A Brief History of Political Anticipation: From a Man’s Talent to a Method
Franck Biancheri’s history is the
materia prima in which to dig in order to understand the very precise circumstances in which a man happened to produce correct anticipations and invented a method to deal with the future as a European citizen. A Very Citizen Education: French Republican Schools and Sciences-Po Paris
Franck Biancheri was born in 1961. Raised by his two school-teacher parents, he grew up inside a primary school on the outskirt of Paris. He’s a pure product of French Republican citizen education… with a very functional brain as well. During his secondary education (his family moved to Nice for his
lycée years), Franck is excellent in both literature and science but the system is leading him toward engineering studies rather. However, at some point in his first years of higher education in hard sciences, he decides to branch out into political sciences and enrolls in Sciences Po Paris. From Citizenship to Politics, from France to Europe: EGEE I
It is in 1985 that the European history of Franck Biancheri, his networks and organizations started. It lasted until he passed away at the early age of 51 in 2012.
Franck certainly was ambitious. He was also very sociable. And he was extremely critical too. The three characteristics and others led him to constantly build groups in order to achieve the changes he identified as needed.
Europe appeared soon to him as a
terra incognita for citizen action and political innovation. Thus he had the idea of a Congress to gather an assembly of students from Paris, Leiden, London, Madrid, Milan, and Munich at the invite of five Paris Grandes Ecoles (Congress EGEE 1). The event created such momentum that the Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants Européens was launched right after and some months later a network of antennae throughout Europe was developing fast (today, AEGEE-Europe represents 13,000 students and 200 antennae Europe-wide). The aim was highly “political”: to overcome the paralysis of the European integration process at the time, by creating a space for young Europeans to discuss European matters and present their ideas to both the European and national institutions. The Adoption of the Erasmus Program: AEGEE-Europe
Anchored in a network, endowed with a vision,… then comes naturally a first historical feat. In 1987, Franck Biancheri through his European student network is informed about a project of European student mobility program (at the time, students were educated in their homeland or in the USA), which of course they are highly interested in. The program has been requested by national policy-makers and is being chiseled by the European Commission. But national Ministries of finance and education don’t want to hear about it and are quietly burying the idea in the midst of widespread indifference: hardly anyone knows anything about the project… but AEGEE-Europe. Becoming aware of the danger weighing over their darling project, Franck Biancheri launches an ambitious action to rescue the project: visiting capitals, meeting with ministers, prime ministers in Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, the UK, and France, they investigate on the reasons why the program is blocked in order to find the way to unblock it. They are finally been told that the French president is key. Hence they besiege the Elysée Palace, meeting President Mitterrand’s advisers. They succeed in obtaining a lunch at the Elysée Palace between Mitterrand and his advisers on one side of the table and Biancheri and his board of European students on the other. During this lunch, they manage to make Mitterrand aware that the program he has asked for is blocked and in the evening that same day, the French president makes a public statement during a TV interview asking for such an important program not to be blocked by petty budgetary concerns. Three weeks later the ERASMUS programme is adopted.
Proof is made that, in order to influence the European level, citizens need to organize themselves at a similar level (no national student association could have dreamt to reach such result). (Biancheri (
/2015)). 1996 The First Documented Anticipation: IDE and the Fall of Berlin Wall
In 1989, 3 years after the creation of AEGEE, out of months spent traveling, meeting, discussing… throughout the continent, Franck Biancheri has developed a tremendous understanding of Europe in all its dimensions: culture, geography, history, clichés on each other, dreams, fears, and so on. Anchored in this profound connection to the European social fabric and moved ahead by his project of “European democratization ,” the perspective he takes on the continent’s evolution is such that, along with a group of his student-friends, he drafts a complete political program and launches the first trans-European political party, Initiative pour une Démocratie Européenne (IDE). They will present lists based on one common program in three European countries (France, Spain, Netherlands), a feat until today unchallenged. In their programme is to be found this fifth point: “
an urgent need for the European Community to set up a “European policy” aimed at preparing for a return of the Eastern European countries in the following ten years.” The media, who are altogether interested in their approach, find it “sweet” that this bunch of European youth are naïve enough to envision a collapse of the Berlin Wall. We’re in May 1989… The Very First Theorising of Political Anticipation: “Community or Empire”
Three years later, in 1992, year of the Maastricht Treaty, in his unfinished book “Community or Empire,” here is how Franck analyses Europe’s lack of predictive capacity:
The inefficiency of the community action derives from two main causes: the absence of a capability to predict the future and the inadequacy of existing operational tools. The ability to predict is an essential component of any successful action, both at the individual and at the collective levels. The old saying “To govern is to foresee and not foreseeing is running toward ruin,” illustrates this very well. Above all, to govern is to foresee problems. Some problems have no practical solutions, except one: to prevent them from happening. Hence, the importance of anticipating them well in advance. But, the European Community has no prediction capability. Neither the Commission nor the Member States are in a position to anticipate any major event. With the capacity to predict, or anticipate, one must understand and foresee problems relating to the implementation of a policy or action and design measures to avoid them. Indeed, all forecasts disconnected from any means of action are as useful as those of Nostradamus; which is to say, solely for selling tabloids.
