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Support in principle and many ideas for Europe 2020

Published on , , Sofia

The discussion about the new EU economy strategy, called Europe 2020, is advancing slowly. The reason for this is not a total lack of engagement of EU member states but rather the much more pressing problems as the crisis in Greece. In fact, it was the Greek crisis and also the problems in Portugal, Italy, Spain and Ireland, that made the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs fail. And also the loose institutional control in the EU.

It seems that these problems will persist, in spite of the clear signals for a change. And how do we know that the countries are serious about the new economic strategy? From their own positions, which they had to send by January 15 to the European Commission. By the way, the style in these positions, the way they are written, presented and signed, speaks a lot about attitude the corresponding member states have toward the strategy.

Let us start with Bulgaria not only because in alphabetical order it would be among the first, but also because it is interesting what the opinion of the Bulgarian government about the economic development of Bulgaria is for the next 10 years in a European context, in particular.

The Bulgarian position is 2 pages long. It is not clear who the author is, but it says that no significant changes are needed in the scope of the new strategy, meaning that it should remain focused on growth and jobs. It is of particular importance for Bulgaria, when progress is reported every year, the different starting positions to be taken into account. This is why our country is supporting the grouping of countries which are facing or which have experience in resolving similar challenges while recognizing the different starting positions among member states, because this would facilitate supervisory process.

According to the Bulgarian position, it is not quite clear how EU level targets are translated into goals at national level. "There are Member States which have already achieved and/or far exceeded the common EU targets. Therefore, we stand for the
setting common EU goals and then clarifying the way of defining the correspondent country specific targets
", the Bulgarian document states.

The position of Britain is extremely impressive. The government of Her Majesty has presented a very thorough document - 48 pages long, including an address by the British premier Gordon Brown and an introductory note by a member of Parliament - the National Lisbon Strategy Coordinator Ian Pearson. The document can be given as an example how positions should be presented.

Beside that it is very good looking, with the personal signatures of Gordon Brown and Ian Pearson, the document is full of matter. According to London, the lessons from the Lisbon Strategy are as follows:
1. Improved coordination and coherence of the tools, similar to those in the Stability and Growth Pact;
2. Reporting structural reforms;
3. Increased recognition that a broader global context is very important;
4. Stronger links between the goals of the strategy and the mechanisms for their implementation on regional, national, European and international level.

The inclusion in the document of an address (a whole page) of the prime minister Gordon Brown gives the British position more weight. In his remarks, the premier proposes an entirely new document, entitled "EU Compact for Jobs and Growth". According to Gordon Brown, the EU’s economic strength is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The British premier proposes an annual Economic Summit to review progress in all three pillars - macroeconomic policy, microeconomic reform and financial market stability.

Sticking to the traditional British position, Mr Brown again raises the question of a radical reform of EU budget, without changing its volume, though. He proposes a change of priorities within the existing resources. Traditionally Britain opposes agriculture subsidies and insists on more investments in new technologies, research and science. To this idea 2 pages are dedicated and the following priorities are proposed:

- Supporting Member States’ efforts to make the transition to high value added
economies;
- Complementing Member States’ efforts to strengthen knowledge, research and
innovation, but focusing on low carbon global economy. Therefore, the budget of the EU for research and innovation should be increase.

The document Britain presented to the European Commission, although long, is worth reading because aside from the thorough analysis of the current situation, it gives some valuable directions for future development.

Sweden is one of the countries with trade surpluses and is very advanced in implementing information and telecommunication technologies (ICT). Its position is 5 pages long and says that it would be more efficient if the new strategy would make recommendations country by country, depending on the needs of reforms in each one of them. Stockholm's opinion is that common European goals should take into account the different starting points and the different structural positions of the member states. Sweden also requires a simple and transparent reporting mechanism to be developed so as to asses progress and to enable comparison with other states.

Romania also mentions, in its 3-page position, that EU's strategic priorities should be very precisely defined, taking into account the restrictions (financial and budgetary), caused by the different levels of development of member states. Aside from this, the Bucharest's position doesn't say anything more specific.

Hungary, instead, is one of those countries which think that the new strategy should concentrate on growth and jobs with a special focus on knowledge. According to Budapest, innovation should be interpreted in the broadest sense possible so as to include not only technology but other innovations as well. An increase of digital literacy and the role of e-government must be the key to a better quality of life, social inclusion and competitiveness. The Hungarians also believe that entrepreneurship and self employment must be stimulated in order to avoid the segmentation of the labour market.

Portugal is among the nations which think that firstly a deeper assessment of the Lisbon Strategy should be made so that we could see which elements in it have an added value and could be kept. Lisbon's position is that special focus must be put on human potential, basic education, high education and EU's capacity to attract highly qualified human resources. Furthermore, Portugal is at the opinion that more efforts should be invested in polytechnic and consumer education. The European Commission must keep its central role in the implementation of the strategy, the Portuguese opinion states.

Germany is sticking in its document to the unused opportunities of the Lisbon Strategy. Berlin deems it unnecessary to invest efforts in additional areas since the full potential of the key European priorities is still not entirely used. And these are - science and research, mainly focused on renewable energy. The efforts in this direction should be directed via the European Research Council and the new European Institute for Innovation and Technology. