The State of the Union (SOU) is an annual summit for high level reflection on the European Union which acts as a bridge between academia and policy making at the highest level in Europe. Each year the city of Florence becomes a hub of debate as experts of great institutional and academic relevance, business and opinion leaders, NGOs, think-tanks, journalists and representatives of civil society gather to discuss and debate the key challenges and opportunities facing Europe and Europeans. Each year’s edition is unique in its focus as panels and keynote speeches respond to the circumstances of a changing Europe and a changing world.
The success of SOU is based on five key elements: high-level participation and discussion, stunning locations in Florence, excellent networking opportunities, prominent media coverage and consistent timing. The conference falls annually around 9 May, the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, making Florence the centre of Europe on Europe day and an annual fixture in the European calendar.
Climate, migration, surveillance and freedom, the role of Europe in a globalised world, the Eurozone crisis, gender, European institutions and democratic governance, European citizenship, solidarity and 21st-century democracy are just some the biggest questions of the past decade that SOU has addressed. Panels are led by EUI academics who are specialists in their fields, and the overarching theme and topics for each year are chosen by the annually changing Scientific Committee on the basis of the most current, relevant issues concerning not only the Union but crucially its citizens too. In an age of post-fact politics, SOU strives to bring scientific expertise on divisive issues to an ever-wider public.
By putting its research excellence and scientific and organisational resources at the disposal of the European community as a tool to improve the life of European and international citizens, the European University Institute seeks to influence the international debate around the themes covered during the conference and have a positive and relevant impact on the development of governmental and transnational policies.
Explore past editions of The State of the Union:
Europe in a Changing World
On 6 and 7 May 2021 The State of the Union, the EUI’s annual summit for high-level reflection on the European Union, celebrated its tenth anniversary. The event took place in hybrid form at the Badia Fiesolana in the Florentine hills with selected sessions happening on stage in the EUI’s production studio. This year’s theme Europe in a Changing World fostered high-level debate, discussion and audience engagement on eight key topics: artificial intelligence, climate, geopolitics, the global economy, multilateralism, peace and human rights, public health and strategic autonomy.
With 161 speakers, 44 sessions, 45 recording hours, 8 overarching topics and 3 parallel streams, this year’s hybrid edition was a daring feat into the unknown! Over 10,000 people around the world participated in the online audience via the live stream and shared their opinions and questions during the sessions. #SOU2021 was supported by 24 local and international partners whose collaboration was instrumental in its success.
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Europe Managing the COVID-19 Crisis
The special edition of SOU took place in unprecedented times, during the COVID-19 pandemic, which in just a short time drastically changed the lives of billions of people around the world. The entirely online event was designed around the conference theme “Europe: Managing the COVID-19 Crisis” and fostered reflection on three key policy areas profoundly impacted by the pandemic: public health, the economy and global cooperation. The event hosted 23 high-level speakers and included Giuseppe Conte, Paolo Gentiloni, Kristalina Georgieva, Roula Khalaf, Christine Lagarde, Charles Michel, Mari E. Pangestu, Jeffrey Sachs and Alexander Stubb. Over 550 experts, of which 44.1% were women, participated in the specialised audience of the interactive panel debates, while over 9000 people around the world live-streamed the conference throughout the day. The scientific content of the conference was supported by an exclusive first look at YouGov international public opinion surveys on topics relating to the impact on the pandemic on various social issues. The EUI also created a podcast series containing key take-away points from the panel debates.
21st Century Democracy in Europe
With the European elections just weeks away from the conference, “21st-Century Democracy in Europe” was the theme chosen for the 2019 edition. 16 panels and 87 speakers, of which 33% were women, debated and discussed the challenges of democracy in areas such as the European elections, the rule of law, disinformation and fake news, reflections on the democratic transition in Eastern Europe; the democratic legitimacy of immigration policies, intergenerational inequalities, trust in the single market, democratising the EU’s external action and Global Governance trends to 2030. The highlight of the conference was the debate amongst the then Spitzenkandidaten, Ska Keller, Frans Timmermans, Guy Verhofstadt, and Manfred Weber, for the position of European Commission President. The debate was live streamed and watched over 12,000 times and articles written by the Financial Times alone received 40,000 views. Notable speakers included Klaus Iohannis, Giuseppe Conte, Vĕra Jourová, Cecilia Malmström, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Riina Sikkut, Anna Paula Zacarias, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Hans Dahlgren.
