 4CF, Poland
  111. Tamás Kristóf, Associate Professor, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
  112. Martin Kruse, Senior Executive Advisor & Futurist, Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, Denmark
  113. Osmo Kuusi, Adjunct Professor, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
  114. Annah Kyoya, CEO, Leadership Impressions Ltd, Kenya
  115. Mounir Labib, Academy of Scientific Research & Technology, Egypt
  116. Patricio Leiva Lavalle, Dir. Latin American Inst. of Intl Relations, Miguel de Cervantes Univ., Chile
  117. Gerd Leonhard, CEO, The Futures Agency, Zurich, Switzerland
  118. Tiziano Li Piani, R&D Engineer, Leonardo Labs, Italy
  119. Marilyn Lienbrenz-Himes, Assoc. Prof. Emeritus , George Washington University, USA
  120. Lt-Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi, Former Secretary of Defence, Pakistan
  121. Thomas Lombardo, Director, Center for Future Consciousness, USA
  122. José A. LugoSantiago, Chief Futurist, Institute for Leadership & Strategic Foresight, USA
  123. Pavel Luksha, Founder, Global Education Futures, Russia
  124. Patricia Lustig, Chief Executive, LASA Insight Ltd, UK
  125. François Mabille, General Secretary, International Federation of Catholic Universities, France
  126. Luciano Rodrigues Marcelino, Director General, Interinstitutional Relations, DGRI, Private Technical University of Loja – UTPL, Ecuador
  127. Carlos Alonso von Marschall Murillo, Head, Prospective Analysis and Public Policy, Min. of Planning and Political Economy, Costa Rica
  128. Jorge Máttar, Executive Director, Centro Tepoztlán Víctor L. Urquidi, Mexico
  129. Philip McMaster, Co-Founder, World Sustainability Coop, China
  130. John F. Meagher, Consultant, Futurist/Occupational and Environmental Health, USA
  131. Ricardo Torres Medrano, Professor, Catholic University of La Plata, Argentina
  132. Alvaro Mendez, Co-Dir. Global South Unit, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
  133. Maria Mezentseva, Member of Parliament, Chair of Ukrainian Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Ukraine
  134. Alvaro Cedeño, Molinari, Former Ambassador in Geneva, Costa Rica
  135. Cesar Monsalve Rico, Consultant, Development and Innovation Professional, Colombia
  136. Caryl Monte, CEO, International Wisdom Academy, Curaçao
  137. Iván Alonso, Montoya-Restrepo, Professor, National University of Colombia, Colombia
  138. Luz Alexandra Montoya-Restrepo, Professor, National University of Colombia, Colombia
  139. Juan Carlos Mora Montero, Professor of Planning & Foresight, National University, Costa Rica
  140. Morne Mostert, Director, Inst. for Futures Research, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
  141. Victor V. Motti, Director, World Futures Studies Federation, USA
  142. Leopold P. Mureithi, Professor of Economics, University of Nairobi, Kenya
  143. Eric Noël, Founder, Canada Towards 2030, Canada
  144. Kacper Nosarzewski, Partner, 4CF, Poland
  145. Pavel Nováček, Head Development & Environmental Studies, Palacký University, Czech Republic
  146. Erzsébet Nováky, Professor Emeritus, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
  147. Concepcion Olavarrieta Rodriguez, Pres. Nodo Mexicano. El Proyecto del Milenio; Exec-Sec, RIBER, Mexico
  148. Erick Øverland, President, World Futures Studies Federation, Norway
  149. Karla Paniagua Ramírez, Head of Futures Studies, Center of Design and Communication, Mexico
  150. Ioan Mircea Pașcu, Former V.P., European Parliament; Former Minister of Defence of Romania, Romania
  151. Robert A., Pavlik, Futures/Environmental Studies, Marquette University, USA
  152. Martha Beatriz Peluffo Argón, Dean, Faculty of Education Sciences, Universidad de la Empresa, Uruguay
  153. Charles Perrottet, Principal, Futures Strategy Group, USA
  154. Jahna Perricone, Director of Mindfulness Programs, Center for Conscious Creativity, USA
  155. Jeremy Pesner, Doctoral Student, Carnegie Mellon University, USA
  156. Adrian Pop, Professor, National University of Political Science and Public Administration, Romania
  157. Mila Popovich, Founder, EVOLbing leadership, USA & Montenegro
  158. Patty Rangel, Author, International Astronautical Congress, Australia & Germany
  159. Kristian Ravić, Advisor, Office of the Mayor of Zagreb, Croatia
  160. Andrew W. Reynolds, Adjunct Professor, University of Virginia and DOS (ret.), USA
  161. Álvaro Ramírez Restrepo, Director, Futurion Ltda, Colombia
  162. Roman Retzbach, CEO, FutureInstitute Zukunftsinstitut, Germany
  163. Saphia Richou, Chercheur au LAREQUOI, Conseil en Prospective Stratégique et Coopétition, France
  164. Xiaobing Rong, Deputy Secretary General, UN international collaboration & coordination agency, China
  165. Stuart Russell, Center for Human Compatible Artificial Intelligence, University of California, USA
  166. Torben Riise, CEO, ExecuTeam; Founder, Institute for Futures Studies, Copenhagen, USA
  167. Clarissa Rios Rojas, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge, UK
  168. Stanley G. Rosen, Consultant, Strategy Analyst, USA
  169. Rebecca Ryan, Founder, CEO, NEXT Generation Consulting, USA
  170. Paul Saffo, Professor, Stanford University, USA
  171. Óscar Arias Sánchez, Former President of Costa Rica (1986-1990, 2006-2010), Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Costa Rica
  172. Rocco Santoro, Senior Statistician, Daccude, Italy
  173. Ramón Santoyo, President, WFS Mexican Chapter, Mexico
  174. Carlos Alberto Sarti Castañeda, Director, Fundación Propaz, Guatemala
  175. John M. Schmidt, Founder, CANSYNTH, Australia
  176. Kamal Zaky Mahmoud Shaeer, Chair, Council of Futures Studies and Risk Management, Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, Egypt
  177. Yair Sharan, Director, FIRS2T, Israel
  178. Mario Silberman, Former Ambassador, CTA, UNIDO/UNDP, Chile
  179. Mihaly , Simai, Former Chairman, United Nations University, Hungary
  180. Alexandra Sokol, Chief Sustainability Officer, EnviroDynamix, Santa Monica, CA, USA
  181. Roger Spitz, Founder, Disruptive Futures Institute, USA
  182. Maarten Steinbuch, Professor, Technical Univ. Eindhoven, Netherlands
  183. Veerappan Swaminathan, Founder & CEO, Sustainable Living Lab Pte Ltd, Singapore
  184. David Tal, President, Quantumrun Foresight, Canada
  185. Amos Taylor, Project Researcher, Finland Futures Research Center, Finland
  186. Rohit Talwar, CEO, Fast Future, UK
  187. Sadia Tariq, Research Associate, Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy and Arts, Pakistan
  188. Paul Tero, Principal Consultant, Dellium Advisory, Australia
  189. Mohan Tikku, Journalist, Author, Futurist, Former Senior Fellow, Indian Council of Soc. Sci. Res., India
  190. Nicoleta Topoleanu, Human Resources Coach and Consultant, Romania
  191. Peter VanderWel, Principal Futurist, FutureVision, Netherlands
  192. Koen Vegter, Founder, Might Futures Design, Netherlands
  193. Sanja Vlahovic, Former Amb. of Montenegro to Italy, Malta and UN organizations in Rome, Montenegro
  194. Paul Werbos, Program Director(ret.), National Science Foundation, USA
  195. Jeremy Wilken, Broadcaster, Design for Voice podcast, USA
  196. Wilson Wong, Head of Insight & Futures, Horizon Scanning UK, UK
  197. Peter P Yim, CEO (retired), CIM3, Hong Kong & USA
  198. Jesús E. Caldera Ynfante, Dir., Intl and Interinstitutional Relations, La Gran Colombia University, Colombia
  199. Amy Zalman, CEO, Prescient, USA
  200. Xialin Zhang, Secretary-General, Intl. Cooperation Center for Future Strategic Research, China
  201. Duoyin Zhou, Deputy Director, UN International Collaboration &Coordination Agency, China
  202. Ibon Zugasti Gorostidi, Director, Prospektiker, Spain