This excerpt is probably the first document stating clearly Biancheri’s striking future-orientation. Those who worked with him know that he was constantly projecting into the future both his vision of Europe (goal-orientation), and upcoming change and risks ahead (anticipation) on which he spent hours and pages providing rational arguments. The objective was always constructive: to describe and advocate for action to be taken (to adapt the boat to the climate ahead in order to avoid breaking).
Ten Years Whistleblowing: Prometheus-Europe
From 1989 to 1999, Biancheri headed Prometheus-Europe, a citizen organization working on the link between the European institution and the citizens, with a particular focus on the “programs” launched by the Commission in these years. Prometheus-Europe’s idea was that these programs were the most concrete manifestation of the institution’s will to connect to the citizens. However, these programs were run in a purely technocratic manner, and Biancheri and Prometheus-Europe decided to organize conferences gathering the potential beneficiaries (for instance professors from the EU) of these programs (for instance education programs) inviting them to discuss their criticisms and expectations with regards to the program. Based on these “consultations,” Prometheus-Europe advocated for program improvements with a view to better connecting to beneficiaries, better understanding their needs, and hence communicating a better image of the institutions.
The baseline idea of Biancheri was that the Maastricht Treaty had increased the European level’s budgets and fields of competence and that European governance had to be upgraded as a result, along three principles: transparency, efficiency, and democratization.
During 10 years, Biancheri and Prometheus-Europe struggled for these principles to be implemented by the European institutions and warned that in case they wouldn’t, the European commission would experiment a severe crisis.
When in 1999, the Santer Commission had to resign
en masse due to allegations of corruption, the event was understood by many in the institution as the realization of Biancheri’s warnings/predictions. From Risk-Warning to Future-Building: Europe 2020
Based on this recognition, Biancheri and his teams decided to launch a new project, aimed less at whistleblowing on risks and more at joining citizen and institutional forces to project a Europe 20 years ahead. The European independent think-tank was born in 1999 which spent 6 years on the reform of EU governance through a long series of “anticipation seminars” (EU Governance 2020, GlobalEurope, EU Neighborhood).
On the topic of EU governance, Europe 2020’s initiative directly inspired the creation of a Task Force on European governance at the request of the President of the Commission at that time, Romano Prodi. During more than a year, European civil servants participated in both Europe 2020’s anticipation seminars and this Task Force, culminating in a “Report from the Commission on European governance.”
The failure of this Task Force in triggering change (the report’s most interesting proposals were deleted by the Commission’s Secretariat General who imposed a publication in the middle of the summer vacation, in August) reminded Franck Biancheri that working with the institutions alone was not sufficient. While he continued to hold these high-level seminars, he doubled the effort toward citizens again, with three major transformative moves:
Turning the “anticipation seminars” into a book entitled “Vision 2020: Reinventing Europe 2005–2020”
Producing a short version of this book contents into “14 strategic proposals” and submitting these proposals to a democratic test via a “Democratic Marathon” (100 conferences in 100 EU cities in 1 year to discuss these proposals)
Launching the second experiment of the trans-European political party (Newropeans) based on the post-Marathon redrafted proposals (into 16 proposals) for the program and with a view to the 2009 European election.