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Solidarity in Europe
With the European elections just weeks away from the conference, “21st-2018’s edition, built around the theme of“Solidarity in Europe”, saw 825 participants register for 10th May and 696 attend 11th May. 60% of those who attended were male, 39% female and 1% preferred not to say. The conference was comprised of 14 sessions which dealt with the theme of European solidarity across a range of topics including European economic, monetary and fiscal policies, social investment, strategies of EU defence and security, migration, climate change and energy programmes. The event hosted 74 speakers, including Sergio Mattarella, Michael D. Higgins, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Corina Crețu, Antonio Tajani, Jean-Claude Juncker, Prokopios Pavlopoulos, Federica Mogherini, Mario Draghi, Paolo Gentiloni, Simona Bonafè, Maria João Rodrigues and Monica Scatasta and women accounted for 32% of speakers. This year saw the development of the Fringe Events programme which was established as part of the EUI’s commitment to diversify conference participants and create new synergies between the Institute and the local political environment. 700 participants attended 10 side events organised by partners and EUI departments which included pertinent topics such as “What Future for Cohesion Policy after 2020?”, “A Citizens’ Dialogue’ Measures to Contrast Poverty – Comparative European Experiences” and “Equity and Solidarity in the EU Emissions Trading System: Any Lessons for International Climate Governance?” The State of the Union also entered into a partnership with YouGov which polled European citizens in 11 countries to discover what Europeans thought about solidarity in Europe. The results were analysed and summarised in a policy brief which was published and distributed at the conference..
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With forces such as Brexit, rising populism and the global refugee emergency impinging on Europe’s future, 2017’s edition of The State of the Union focussed on the meaning of European citizenship in the 21st century under the theme “Building a People’s Europe.”It welcomed 1,400participants, 74 speakers and hosted 11 panels on topics including direct democracy, referenda and populism, free movement and social solidarity, the global refugee emergency, the economic and monetary integration of the EU, state secrecy and security in Europe. Key speakers included Antonio Tajani, Jean-Claude Junker, Michel Barnier, Federica Mogherini, Paolo Gentiloni, Kersti Kalijulaid, Werner Hoyer, Pietro Grasso, Vera Jourova and Ann Linde. This year’s special feature was the POLITICO Homepage Takeover, a two day “Homepage Takeover” which promoted The State of the Union and the Young Policy Leaders Programme. 2017 was impressive for press coverage with the publication of 119 international and 800 national articles, 19 video reportages which were broadcasted on national and local television and RAI’s live reportage from Palazzo Vecchio during the event. An estimated 6.58 million people viewed online coverage and coverage was shared 72.9K times.
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Feeding into a groundswell of global discussions about the position of women in societies around the world, the 2016 edition chose “Women in Europe and the World”as its theme, bringing a gendered perspective to an array of policy areas. 1,200 participants attended, coming from 49 different countries. The State of the Union countered the trend of female underrepresentation at high-level conferences with women’s voices making up 66% of the 92 speakers, the highest number of speakers in a single edition to date, and 62% of the Scientific Committee. Speakers included Maria Luís Albuquerque, Valerie Amos, Marta Cartabia, Sylvie Kauffmann, Roula Khalaf, Patricia Sellers, Elly Schlein, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem alongside the Presidents of the European Union, Joseph Muscat, Moncef Marzouki and Matteo Renzi. Speakers took to the stage across 16 panels to discuss a diverse range of topics including the role of women in conflict and peace-making, refugees, migration and citizenship, violence against women, employment and social affairs, gender equality and women’s empowerment and sexual and reproductive politics.
