This year, the European University Institute aptly titled their 2023 State of the Union Conference “Building Europe in Times of Uncertainty.” In speeches, panel discussions and presentations, the sources of this present uncertainty—including artificial intelligence, climate change and war—were discussed by a range of experts, from academics to representatives from the European Commission, European Parliament and national governments of EU member states. This year, there was a strong focus on geopolitics. Expectations for a geopolitical EU strategy are colliding with a reality shaped by force and power. “Europeans have to learn to use the language of power,” argued High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borell Fontelles in the day-two opening session.

In one example, Europe seeks strategic autonomy to reduce dependence on autocracies like Russia and China. One problem, argued Helen Thompson of Cambridge University in one panel discussion, is to speak of “strategic autonomy” at all, which is today so irrevocably tied to energy production that it is an impossible goal for Europe.

Europe, she noted, has not been autonomous in energy production since the beginning of the oil era, and the massive demand for critical raw materials to supply green energy technologies will make the continent dependent on raw material imports from outside Europe for the foreseeable future.

Aside from green energy, the EU also relies on imports for digital technologies. In one example, China’s tensions with Taiwan and the potential for war between the two create uncertainty over the supply of Taiwanese semiconductors.

Jan Mishke, Partner at the McKinsey Global Institute, explained that one way to help is to make semiconductors in the EU. But he warned, “Current estimates are Europe will have €40 billion of investments in semiconductors, the US €240 billion and South Korea €300 billion—are we playing to win?”

The same question could be posed in relation to many topics, from funding the green transition to taking a stronger role in international security. Is Europe playing along—or playing to win? This question must, however, be balanced with the EU’s need to stand by its principles when competing on the global stage and collaborating with partners abroad, from Washington, DC, to Beijing.

Winning cannot, of course, come at any cost.

Twin Transition for all, not some

This is particularly evident in the green transition. On the first day of the conference, the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s partner panel, Technological capabilities for the twin transition: Linking European regions for cohesion, took place with:

Pierre-Alexandre Balland, Professor, Utrecht University, and Artificial and Natural Intelligence Toulouse Institute

Anna Sobczak, Policy Coordinator DG ENER, European Commission, and EU Fellow, Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies, EUI

Katharina Gnath, Senior Project Manager, Europe’s Future, Bertelsmann Stiftung

Moderator: Alessandro Merli, Associate Fellow, SAIS Europe

To open the discussion, the results of the new study, “Technological capabilities and the twin transition in Europe: Opportunities for regional collaboration and economic cohesion”, were presented by study co-author Pierre-Alexandre Balland.

A major challenge for the twin transition in the EU is the threat of regions drifting economically farther apart, he explained. Wealthy, innovative regions are well positioned to thrive during the twin transition, while poorer regions lack the tools to create and leverage new technologies for economic benefits.

However, while Europe’s wealthiest regions develop the most new green and digital technologies, some other regions are “hidden champions” in certain technologies as well.

To develop new technologies, it is important that regions of different development levels and innovation potential collaborate. Many regions already work together to create new technologies—in fact, about half of new twin transition technologies developed between 2017 and 2021 were the product of interregional collaboration—but there is a strong national bias in the choice of partner region. The study determined that there is great potential for regions to collaborate with other regions across national borders.

Balland explained how the study came to this conclusion. The authors evaluated the complementarity in twin transition technological profiles between European regions. If regions develop technologies that are related, like battery technology and electric vehicles, they could benefit from more collaboration between their businesses and research centers.

This complementarity, Balland explained, is key to unlocking the untapped potential for interregional collaboration to boost the development of twin transition technologies and foster economic convergence.

In the panel discussion, Anna Sobczak introduced the “Medici Effect” to highlight the importance of the study’s results. The idea, from a 2004 book by American author Frans Johansson, is that innovation is born from the intersection of cultures, industries, and academia. “I see a lot of untapped potential for us, as policymakers, to use”, she continued, “And it’s not only for regional policy but also for innovation policy, industrial policy, for climate and for energy, employment—you name it.”

The study presents some good news for regions without significant innovation potential. Katharina Gnath explained, “You don’t necessarily need to, as a lagging-behind region, go it totally alone. You can also try to find other regions in your area but also across borders which have complementary technologies and basically team up and then develop further technologies.” But, Gnath emphasized, there is much work to be done, especially in developing region-focused solutions.

For more information about the study, the Europe’s Economy project also offers a digital and interactive version of the study using “scrollytelling”. This innovative narrative format explains the study to users through linear scrolling while inviting them to independently explore the data from the study.

This allows users to interactively experience the results and look deeper into regions in which they are interested. For example, users can view the technology profiles of their regions or discover ideal potential partner regions.

You can find our scrollytelling of the study here on the GED blog page.

Download the study here

About the author

Nathan Crist is Project Manager in the Europe’s Future Program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, working on the Europe’s Economy Project.

Read more about Cohesion Policy and the Twin Transition 

Download the study here.

Read more about Cohesion Policy and the Twin Transition 

Digital and Green Transition Threatens to Widen the Gap between EU Regions (

Cohesion Policy’s Blind Spot: Strong Regional Institutions are Crucial to Implementing Effective Growth Strategies on the Ground – Global & European Dynamics (

3 Times EU Cohesion Policy Has Been Used to Address Recent Crises – Global & European Dynamics (

Upward Convergence? The History of EU Cohesion – Global & European Dynamics (

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