In 2005, Franck Biancheri and his Europe 2020/Newropeans team anticipated the failure of the French and Dutch referenda on the Constitutional Treaty, they warned Michel Barnier, at the time French Minister of Foreign Affairs, during a top-level meeting with him at the Quai d’Orsay. They accompanied their warning with recommendations in terms of communication content, advocating for a critical look at past years of European construction in order to signal a strong will to move the project toward the citizens.
Not that Mr. Barnier didn’t agree on these analyses. But, like in 2003 with the failure of the White Book on European governance, Franck Biancheri and his team were faced to the difficulty of transforming rightful (just), argumented (rationally explained), legitimate (based on grassroot consultation), and connected (reaching decision-making levels) anticipations into political action. Years later, this problematic – collective capacity to adaptation based on an individual understanding of change – resulted in the article “
Political Anticipation and Networks: Creating Anticipatory Systems for Government and Society” (Caillol ( ), Springer). 2016 Producing Anticipations: Theorizing a Method: LEAP (Laboratoire européen d’Anticipation Politique)
In 2005, Franck Biancheri launches two major organizations:
As mentioned above, Newropeans is conceived as a second experiment of trans-European political party with a view to the 2009 European election and as a consequence of his recent conclusion that the European system would not adapt – hence going back to citizen energy: unfortunately, he fell ill two years later (i.e., two years before the election) and wasn’t able to conduct the renewed political attempt to any significant result; nevertheless, his remote control combined with motivated team enabled Newropeans to campaign in all EU languages, in three different member States (France, the Netherlands, and Germany), on a unique program based on the 16 proposals described above, with no institutional, media, or financial support whatsoever.
Laboratoire européen d’Anticipation Politique (LEAP), which comes as heir of Europe 2020, less dedicated to advising European and national institutions, and more to applying the now clearly identified (but still nonformulated) “method of political anticipation” and energizing the entire European civil society and beyond with the analyses, warnings, vision thus produced.
In this context, LEAP’s multilingual monthly electronic Confidential Letter, the GlobalEurope Anticipation Bulletin (GEAB), was born on January 15th, 2006. The second issue sends out a “
Global Systemic Crisis Alert: The End of the World as We Knew it,” probably the most famous of Franck Biancheri’s anticipations, as it has been estimated that more than a million people read it worldwide.
Interestingly, the public article describing the “Alert” went viral on the Internet because of the title’s sequence “end of the world.”
From 2006 to 2008, each month, the GEAB produced detailed descriptions of the US financial system’s unsustainability, envisioned combinations of trends and factors likely to trigger break-ups, and put in perspective the inevitability of the big trend at work: a global systemic crisis. Over that period, the subprime crisis in particular is anticipated in detail, for instance:
While these days big international players boast about the extraordinary health of international finances and about the record-profit margins made by hedge funds and private banks, the first mortgage lenders file for bankruptcy. Beyond the confidential OWNIT bankruptcy (#11 on a list of US largest subprime mortgage firms ) between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the entire US mortgage industry is directly or indirectly at risk. Indeed Ownit was apparently neither a marginal nor a suspect player. The list below of the top-ten subpime mortgage originators established by Crédit Suisse shows that big names such as Wells Fargo, HSBC Finance, Ameriquest or Option One run risks of bankruptcy or colossal losses at any time, just like Ownit, #11 on this list. But it is also the case of major investment banks, as shown by the bond rating agency Moody’s concern about Lehman Brothers’ subprime mortgage bonds. And it is of course also the case of many financial organisations of lesser international fame, as illustrated at the beginning of January 2007 by the closing of Mortgage Lenders USA’s main unit due to excessive losses on subprime mortgages. Ownit too started by freezing its processes and ended up filing for bankruptcy three months later. (The US financial system has already entered bankruptcy, GEAB, January 2007)
Over that period, the GEAB is worshiped by some and loathed by others, leaving none cold, but failing to be taken seriously by serious people until September 2008 and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.