Namur (Wallonia), August 28, 2021

Anticipating means visualising and then acting before the events or actions occur. This implies taking action based on what is visualised, which just goes to show how complex the process is and how problematic our relationship is with the future. The saying “to govern means to foresee” is at odds with this complexity principle. It also refers to individual responsibility. Blaming politics is a little simplistic and unfair, as it is up to each of us to govern ourselves, which means we must “anticipate”. Yet we are constantly guilty of not anticipating in our daily lives.


1. Our relationship with the future

 Our relationship with the future is problematic. There are five different attitudes, of which anticipation is merely the fifth. The first is common: we go with the flow; in other words, we wait for things to happen. We hope everything will go well. It is business as usual, or we have always done this as they say in Wallonia. We can also echo the words used by the miners whenever the colliery tunnels were shored up: it can’t hurt, it’s not dangerous, it’s strong, it’s reliable, etc. My father taught me to ridicule this cavalier attitude and, above all, to challenge it.

The second attitude is more active: it involves playing by the rules and working within the norms. The elected officials pay close attention to this, and so do we all. We have to have an extinguisher in our car in case of fire, but mostly to comply with the legal obligations, regulations, technical checks, and so on. Note that public buildings and businesses are also required to have them and to ensure that they are checked regularly. Very few people have one or more fire extinguishers in their house or apartment, and, even if they do, they may not be in working order or suitable for the different types of fire that may occur. We know that it is not a legal requirement, so most people don’t bother about it.

The third attitude towards the future is responsiveness: we respond to external stimuli, and we adapt quickly to the situations that arise. Images of firefighters and emergency workers come to mind, of course, and entrepreneurs as well. Responsiveness may be a virtue, but we know that it is sometimes ineffective in the face of fast-moving events. In defence of their discipline, futurists often quote a saying which they attribute to the statesman Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838): when it’s urgent, it’s already too late.

The fourth attitude towards the future is preactivity: our ability – or lack of – to prepare for changes once they are foreseeable. The word foreseeable is clearly related to forecasting, in other words, an assumption is made about the future which is usually quantified and associated with a confidence index based on an expectation. This involves taking a number of variables and system elements into account against a background of previous structural stability and analysing them and their possible evolutions. The likelihood of these possible evolutions is then calculated. Validation is always uncertain due to the complexity of the systems created by the variables. A common example is the weather forecast: it gives me a probability of rain at a given time. If I am preactive, I take my umbrella or I pile sandbags in front of my doors.

The fifth attitude towards the future is proactivity. In his work on the Battle of Stalingrad – 55 years after the event –, British historian and former officer Antony Beevor criticises the German general Friedrich Paulus (1890-1957) for not, as the military commander, being prepared to confront the threat of encirclement which had been facing him for weeks, particularly by not retaining a strong, mobile, armoured capability. This would have enabled the Sixth Army of the Wehrmacht to defend itself effectively at the crucial moment. But, Beevor adds, that implied a clear assessment of the actual danger [1]. This means that, faced with expected and identified changes (I would say exploratory foresight), or even desired changes, which I will cause or create (I would then say normative foresight), I will take action. Anticipating means both visualising and then acting in advance, in other words, acting before the events or actions occur. That is why we could also say, with Riel Miller, that if the future does not exist in the present, anticipation does. The form the future takes in the present is anticipation [2].


2. A threefold problem to comprehend the future

We are all faced with a threefold problem when confronting the future. The first problem is that, in the tradition of Gaston Berger (1896-1960) [3], we are expected to look far ahead but, in reality, the future does not exist as an object of knowledge. Clearly, it does not exist because it is not written and is not determined, as Marx believed or as some collapse theorists today believe.

We are also expected to take a broad view and to reflect systemically. But forecasts only focus on a limited number of variables, even in the era of Big Data. Yet we find ourselves faced with systems which are all complex and interwoven in a tangle of unlikely events. We are all familiar with emergences [4] or sudden occurrences linked to the relationships between participants and factors within the system. When driving my car, I can anticipate a puddle, to avoid aquaplaning, or a patch of ice by telling myself that I must not break. But, in reality, I never know what my reaction will be when I feel my wheels shaking, or how my car, my tyres or the road surface will react. Similarly, I never know what the reaction will be of the drivers in front of me or behind me, or in the other lanes, or of the bird that happens to strike my windscreen at that precise moment. So, I have to deal with the complexity, but I cannot reduce it.

