From 23-24 May, the 14th edition of The State of The Union conference, organised by the European University Institute (EUI), took place in Florence. The Bertelsmann Stiftung was again involved as a partner organisation and the Europe’s Future programme presented several events.

The renowned conference brought together top European politicians, decision-makers, business leaders and researchers to discuss the EU’s current and future challenges in interdisciplinary panel discussions. Key topics included EU enlargement, demographics, democracy, rule of law, industrial policy and the digital and green transformation.

Sustainability was a central focus, with discussions on the green energy transition, regional cohesion and climate change. Other topics included strengthening democracy, countering foreign interference and addressing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Renewable Energy and Regional Cohesion

Following the first day’s opening discussion, the Bertelsmann Stiftung was involved in two parallel events. Under the title “How can the green energy transition succeed without harming regional cohesion in Europe?”, the findings of our study “Energising EU Cohesion” were presented by Thomas Schwab (Senior Expert Europe’s Economy, Bertelsmann Stiftung) at the Badia Fiesolana.

This study shows that less developed rural regions of the EU could significantly gain in economic prosperity through a shift to renewable energies, while urban areas, generally considered the winners of the transformation, could suffer setbacks due to high energy needs.

state of the union 2024 panel

After the presentation, the discussion highlighted the implications of these findings for policymakers, businesses and citizens. Panel participants included Catherine Fieschi (Robert Schuman Center, EUI) and Anna Sobczak (Directorate-General for Energy, European Commission). Demographics and the labour market were key discussion points. Without sufficiently trained and motivated workers, neither the green transformation nor cohesion will succeed.

Watch the recording of the event here.

European Competitiveness in the Single Market

Just down the hall in the Refettorio, an important discussion on the future of the competitiveness of the EU internal market took place. Moderated by Waltraud Schelkle (EUI), panelists included Daniela Schwarzer (Executive Board Member, Bertelsmann Stiftung), former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta (Jacques Delors Institute), who recently published a highly regarded report on the European internal market’s reform needs, as well as Jan Mischke (McKinsey Global Institute), Markus Reinisch (Meta) and Laurence Tubiana (European Climate Foundation).

state of the union 2024 conference

The panelists discussed the emergence of a new EU industrial policy and the balance between protection and protectionism in the context of internal market reform. The green transformation was considered a test case for this new strategy, with a call for sustainable products and production methods to be promoted.

Watch the recording of the event here.

Reconstruction of Ukraine

The third Bertelsmann Stiftung event was a discussion on the reconstruction of Ukraine and the challenges in light of the ongoing war. Moderated by Simone Tholens (EUI), Goran Buldioski (Open Society Foundations), Aida Hozić (University of Florida), Anna Jarosz-Friis (Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement, European Commission) and Miriam Kosmehl (Senior Expert, Eastern Europe and EU Neighborhood, Bertelsmann Stiftung) discussed what measures need to be taken now to maintain Ukraine’s resilience and improve the chances for reconstruction under the principle of “build back better.”

state of the union 2024 conference

The speakers highlighted the Ukraine Peace Facility and the necessary steps for deeper integration of Ukraine into the EU, as well as adequate responses to the challenges for Europe’s security revealed by the ongoing and extensive war.

Watch the recording of the event here.

European Elections Just Ahead

The State of The Union conference brought together a diverse group of experts to address some of the most pressing issues facing Europe today. From green energy transitions and regional cohesion to internal market competitiveness and the reconstruction of Ukraine, the discussions underscored the need for coordinated, innovative approaches to ensure a prosperous and secure future for the EU.

As Europe looks ahead to the 9 June European Parliament elections, these conversations provide valuable insights that will undoubtedly influence the future EU legislative agenda.

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 the topics presented at the conference

Growing Pains: EU Enlargement Must Not Endanger the Rule of Law and Capacity to Act (

Energising EU Cohesion: The Renewable Energy Transition Powers Up Lagging Regions  (

Eastern Recovery: Rebuilding the Future of Ukraine (