Then the GEAB reached millions worldwide. Subscribers include financial advisers, members of Parliament, CEOs, small and big investors, intelligence agents, journalists, and pensioners from Europe, the US, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Its public announcements are spontaneously published on hundreds of blogs, translated in Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese…
If Franck Biancheri and his anticipations failed in averting the crisis itself, at least they helped thousands of people make the right individual moves in order to get ready for the tempest: from CEOs to pensioners, testimonies indeed later reached LEAP on highly relevant decisions having been made after reading the rationally argued anticipations of the GEAB.
In 2009, prior to the London G20, as always eager to influence top decision-making levels, LEAP invested in a full-page advertisement in the international edition of the Financial Times to publish an “
Open Letter to the Leaders of the G20
,” signed by Franck Biancheri, whistleblowing on the severe and systemic aspects of the crisis and suggesting three strategic recommendations among which the first one, a summary of LEAP’s understanding of the key-lever of crisis:
The key to solving the crisis lies in creating a new international reserve currency!
The first recommendation is a very simple idea: reform the international monetary system inherited post-WWII and create a new international reserve currency. The US Dollar and economy are no longer capable of supporting the current global economic, financial and monetary order. As long as this strategic problem is not directly addressed and solved, the crisis will grow. Indeed it is at the heart of the crises of derivative financial products, banks, energy prices… and of their consequences in terms of mass unemployment and collapsing living standards. It is therefore of vital importance that this issue should be the main subject of the G20 summit, and that the first steps towards a solution are initiated. In fact, the solution to this problem is well-known, it is about creating an international reserve currency (which could be called the “Global”) based on a basket of currencies corresponding to the world’s largest economies, i.e. US dollar, Euro, Yen, Yuan, Khaleeji (common currency of oil-producing Gulf states, to be launched in January 2010), Ruble, Real..., managed by a “World Monetary Institute” whose Board will reflect the respective weight of the economies whose currencies comprise the “Global.” You must ask the IMF and concerned central banks to prepare this plan for June 2009, with an implementation date of January 1st, 2010. This is the only way for you to regain some control over currently unwinding events, and this is the only way for you to bring about shared global management, based on a shared currency located at the centre of economic and financial activity. According to LEAP/E2020, if this alternative to the currently collapsing system has not been initiated by this summer 2009, proving that there is another solution than the “every man for himself” approach, today’s international system will not survive this summer
If some of the G20 states think that it is better to maintain the privileges related to the “status quo” as long as possible, they should meditate the fact that, if today they can still significantly influence the future shape of this new global monetary system, once the phase of global geopolitical dislocation has started they will lose any capacity to do so.
Interestingly, China simultaneously (March 2009) called for “
a new global currency to replace the dominant dollar, showing a growing assertiveness on revamping the world economy ahead of next week’s London summit on the financial crisis” (CBSNews, 25/03/2009). But its efforts were unwelcomed by Western powers. After a few years taking actions in this direction, China opted for its Yuan-internationalisation strategy alone instead.
It is in this context of extremely visible production of strong anticipations that the academic world’s attention was drawn. In 2008, a professor of history of the Sorbonne University, Edouard Husson, contacts LEAP to know more about the “Method of Political Anticipation.” Two years later, a three-session training course to political anticipation is launched in the framework of a partnership between LEAP and La Sorbonne. During these sessions, Franck Biancheri shared with the trainees his ideas on the conditions of production of anticipations. A
Manual of Political Anticipation (Caillol ( ), ed. Anticipolis) was published out of the notes taken during these sessions. Prof Mihai Nadin (Texas University, US) and Prof Roberto Poli (Trento University, Italy) both identified the 2010 Manual and connected to LEAP giving birth to publications and conference papers. The Method of Political Anticipation was academically born. Legacy: First Convincing Proofs of Franck Biancheri’s Talent’s Reproducibility (LEAP Academy)
On October 30th, 2012, Franck Biancheri passed away after 4 years of illness during which he focussed his energy coordinating and in fact writing LEAP’s confidential letter, the GEAB. This publication indeed gathered many strategic goals for Biancheri: limited energy investment, maximum visibility, transsectoral influence, field of experimentation of the method of political anticipation, and financial independence of the network.