The third problem is that, faced with world systems of such complexity, my own knowledge tools are limited. We are trained in disciplines, epistemologies, knowledge methods, vocabularies, and scientific jargon which do not encourage multidisciplinarity (studying one discipline through several disciplines), interdisciplinarity (transferring methods from one discipline to another) or transdisciplinarity (a demanding approach which moves between, across and beyond disciplines), to echo the distinctions expressed by the Franco-Romanian physicist Basarab Nicolescu in response to the works of Jean Piaget (1896-1980) [5]. Our narrowmindedness and reluctance to open up affect our humility, encourage received ideas, create ambiguity (words do not have the same meanings), prevent the necessary constructive dialogue, and adversely affect collective intelligence.

A key achievement of the French economists and futurists Jacques Lesourne (1928-2020) and Michel Godet was to demonstrate the limits of forecasting, which looks to the past for invariants or relationship models to suggest its permanence or its relatively constant evolution in the future, leading to conditional forecasts: ceteris paribus, all things being equal”. Michel Godet’s major work is entitled The Crisis in Forecasting and the Emergence of the “La Prospective”, (Pergamon, 1979). In it, he writes that it was on account of the philosopher Gaston Berger, who was himself nurtured on the reflections of Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) and Maurice Blondel (1861-1949), and numerous Anglo-Saxon sources of inspiration, that the foresight approach developed. This intellectual stance involves taking the past and future into consideration over the long-term, comprehending the entire system in a seamless way, and exploring capabilities and means of action collectively.

Against our cultural, mental, intellectual, scientific, social and political background, this approach is not encouraged. It does, however, move us on from the question “what is going to happen” to the question “what may happen” and, therefore, “what if?”. This is also linked to one of our major preoccupations: the short-, medium-, and long-term impact prior analysis of the decisions we take.

Foresight has developed methods based precisely on the issue of these emergences. In addition to analysing trends and trajectories – which can identify crises such as the global financial crash in 2008 –, it also works with wildcards: major surprises and unexpected, remarkable, and unlikely events, which may have significant impacts if they occur: the 9/11 attacks, the Icelandic volcano in April 2010, the Covid crisis in 2019, the floods in July 2021, and so on.

There is also much talk today of black swan events as a result of the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, formerly a trader and now professor of risk engineering at the University of New York. This involves identifying events that are statistically almost impossible – so-called statistical dissonance – but which happen anyway [6].


3. Constructing a political agenda for complexity

First of all, we must be sceptical about the retrospective biases highlighted by the economist, psychologist and future Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky, which involve exaggerating, retrospectively, the fact that events could have been anticipated. These biases are linked to the need we all have to make sense of things, including the most random events [7]. When the unpredictable happens, it is intellectually quite easy for us to see it as predictable.

Next, it should be noted that political leaders are faced with the core issues of appropriation, legitimacy, and acceptability – especially budgetary – of a decision taken at the end of a dialogue and negotiation process involving multiple participants. The public will not necessarily be in favour of the government spending significant amounts on understanding problems they cannot yet visualise. Like St. Thomas, if they can’t touch it, they won’t believe it. At the outset, the population is not ready to hear what the politicians have to tell them on the matter, whether it involves a “stop-concrete” strategy or a perishable supply of masks. For experts and elected officials alike, it is no longer enough to make claims. They now have to provide scientific proof, and, above all, avoid denial, as the emotional link can be considerable. The significant role played by the media should also not be overlooked. For a long time, it was thought that a pandemic was an acceptable risk, as in the 1960s with the Hong Kong flu which caused at least a million deaths globally between 1968 and 1970, whereas the sight of Covid-19 victims in intensive care is unbearable and makes us less willing to accept the number of deaths. Remember how, in France, Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot was criticised and accused of squandering public money when she bought health masks and vaccines for swine flu (H1N1 virus) in 2009-2010. At the same time, humans have a great capacity to become accustomed to risk. Think of the nuclear sword of Damocles that was the Cold War, which continued until the early 1990s. We should also question whether this military nuclear risk – the anthropic apocalypse – has disappeared.

We constantly find ourselves needing to agree on the priority of the challenges facing us. Constructing a political agenda for such complexity is by no means clear, and political leaders wonder whether they will be criticised for starting works that may not seem urgent or sufficiently important to merit sustained attention, stakeholder mobilisation, and the resulting budgets.

Finally, governing not only means solving organisational problems, allocating resources and planning actions over time. It also means making things intelligible, as the French historian Pierre Rosanvallon points out [8]. The political world does not appreciate the importance of the educational aspect. In Belgium, politicians no longer go on television to talk to people directly and explain an issue that needs to be addressed. Government communications have disappeared; now, there are only televised addresses from the Head of State, who in this way becomes the last actor to communicate values to the public in this way.


Conclusion: uncertainty, responsibility, and anticipation

In May 2020, during the Covid-19 lockdown, the host of Signes des Temps on France-Culture radio, Marc Weitzmann, had the bright idea of recalling the first major debate of the Age of Enlightenment on natural disasters and their consequences for human populations [9], a debate between Voltaire (1694-1778) and Rousseau (1712-1778) about the Lisbon disaster of 1755 [10].

HRP5XD Lisbon Tsunami, 1755 – Woodcut – The Granger – NYC

On 1 November 1755 (All Saints Day), Lisbon was hit by a huge earthquake. Three successive waves between 5 and 15 metres high destroyed the port and the city centre [11], and tens of thousands of inhabitants lost their lives in the earthquake, tsunami and huge fire that followed. When he heard the news, Voltaire was deeply affected and, several weeks later, in view of the gravity of the event, he wrote a famous poem in which his intention was to go beyond mere evocation of the disaster and compassion for the victims.

Come, ye philosophers, who cry, “All’s well,”

And contemplate this ruin of a world.

Behold these shreds and cinders of your race,

This child and mother heaped in common wreck,

These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts—

A hundred thousand whom the earth devours,

Who, torn and bloody, palpitating yet,

Entombed beneath their hospitable roofs,

In racking torment end their stricken lives.

To those expiring murmurs of distress,

To that appalling spectacle of woe,

Will ye reply: “You do but illustrate

The iron laws that chain the will of God”? [12]

In this “Poem on the Lisbon disaster”, from which these lines are a short excerpt, Voltaire ponders the appropriateness of attributing the event to divine justice, when, according to some so-called optimistic philosophers at the time, everything natural is a gift from God and, therefore, ultimately good and just [13]. Without calling divine power into question, Voltaire counters this concept, rejects the idea of a specific celestial punishment to atone for vices in the Portuguese capital, and instead declares fate responsible for the disaster.