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The 2015 edition “Confronting the Future of Europe” witnessed a surge in participants as 1,700 guests from 39 different countries attended the conference and was defined by an increasingly global outlook. The programme was composed of 13 panels and 82 speakers including Paolo Gentiloni, Sandro Gozi, Federica Mogherini, Pedro Passos Coelho and Matteo Renzi. Topics discussed included the need to define a new narrative or Schuman Declaration for Europe, Europe’s role in peacekeeping and stabilization, cybersecurity, surveillance and freedom in Europe and the EU’s role in the world from the perspective of the United States, China, Russia, India, and the Middle East. 2015 cemented the format of The State of the Union composed of 2 or more days of conference followed by an Open Day at Villa Salviati organised with the Historical Archives of the European Union, housed at the EUI. This first edition of the Open Day welcomed 1,600 local residents to experience the stunning architecture and gardens of Villa Salviati and the European project and its cultural and historical heritage first-hand through participation in guided tours, circus activities, tastings, dances and concerts. The array of activities on offer at the Open Day has grown substantially to reflect rising participation over the years: 2,800 in 2016, 2,100 in 2017, 4,000 in 2018 and 4,900 in 2019.
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2014’s edition centred around the theme “The Future of the Social and Political Model for Europe and the upcoming European Elections.” The conference took place at Palazzo Vecchio in the heart of Florence and for the first of many years to come, at the Badia Fiesolana, the hub of the EUI in nearby Fiesole. This edition recorded 1000 participants, 7 panels and 44 speakers who included Federica Mogherini, Mario Monti, Matteo Renzi, George Soros, Romano Prodi and Karel De Gucht. Topics included the foreseeable migration challenges for the next ten years, the ethics of the European higher education model, collective memory, the shift towards mega-regional trade agreements and the potential for a new Cold War after Ukraine’s revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The event also promoted awareness about the activity of the European Union as RAI News 24 televised the live Spitzenkandidaten debate. José Bove, Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz and Guy Verhofstadt faced each other for a unique debate in the contest for the Presidency of the European Commission. In line with the upcoming European elections and continuing the conference’s commitment to citizenship, SOU also promoted Euandi, an online voting advice application. The app enabled potential voters to identify the European parties most representative of their preferences, and, with the use of social media technology, allowed them to locate themselves within a virtual European political community.
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In 2013 The State of the Union widened its analysis of the present and future prospects of the European Union and sought to integrate the opinions of European citizens with institutional perspectives. Topics focussed on institutions and democratic governance, migration and citizenship, and panels and audiences reported higher participation levels of NGOs, think-tanks and civil society organisations. 500 people from 36 countries attended the event and high-level speakers included Martin Schulz, Giorgio Napolitano, José Manuel Barroso, Emma Bonino, Laura Boldrini, Cécile Kashetu Kyenge, Helga Nowotny and Alain Frachon.The focus on citizenship echoed the EU’s 2013 initiative, the European Year of Citizens, and paved the way for future collaborations with the EU such as the live televised Spitzenkandidaten debates between candidates running for the European Commission Presidency in 2014 and 2019. This was the first year that an official Scientific Committee, composed of influential experts and academics from within the EUI community, was established. Now an integral feature of each edition, an annually changing Committee designs the content of each conference, invites speakers and ensures the discussions are engaging and accessible to all.
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The success of the first edition in 2011 highlighted the potential of the conference’s focus, reach and format and led to the EUI’s decision to bring the event in-house. With this step the EUI shifted the focus of the conference away from ‘the local’ towards ‘the transnational’, thus transforming the scope, size and ambition of the event. Underpinning the new mission was a commitment to contribute to the analysis of the European Union’s current situation and debate EU policies and the functioning of EU institutions. This second edition hosted 1000 participants, 3 panels and 61 speakers including Mario Monti, José Manuel Barroso, Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires and Javier Solana. Panels were deeply topical and discussed the challenges of globalisation, Europe’s role as a global actor, economic governance and EU energy policy at the time of the global recession and the European sovereign debt crisis.
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First established in 2011 to increase the media visibility and international resonance of European University Institute’s research excellence, The State of the Union originally took place as part of the Festival d’Europa. This annual festival was set up to enhance the European dimension of Florence as a new value and purpose for the city and increase local awareness of the European Union. This inaugural edition, held in the impressive Salone di Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio in the heart of Florence featured 1000 participants, 4 panels and 32 speakers, including Jerzy Buzek, José Manuel Barroso, Androulla Vassiliou and Ivo Josipović. Speakers discussed the key political and economic issues facing the EU including the reforms of the Lisbon Treaty and growth, employment and financial stability in the wake of the global financial crisis.
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