Before passing away, Franck Biancheri asked his collaborators to carry on the GEAB after him. On November 15th, 2012, as if nothing had happened, the GEAB was released. It was time to prove that Franck Biancheri’s anticipatory talent could be replicated, and give grounds to the scientific nature of the Method of Political Anticipation.
A small team of people, therefore, gathered into a new editorial team:
Sylvain Perifel (chief editor), a computer scientist, who followed the first LEAP-Sorbonne training scheme to Political Anticipation and later actively contributed to Biancheri’s publication work (GEAB, Anticipolis publication)
Marie-Hélène Caillol (director of publication and editor), a sociologist, extensively involved in Franck Biancheri’s project since 1992
Marianne Ranke-Cormier (editor), a lawyer, extensively involved in Franck Biancheri’s project since 1989.
The exact composition of the team fluctuated between November 2012 and December 2016 (today), but Perifel and Caillol are central since the beginning of the new period, regularly joined by occasional contributors, and joined on a permanent basis by Ranke-Cormier since mid-2016. To date, the team is stabilized.
Based on this new team, the GEAB has changed: more political and geopolitical, and less financial and economic than Biancheri’s. But the spirit remains.
In order to assess the continuity, it is interesting to look at the readership. The financial advisers who subscribed in 2008–2009 are less, but the first fans of the GEAB spirit have stayed:
Out of the 2000 subscribers, around 70% is now made of private individuals, while the remaining 30% of professionals come 1/3 from the private sector and 2/3 from the public (national and international) sector; the proportion was different at the time of the Biancheri GEAB with 50% of private individuals and out of the remaining 50% of professionals, 35% from the private sector (financial consulting firms, industrial companies, banks), and 15% from the public sector.
Around 80% of these 2000 subscribers date back to the Biancheri’s era, proving that people still find in today’s GEAB what interested them first
But even more interesting is to look at the yearly evaluation figures. Since the beginning, every year in December, the GEAB team proceeds to an evaluation of its anticipations. The system is very simple: in January each year, a list of around 30 up and down trends is briefly presented. Eleven months later, this list is reviewed and noted (0 when the trend proved wrong; 0.5 when it is unclear; 1 when it proved right). This evaluation grid is meant to be noted by the readers themselves. However, the GEAB team produces a figure each year, rating their work of anticipation over the past 12 months. The graph resulting from the alignment of these figures over the years is the following:
Now here is a nonexhaustive list of successful factual anticipations (to be distinguished from trend analyses) made since November 2012:
The oil crisis was analyzed in detailed in 2014, before the price collapsed; also anticipated, the nonspeculative conditions and the limits of the reappreciation (
2015 – New phase of the crisis: the oil systemic crisis, December 2014)
A Western car crisis was anticipated in the January 2015 “up and down” trends (
Crisis in the traditional Western car manufacturing industry, January 2015)
A crisis of European airline companies was anticipated as a consequence of the aggressive competition exerted by Gulf companies
(“Gulfies,” after the oil, the sky is the limit, December 2015)
It was constantly anticipated that the Eurozone would not break under the Greek tensions, even at times when the media were overwhelmingly convinced of an imminent collapse (for example,
Greece will stay in the Eurozone, January 2015)
The return of Morocco to African dynamics was anticipated as a result of the identified change triggered around the Western Sahara situation (
Western Sahara 2016: End of the status quo, December 2015)
A severe political crisis in Turkey was anticipated and explained, in relation to Erdogan’s Syria-related diversion from his political path in 2011 and the resulting inconsistencies; the possibility of a
coup d’état was even mentioned in one paper ( The military or Erdogan, again, October 2015)
A change in gold price trend was anticipated in June 2016, 1 month before they actually reverted; this anticipation is all the more striking that Biancheri’s GEAB was famous for having rightly recommended ever since 2006 a nonspeculative diversification of assets toward gold (
Gold: Golden times past times? June 2016).
In parallel to this experimental validation of the reproducibility of Biancheri’s anticipatory talent, LEAP created its “Academy” in order to pursue research on and develop training to Political Anticipation. The successes recorded in post-Biancheri LEAP’s capacity to produce right and useful anticipations provided the legitimacy of this pursuit. The present article is a contribution to this general effort.