As mentioned by Jean-Paul Deléage, who, in 2005, published in the Écologie et Politique review the letter which Rousseau sent to Voltaire on 18 August 1756, Voltaire went on to propose a new concept of human responsibility. This concept was social and political rather than metaphysical and religious. Thus, in his reply to Voltaire, Rousseau states as follows:

 (…), I believe I have shown that with the exception of death, which is an evil almost solely because of the preparations which one makes preceding it, most of our physical ills are still our own work. Is it not known that the person of each man has become the least part of himself, and that it is almost not worth the trouble of saving it when one has lost all the rest Without departing from your subject of Lisbon, admit, for example, that nature did not construct twenty thousand houses of six to seven stories there, and that if the inhabitants of this great city had been more equally spread out and more lightly lodged, the damage would have been much less, and perhaps of no account. All would have fled at the first disturbance, and the next day they would have been seen twenty leagues from there, as gay as if nothing had happened; but it is necessary to remain, to be obstinate around some hovels, to expose oneself to new quakes, because what one leaves behind is worth more than what one can bring along. How many unfortunate people have perished in this disaster because of one wanting to take his clothes, another his papers, another his money?  Is it not known that the person of each man has become the least part of himself, and that it is almost not worth the trouble of saving it when one has lost all the rest? [14] 

Whereas, for Voltaire, the Lisbon disaster was an accident and an unfortunate combination of circumstances, Rousseau feels that the natural seismic effects were compounded by the actions, urban choices and attitude of the people during the disaster. It is the responsibility of human behaviour that Rousseau highlights. In essence, he believes that, although Lisbon was destroyed, this was linked to the human decision to build a city on the coast and near a fault line. A lack of anticipation, perhaps.

Rousseau returned to these matters in his Confessions, in which he again absolves Providence and maintains that, of all the evils in people’s lives, there was not one to be attributed to Providence, and which had not its source rather in the abusive use man made of his faculties than in nature [15].

In the appropriately named Signes des Temps, or Sign of the Times, programme, Marc Weitzmann established a link between this debate, the question of uncertainty, nature and mankind, and the thoughts of French urbanist Paul Virilio (1932-2018). Scarred by the blitzkrieg and his lost childhood, and the idea that acceleration prevents anticipation and can lead to coincidence, Virilio, author of Speed and Politics (MIT Press, 2006), The Original Accidentl (Polity Press, 2007), and The Great Accelerator (Polity Press, 2012), emphasised that industrial and natural disasters progressed not only geometrically but also geographically, if not cosmically. In his view, this progress of contemporary coincidence requires a new intelligence in which the principle of responsibility permanently supplants the principle of technoscientific effectiveness, which is, considers Virilio, arrogant to the point of delusion [16].

Thus, as in Rousseau, our natural disasters seem increasingly inseparable from our anthropic disasters. All the more so since, as we now know, we have through our human and industrial actions altered the course of time in all its meanings: climate time, as well as speed time, or acceleration.

The fine metaphor used by futurists on the need to have good headlights at night – the faster we travel, the brighter they need to be – seems somewhat outdated. While, today, we are collectively wondering whether the road still exists, we can still enjoy inventing, plotting, and carving out a new path. For, in the words of Gaston Berger, the future is not only what may happen or what is most likely to happen, but is also, and increasingly so, what we want it to be. Predicting a disaster is conditional: it involves predicting what would happen if we did nothing to change the situation rather than what will happen in any event [17].

Risk management will remain a fundamental necessity on the path we choose. What is more, any initiative involves a degree of uncertainty which we can only ever partially reduce. This uncertainty will never absolve our individual and collective responsibilities as elected representatives or citizens. This uncertainty, in turn, creates a duty of anticipation [18].

Anticipation culture must feature at the heart of our public and collective policies. To that end, we must employ foresight methods that are genuinely robust and operational, along with impact prior analyses for the actions to be taken. That is the only way to tackle a new future without false impressions.

In his conclusions of The Imperative of Responsability, Hans Jonas decreed that, facing the threat of nuclear war, ecological ravage, genetic engineering, and the like, fear was a requirement for tackling the future [19]. We must treat anticipation in the same way. Thus anticipation meets hope, each being a consequence of the other.



Philippe Destatte


Related paper: Increasing rationality in decision-making through policy impact prior analysis (July 12, 2021)


Direct access to PhD2050’s English papers


[1] Free translation from: Antony BEEVOR, Stalingrad, p. 231-232 et 252 , Paris, de Fallois, 1999.

[2] Riel MILLER, Futures Literacy: transforming the future, in R. MILLER ed., Transforming the Future, Anticipation in the 21st Century, p. 2, Paris, UNESCO – Abingdon, Routledge, 2018.

[3] Gaston BERGER, L’attitude prospective, dans Phénoménologie et prospective, p. 270sv, Paris, PUF, 1964.

[4] According to the systemist Edgar Morin, emergence is an organizational product which, although inseparable from the system as a whole, appears not only at the global level, but possibly at the level of the components. Emergence is a new quality in relation to the constituents of the system. It therefore has the virtue of an event, since it arises in a discontinuous manner once the system has been constituted; it has of course the character of irreducibility; it is a quality which cannot be broken down, and which cannot be deduced from previous elements. E. MORIN, La méthode, t.1, p. 108, Paris, Seuil, 1977. – The concept of emergence finds its origin in George Henry Lewes. To urge that we do not know how theses manifold conditions emerge in the phenomenon Feeling, it is to say that the synthetic fact has not been analytically resolved into all its factor. It is equally true that we do not know how Water emerges from Oxygen and Hydrogen. The fact of an emergence we know; and we may be certain that what emerges is the expression of its conditions, – every effect being the procession of its cause. George Henry LEWES, Problems of Life and Mind, t. 2, p. 412, London, Trübner & Co, 1874. – André LALANDE, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie, p. 276-277, Paris, PUF, 1976.

[5] See: Transdisciplinarité in Ph. DESTATTE & Philippe DURANCE dir., Les mots-clés de la prospective territoriale, p. 51, Paris, La Documentation française, 2009.

[6] Nassim Nicholas TALEB, The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable, New York, Random House, 2007.

