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New EU economic strategy - Repeating the failure of Lisbon strategy

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European Federalists

by Joan-Marc Simon is Secretary General of the Union of European Federalists

Remember the slogan of the EU during last 10 years? Yes, that thing about becoming the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world?

Well, then get ready to continue laughing or crying- because the European Commission has published its new economic strategy for 2020 and it seems we are willing to throw 10 more years down the drain.

The Lisbon strategy didn’t work because of lack of political instruments, lack of financial means and, above all, lack of political will from the member states. The new economic plan that the European Commission published on March 3rd insists on setting targets without providing financial and enforcement tools to achieve them. Yes, the objectives are nice (albeit being too short and unambitious):

75 % of the population aged 20-64 should be employed. 3% of the EU's GDP should be invested in R & D The climate/energy targets should be met. The share of early school leavers should be under 10% and at least 40% of the younger generation should have a degree or diploma. . 20 million less people should be at risk of poverty

But how is the European Commission planning to achieve them? How do we want to create employment without investment? To add insult to injury the EC requires that these objectives are met whilst respecting the Growth and Stability Pact and without increasing the own resources of the Union… In times when the Monetary Union is at risk and the Growth and Stability Pact is violated by most member states what is the great solution from the EC? Just more business as usual and repeat the same mistakes of the Lisbon strategy. Depressing.

The text of the commission doesn’t say anything on how to reform the financial markets, doesn’t provide any proposal on how to reform the economic governance to tackle problems such as Greece indebtedness, there is nothing on social Europe, nothing on Euro-Bonds or any ideas of how to increase the own resources of the Union…

Plus, why do we need a strategy for 2020? The only reason I can think of is in order to guarantee that all those who should be responsible of the next failure can be out of the game by then and therefore escape any attempt to hold them accountable. If the current Commission, the current European Parliament and the Council want to go ahead with this insufficient plan let’s set the goals for 2014 so that at the end of their mandate we can see what they have delivered.

In February the new Barroso Commission was approved by the three big groups in the European Parliament -Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals- under the promise that he would change the business as usual, that he was not the grey and submissed Commission president that he was during his first term. Well, here is the first test and the lack of ambition can’t be more blatant. What are they going to do now? If the big groups in the EP are consequent with themselves either they force a radical change in the economic strategy or they should threaten with blocking the EU budget. Anything less will put the Parliament at the same level as the Commission.

But let’s not fall in the usual trap of blaming the EC for everything. The EC is not guilty for its lack of ambition alone, I’m convinced the Commission is aware -and probably shares- what I mentioned above but the main problem lies on the lack of political will from the member states. Lack of political will boycotted the Lisbon strategy, boycotts the creation of any kind of European economic governance and will stop any attempt to give to this European economic strategy any chance to succeed.

In a perfect example of the prisoner dilemma the Commission and the member states opt for the worst possible option, an option that will harm both Europe and the member states.

The issue is very serious and the Europeans deserve a lot more. If Barroso doesn’t dare to take the risk to challenge the status quo, then the European Parliament should stand up to defend the future of the Union. If nothing else because nobody else will.

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