In our modern and globally interconnected world, it is clear that no country can work towards resilience in splendid isolation. Developing resilience strategies means building reliable alliances with others, based on a profound understanding of the limits of our planet.

As a supranational organization, using its right to propose European legislation, the European Commission is uniquely positioned to significantly improve resilience in the EU Member States by engaging collaboration and solidarity mechanisms across all policy domains.

This was the main finding of the workshop ‘Thinking the Impossible’ hosted by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in May 2014. Stakeholders from academia, NGOs and industry came together to discuss resilience issues and to consider predictions of possible societal collapse.

The workshop participants discussed the interactions between environmental challenges, limits on natural resources, instabilities in the economy and financial markets, and challenges to social cohesion. The approach of most economic actors at present is that of maximizing short-term profit and leaving ‘others’ – whoever they are – to manage the risks. To change this approach will require a step-change in the collaboration between governments, industry, and NGOs.

Several prominent voices have raised similar opinions in the recent past. Their concerns are being acknowledged more and more, recognizing that there are major challenges ahead and that the time to address them is short.

The regulatory framework in which businesses operate is a key factor for a successful future. The European Commission’s Better Regulation initiative and its objective “to deliver EU policies and laws, which bring the greatest benefits to people and businesses in the most effective way”, should consider resilience as one of its elements. This would create a regulatory framework targeted at solidarity and collaboration in all policy domains, providing significant added value for the EU Member States.

But the governmental approach alone will not be sufficient. A collaboration between the private sector, public services, and NGOs is required, as presented in our workshop ‘Global Resilience – Trilateral Collaboration’ in January 2015, with participants from the European Commission, national government, the corporate sector (including energy, chemicals, financial, public relations and business assurance) and NGOs, (including The Transition Network, the European Climate Foundation, the Fraunhofer Society, the Global Risk Forum and the Institute for Integrated Economic Research private-sector work on resilience was also presented and discussed on this occasion.

The goal of close collaboration across different stakeholder communities is achievable, given inspiring leadership. The successful collaboration in the period around 2003-2009 between government, business, and civil society, focusing on sustainable mobility, is an example, which led to fuel efficiency improvements well beyond those expected. The regulations implementing these improvements have had a major global impact since they have become an important point of reference for countries outside the EU.

To significantly enhance resilience in the light of global systemic risks, it is necessary to build on the initiatives mentioned above and develop a step-change in trilateral collaboration. Concrete next steps must be embedded into an institutional setting and should include:

• Selection of change agents/champions in government, the corporate sector and civil society

• Cooperating with these change agents to engage their organizations and their respective sectors in the analysis of resilience

• Development of an in-depth understanding of what lifestyle changes are needed, including decarbonization and relocalization, and of how to ensure they happen

• Assessing the potential of the internet, social media, etc. to initiate global change and to enhance the convergence of social and technological innovation, whilst involving both the public and
private sector

• Developing senior leaders’ understanding of resilience analysis. An example could be taken from the military sector, which uses immersive scenarios, in combination with a ‘war-gaming’ approach, to effectively address complex challenges.

Concerted efforts are required, and the ideal starting point for a resilient and competitive future for Europe could be the new European Commission’s focus on Better Regulation.

In the eyes of the author, the European Commission should take the lead.