[7] Daniel KAHNEMAN & Amos TVERSKY, Prospect theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk, in Econometrica, Journal of the econometric society, 1979, vol. 47, nr 2, p. 263-291.

[8] Pierre ROSANVALLON, Counter-Democracy, Politics in an Age of Distrust, Cambridge University Press,  2008.

[9] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lettre à Monsieur de Voltaire sur ses deux poèmes sur « la Loi naturelle » et sur « le Désastre de Lisbonne », présentée par Jean-Paul DELEAGE, dans Écologie & politique, 2005, 30, p. 141-154.

[10] Cfr Marc Weitzmann, Le Cygne noir, une énigme de notre temps, ou la prévision prise en défaut, avec Cynthia Fleury, Bruno Tertrais et Erwan Queinnec, Signes des Temps, France Culture,

[11] Sofiane BOUHDIBA, Lisbonne, le 1er novembre 1755 : un hasard ? Au cœur de la polémique entre Voltaire et Rousseau, A travers champs, 19 octobre 2014. S. Bouhdiba est démographe à l’Université de Tunis. – Jean-Paul POIRIER, Le tremblement de terre de Lisbonne, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2005.

[12] Translation taken from the Online Library of Liberty,

VOLTAIRE, Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (1756), Œuvres complètes, Paris, Garnier, t. 9, p. 475. Wikisources :

[13] We are talking about theodicy here. This consists in the justification of the goodness of God by the refutation of the arguments drawn from the existence. This concept was introduced by the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) in an attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction between, on the one hand, the misfortunes that prevail on earth and, on the other hand, the power and the goodness of God. LEIBNITZ, Essais de théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’Homme et l’origine du mal, Amsterdam, F. Changuion, 1710. – See Patrick SHERRY, Theodicy in Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 28 August 2021.

We know that in his tale Candide, or Optimism, published in 1759, Voltaire will deform and mock Leibnitzian thought through the caricatural character of Pangloss and the formula everything is at best in the best of all possible worlds … VOLTAIRE, Candide ou l’Optimisme, in VOLTAIRE, Romans et contes, Edition établie par Frédéric Deloffre et Jacques Van den Heuvel, p. 145-233, Paris, Gallimard, 1979.

[14] Translation from Internet Archive, Letter to Voltaire, Pl, IV, 1060-1062, p. 51.,

Lettre à Monsieur de Voltaire sur ses deux poèmes sur la “Loi naturelle” et sur “Le Désastre de Lisbonne”, 18 août 1756. in Jean-Paul DELEAGE, op. cit.

[15] J.-J. ROUSSEAU, Confessions, IX, Paris, 1767, cité par Sofiane BOUHDIBA, op. cit.

[16] Paul VIRILIO, L’accident originel, p. 3, Paris, Galilée, 2005.

[17] G. BERGER, Phénoménologie et prospective…, p. 275. (Free translation).

[18] Voir à ce sujet Pierre LASCOUMES, La précaution comme anticipation des risques résiduels et hybridation de la responsabilité, dans L’année sociologique, Paris, PUF, 1996, 46, n°2, p. 359-382.

[19] Hans JONAS, The Imperative of Responsability, In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age, The University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Namur, July 12, 2021

Challenges such as the imminent strategic choices posed by the European structural funds, the Recovery programme underway within the Government of Wallonia, questions on the interest in and the value of installing 5G, and whether it is even necessary, along with issues surrounding the implementation of a guaranteed universal income, and other energy, climate and environmental issues, raise the question of the impact of the decisions made by both public and private operators [1].

In their recent work The Politics Industry, while analysing the shortcomings and failure of American democracy and the possibilities for reconstructing it, Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter call for policy innovation. Katherine Gehl, founder of the Institute for Political Innovation, argues that laboratories of democracy have a role to play in the transformations within the political and social system itself to help governments achieve their objectives and, above all, to achieve the results their citizens deserve [2]. Although the authors, who are immersed in the business and entrepreneurship culture, focus primarily on democratic engineering in order to restore its negative effects on economic competitiveness, the issue of prior, objective analysis or assessment of the impacts that political decisions can have on society and its economy is not high on their agenda. In the absence of this type of approach, we believe that criticising policymaking and its lack of rationality – along with demonstrating the absence of general interest and common good – appears futile.

The weakening of a strong impact analysis probably contributed to Philippe Zittoun’s description, based on the work of the celebrated economists, sociologists and political scientists Herbert Simon (1916-2001) and Charles Lindblom (1917-2018), of complex cognitive tinkering. In this tinkering process, the necessary rational links between problem, objective, solution, tools, values and causes are absent [3]. Ignorance, intuitions, ideology and inertia combine to give us answers that look plausible, promise much, and predictably betray us, write the recent winners of the Nobel Prize for Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo [4].

Dreamstime – Dzmitry Skazau

1. What is policy impact prior analysis?

The purpose of impact analysis is to establish a comparison between what has happened or will happen after the implementation of the measure or programme and what would have happened if the measure or programme had not been implemented. This comparison can be referred to as the programme impact [5].

Policy impact prior analysis can help to refine decisions before they are implemented and to comprehend their potential effects in different economic environments. The impact assessment provides a framework for understanding whether the beneficiaries do actually benefit from the programme, rather than from other factors or actors. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods is useful to give an overview of the programme impact. There are two types of impact analysis: ex ante and ex post. An ex-ante impact analysis attempts to measure the expected impacts of future programmes and policies, taking into account the current situation of a target area, and may involve simulations based on assumptions relating to the functioning of the economy. Ex ante analyses are usually based on structural models of the economic environment facing the potential participants. The underlying assumptions for the structural models involve identifying the main economic actors in the development of the programme and the links between the actors and the different markets to determine the results of the programme. These models can predict the programme impacts [6].

In April 2016, in their common desire for Better Regulation, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission decided to increase and strengthen impact assessments [7] as tools for improving the quality of EU legislation, in addition to consulting with citizens and stakeholders and assessing the existing legislation. In the view of these three institutions, impact assessments should map out alternative solutions and, where possible, potential short and long-term costs and benefits, assessing the economic, environmental and social impacts in an integrated and balanced way and using both qualitative and quantitative analyses. These assessments must respect the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, as well as fundamental rights. They must also consider the impact of the various options in terms of competitiveness, administrative burdens, the effect on SMEs, digital aspects and other elements linked to territorial impact. Impact assessments should also be based on data that is accurate, objective, and complete [8].

In recent years, the European Commission has gone to great lengths to update its technical governance tools in its efforts to achieve better regulation. This concept means designing EU policies and laws so that they achieve their objectives at the lowest possible cost. For the Commission, better regulation does not involve regulating or deregulating, but rather adopting a way of working which ensures that policy decisions are taken openly and transparently, are guided by the best factual data available, and are supported by stakeholder participation. Impact assessment (or impact analysis) is an important element of this approach to policy issues, as are foresight (or forward-looking) tools, and tools used for stakeholder consultation and participation, planning, implementation, assessment, monitoring etc., which are part of the public or collective policy cycle, and even, by extension, the business policy cycle [9].

Better regulation covers the entire political cycle, from policy conception and preparation, to adoption, implementation, application (including monitoring and enforcement [10]), assessment and revision of measures. For each phase of the cycle, a number of principles, objectives, tools and procedures for improving regulation are used to build capacity for achieving the best possible strategy.

Although impact assessment is not a new tool, since it was theorised extensively in the 1980s and 1990s [11], its role in the process has been strengthened considerably by the European Commission, to the extent that, in our view, it is now of central importance. Even its content has been broadened. The Better Regulations Guidelines of 2017 highlight this transparency and draw a distinction with assessment practices: in an impact assessment process, the term impact describes all the changes which are expected to happen due to the implementation and application of a given policy option/intervention. Such impacts may occur over different timescales, affect different actors and be relevant at different scales (local, regional, national and EU).  In an evaluation context, impact refers to the changes associated with a particular intervention which occur over the longer term [12]. The Guidelines glossary also states that impact assessment is an integrated process for assessing and comparing the merits of a range of public or collective policy options developed to solve a clearly defined problem. Impact assessment is only an aid to policymaking / decision-making and not a substitute for it [13].

Thus, impact assessments refer to the ex-ante assessment carried out during the policy formulation phase of the policy cycle.

This process consists in gathering and analysing evidence to support policy development. It confirms the existence of a problem to be solved, establishes the objectives, identifies its underlying causes, analyses whether a public action is necessary, and assesses the advantages and disadvantages of the available solutions [14].

The Commission’s impact assessment system follows an integrated approach which assesses the environmental, social and economic impacts of a range of policy options, thereby incorporating sustainability into the drafting of EU policies. The impact reports formatted by the Commission also include the impacts on SMEs and on European competitiveness and a detailed description of the consultation strategy and the results achieved [15].

2. Complex, public-interest processes that make democracy more transparent

In a parliamentary context, impact studies designed as ex-ante assessments of legislation satisfy, firstly, an ambition to overhaul policy practices, secondly, an open government challenge to make public debate more transparent, and, thirdly, a desire for efficiency in the transformation of public and collective action, since assessment means better action. Generating knowledge on the objectives, the context, the resources, the expected results and the effects of the proposed policies means giving both parliamentarians and citizens the means to assess the consequences of the recommended measures. It also means supporting public decision-making by plainly revealing the budgetary impacts of the decisions policymakers want to make. These advantages are undoubtedly ways to revitalise our democracies [16].

Used for prior assessment of legislation, impact assessment aims to analyse all the behaviors and situations that present a direct or indirect causal link with the legislation being examined, to identify the unforeseen effects, the adverse effects [17]. It involves identifying the genuine changes expected in society which could be directly associated with the prescriptive (legislative or regulatory) measures implemented by the actors involved in the policy [18]. It is therefore understandable that questions relating to concerns such as the impact of technological choices on health or the extent to which the legislation is consistent with climate and sustainable development objectives are essential questions posed in impact studies [19].

Measuring the impact is therefore the key challenge of the assessment, but it is also the hardest issue to tackle from a methodological point of view [20]. As indicated in the Morel-L’Huissier-Petit report submitted to the French National Assembly in 2018, assessing the mobilisation of resources and the control of public expenditure when implementing legislation or a policy is the driving force for more effective public action which is able to innovate and evolve its management methods in order to adapt positively to the paradox of modern public action: how to do better with less, against a backdrop of cutting public expenditure, rising democratic demands and Public Service expectations, and accelerating economic and social trends [21]. This report also recommends expanding impact studies to cover tabled legislative proposals and substantial amendments in order to supplement the content, review the impact studies already accompanying the legislative proposals, develop robust impact and cost simulators and use them regularly, and, lastly, organise discussions within committees and at public hearings dedicated to assessing impact studies [22].

Concerning the low-carbon strategy, France’s High Council on Climate indicated, in December 2019, that, with regard to environmental and particularly climate assessment, the existing impact studies have not achieved their potential: they cover only a small portion of the legislation adopted (legislative proposals of parliamentary origin and amendments are not included), they are rarely used, and they are often incomplete [23].

However, these assessment works of the High Council on Climate are very interesting from a methodological perspective. When supplemented, impact prior analyses can be considered to follow a seven-stage process, guided by a compass as shown below.

Overall, it might be argued that the impact of a policy is all its effect on real-world conditions, including: 1. impact on the target situation or group, 2. impact on situations or groups other than the target (spill over effects), 3. impact on future as well as immediate conditions, 4. direct costs, in terms of resources devoted to the program, 5. indirect costs, including loss of opportunities to do other things. All the benefits and costs, both immediate and future, must be measured in both symbolic and tangible terms and be explained with concrete equivalences [24].

The main purpose of any ex-ante assessment is without doubt to clarify the political objectives from the outset, for example before voting on a law, and to help define or eliminate any incompatibilities within or between the general objectives and the operational objectives [25]. The fundamental problem seems to be that the impacts of changes brought about by public policies are often minor, or even marginal, compared with those caused by external social and economic developments. It then becomes hard to get the message across [26]. That is why demonstrating a significant public policy impact often means having to deal with a major programme, or series of programmes. The measures must be properly conceived, properly financed and made sustainable over time [27]. These measures can be discussed with stakeholders or even with citizens, as was the case with the measures in the independence insurance bill debated at the citizens’ panel on ageing, organised by the Parliament of Wallonia in 2017 and 2018 [28].

More than simply a judgment, impact assessment is a learning approach whereby lessons can be learned from the policy or action being assessed, and the content improved as a result. Any assessment requires collaboration and dialogue between its key participants, namely the representatives, assessors, beneficiaries of the policies, programmes, projects or functions, and stakeholders, in other words the individuals or bodies that have an interest in both the policy or programme being assessed and the results of the assessment. Assessment in this sense is merely a process in which the actors themselves adopt the thinking on the practices and the results of the subject being assessed [29]. The methods may be many and varied, but the key points are probably the ethics of the assessment and some essential quality criteria: a high-quality model, a large amount of robust data, meeting expectations, and genuine consideration of the common good [30].

 3. Interests and obstacles for a strategic intelligence tool

Impact prior analysis is one of the strategic policy intelligence tools promoted by the European Commission. It also respects the following principles:

principle of participation: foresight, evaluation or Technology Assessment exercises take care of the diversity of perspectives of actors in order not to maintain one unequivocal ‘truth’ about a given innovation policy theme;

principle of objectivisation: strategic intelligence supports more ‘objective’ formulation of diverging perceptions by offering appropriate indicators, analyses and information processing mechanism;

principle of mediation and alignment: strategic intelligence facilitates mutual learning about the perspectives of different actors and their backgrounds, which supports the finding of consensus;

principle of decision support: strategic intelligence processes facilitate political decisions and support their successful subsequent implementation  [31].

An impact assessment can therefore be broken down into traditional cost-benefit measures and measures relating to areas such as sustainable development, environment, technological innovation and social impact. The Sustainability Impact Assessment has been developed by the European Commission and includes a detailed analysis of the potential economic, social, human and environmental impacts of ongoing commercial negotiations. These assessments are an opportunity for stakeholders from the EU and the partner countries to share their points of view with the negotiators [32].

In recent decades, the literature on policy assessment has increased substantially and new methodologies have been developed to identify the causal effects of policies [33]. In addition, the openness approaches pursued by governments and parliaments are introducing democratic innovation aspects which need to be taken into account. Although the quality of the impact analysis methods, particularly environmental (air, water, ecological systems, socio-economic systems, etc.), has been improved and diversified considerably since the beginning of the 2000s, especially through the works of Christopher Wood [34] and Peter Morris and Riki Therivel [35], it must be acknowledged that, in practice, these processes are rarely applied and that, often, the public authorities prefer not to activate them. However, major clients such as the European Commission and the OECD are becoming increasingly demanding in this area in terms of assessment and climate/energy indicators. This is also a real opportunity to create closer links between impact assessments and public inquiries.

Beyond the technical sphere of civil servants and experts, many elected representatives tend to perceive policy impact prior analysis as an additional layer on top of the decision-making process – which generates a degree of indifference – rather than a beneficial layer which represents real added value for stakeholders.

We also know that, when taken to the extreme, impact assessment is a tool that can hinder or even prevent legislative and programme-based action. The Anglo-Saxons have an extreme vision of efficiency, even going as far as the concept – assumed – of a regulatory guillotine [36]. This fairly radical approach may involve two paths: one in which, faced with the proliferation of ex ante assessment procedures, the political system risks rigidity, the other in which, for fear of generating additional prescriptive complexity, the elected representatives avoid all legislative change. The OECD is interested in this aspect [37].

In this way, prior policy impact assessment could open a lively debate on legislative relevance. Something that is always healthy, particularly in parliamentary settings.


Philippe Destatte



[1] I would like to thank Sarah Bodart, analyst and economist at The Destree Institute’s Wallonia Policy Lab, for her advice and suggestions for finalising this paper.

[2] Katherine M. GEHL & Michaël E. PORTER, The Politics Industry, How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save our Democracy, p. 179, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press, 2020.

[3] Philippe ZITTOUN, La fabrique politique des politiques publiques, p. 146, Paris, Presses de Sciences-Po, 2013. – Charles E. LINDBLOM, The Policy-Making Process, Prentice-Hall, 1968.

[4] Abhijit BV. BANERJEE and Esther DUFLO, Économie utile pour des temps difficiles, p. 439-440, Paris, Seuil, 2020. – See also Esther DUFLO, Rachel GLENNESTER and Michael KREMER, Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit in T. Paul SCHULZ and John STRAUSS ed., Handbook of Development Economics, vol. 4, p. 3895–3962, Amsterdam, North-Holland, 2008.

[5] Lawrence B. MOHR, Impact Analysis for Program Evaluation, p. 2-3, Chicago, The Dorsey Press, 1988.

[6] Shahidur R. KHANDKER, Gayatri B. KOOLWAL, Hussain A. SAMAD, Handbook on Impact Evaluation: Quantitative Methods and Practices, p. 19-20, Washington, World Bank, 2010.

[7] The OECD defines impact as the positive or negative, primary and secondary long-term effects produced by an intervention, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended.  Niels DABELSTEIN dir., Glossaire des principaux termes relatifs à l’évaluation et à la gestion axées sur les résultats, p. 22, Paris, OECD, 2002.

See also the EVALSED glossary: Nick BOZEAT (GHK) & Elliot STERN (Tavistock Institute) dir., EVALSED, The Resource for the Evaluation of Socio Economic Development, Sept. 2013: Impact: The change that can be credibly attributed to an intervention. Same as “effect” of intervention or “contribution to change”. – A consequence affecting direct beneficiaries following the end of their participation in an intervention or after the completion of public facilities, or else an indirect consequence affecting other beneficiaries who may be winners or losers. Certain impacts (specific impacts) can be observed among direct beneficiaries after a few months and others only in the longer term (e.g. the monitoring of assisted firms). In the field of development support, these longer-term impacts are usually referred to as sustainable results. Some impacts appear indirectly (e.g. turnover generated for the suppliers of assisted firms). Others can be observed at the macro-economic or macro-social level (e.g. improvement of the image of the assisted region); these are global impacts. Evaluation is frequently used to examine one or more intermediate impacts, between specific and global impacts. Impacts may be positive or negative, expected or unexpected. – Philippe DESTATTE, Evaluation of Foresight: how to take long-term impact into consideration? For-learn Mutual Learning Workshop, Evaluation of Foresight, Seville, IPTS-DG RTD, December 13-14, 2007. – Gustavo FAHRENKROG e.a., RTD Evaluation Tool Box: Assessing the Socio-economic Impact of RTD Policies. IPTS Technical Report Series. Seville, 2002.

[8] Better Regulation, Interinstitutional agreement between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, Brussels, 13 April 2016.

[9] Better Regulation Guidelines, Commission Staff Working Document, p. 5sv, 7 July 2017 (SWD (2017) 350.

[10] Application means the daily application of the requirements of the legislation after it has entered into force. EU regulations are applicable from their effective date, while rules set out in EU directives will apply only from the effective date of the national legislation that transposes the EU directive into national law. Application covers transposition and implementation. Better Regulation Guidelines…, p. 88.

[11] For example: Saul PLEETER ed., Economic Impact Analysis: Methodology and Application, Boston – The Hague – London, Martinus Nijhoff, 1980.

[12] Better regulation guidelines, p. 89, Brussels, EC, 2017.

[13] Ibidem.

[14] Szvetlana ACS, Nicole OSTLAENDER, Giulia LISTORTI, Jiri HRADEC, Matthew HARDY, Paul SMITS, Leen HORDIJK, Modelling for EU Policy support: Impact Assessments, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, 2019.

[15] Better Regulation Guidelines…, p. 13.

[16] Pierre MOREL-L’HUISSIER and Valérie PETIT, Rapport d’information par le Comité d’Évaluation et de Contrôle des politiques publiques sur l’évaluation des dispositifs d’évaluation des politiques publiques, p. 7-24,  Paris, National Assembly, 15 March 2018.

[17] Geneviève CEREXHE, L’évaluation des lois, in Christian DE VISSCHER and Frédéric VARONE ed., Évaluer les politiques publiques, Regards croisés sur la Belgique, p. 117, Louvain-la-Neuve, Bruylant-Academia, 2001.

[18] In simple terms, a successful impact assessment aims to establish the situation that society would have experienced in the absence of the policy being assessed. By comparing this fictional, also called counterfactual, situation to the situation actually observed, a causal relationship can be deduced between the public intervention and an indicator deemed relevant (health, employment, education, etc.). Rozenn DESPLATZ and Marc FERRACCI, Comment évaluer les politiques publiques ? Un guide à l’usage des décideurs et praticiens, p. 5, Paris, France Stratégie, September 2016.

Cliquer pour accéder à guide_methodologique_20160906web.pdf

See also: Stéphane PAUL, Hélène MILET and Elise CROVELLA, L’évaluation des politiques publiques, Comprendre et pratiquer, Paris, Presses de l’EHESP, 2016.

[19] This extension can also be found in the AFIGESE definition: Impact: social, economic and environmental consequence(s) attributable to a public intervention. Marie-Claude MALHOMME e.a., Glossaire de l’Évaluation, p. 77, Paris, AFIGESE- Caisse d’Épargne, 2000.

[20] Jean-Pierre BATTERTI, Marianne BONDAZ and Martine MARIGEAUD e.a., Cadrage méthodologique de l’évaluation des politiques publiques partenariales : guide, Inspection générale de l’Administration, Inspection générale des Finances, Inspection générale des Affaires sociales, December 2012

[21] Pierre MOREL-L’HUISSIER and Valérie PETIT, Rapport d’information

[22] Pierre MOREL-L’HUISSIER and Valérie PETIT, Rapport d’information... p.11-13

[23] Where there is evidence that some provisions of a law have a potentially significant effect on the low-carbon trajectory, whether positive or negative, the text initiator decides to steer the text towards a detailed impact study relating to the national low-carbon strategy (SNBC). This detailed study is the subject of a detailed public opinion on its quality, produced by an independent authority with the capacity to do so. This process must be concluded before the legal text is tabled in Parliament. It is suggested that Parliament should expand detailed impact studies relating to the low-carbon strategy to cover legislative proposals. Évaluer les lois en cohérence avec les ambitions, p. 5-6, Paris, High Council on Climate, December 2019.

[24] Thomas R. DYE, Understanding Public Policy, p. 313, Upper Saddle River (New Jersey), Prentice Hall, 2002. The impact of a policy is all its effect on real-world conditions, including : impact on the target situation or group, impact on situations or groups other than the target (spillover effects), impact on future as well as immediate conditions, direct costs, in terms of resources devoted to the program, indirect costs, including loss of opportunities to do other things. All the benefits and costs, both immediate and future, must be measured in both symbolic and tangible effects. – See also: Shahidur R. KHANDKER, S.R., Gayatri B. KOOLWAL, & Hussain A. SAMAD, Handbook on Impact Evaluation, Quantitative methods and practices, Washington D.C, World Bank, 2010.

[25] Paul CAIRNEY, Understanding Public Policy, Theories and Issues, p. 39, London, Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012.

[26] Karel VAN DEN BOSCH & Bea CANTILLON, Policy Impact, in Michaël MORAN, Martin REIN & Robert E. GOODIN, The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, p. 296-318, p. 314, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

[27] Th. R. DYE, op. cit., p. 315.

[28] Ph. DESTATTE, Que s’est-il passé au Parlement de Wallonie le 12 mai 201 ?7 Blog PhD2050, Namur, 17 June 2017,

[29] Philippe DESTATTE and Philippe DURANCE dir., Les mots-clefs de la prospective territoriale, p. 23-24, Paris, La Documentation française, 2009.

Cliquer pour accéder à philippe-destatte_philippe-durance_mots-cles_prospective_documentation-francaise_2008.pdf

[30] Jean-Claude BARBIER, A propos de trois critères de qualité des évaluations: le modèle, la réponse aux attentes, l’intérêt général, dans Ph. DESTATTE, Évaluation, prospective, développement régional, p. 71sv, Charleroi, Institut Destrée, 2001.

[31] Alexander TÜBKE, Ken DUCATEL, James P. GAVIGAN, Pietro MONCADA-PATERNO-CASTELLO ed., Strategic Policy Intelligence: Current Trends, the State of the Play and perspectives, S&T Intelligence for Policy-Making Processes, IPTS, Seville, Dec. 2001.

[32] Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA)

[33] Massimo LOI and Margarida RODRIGUES, A note on the impact evaluation of public policies: the counterfactual analysis, JRC Scientific & Policy Report, Brussels, European Commission, Joint Research Center, 2012. (Report EU 25519 EN).

[34] Christopher WOOD, Environmental Impact Assessment, A Comparative Review, Harlow, Pearson Education, 2003. (1st ed. 1993).

[35] Peter MORRIS & Riki THERIVEL, Methods of Environmental Impact Assessment, London – New York, Spon Press, 2001.

[36] Thanks to Michaël Van Cutsem for this remark.

[37] La réforme de la réglementation dans les pays du Moyen-Orient et d’Afrique du Nord, Paris, OCDE, 2013.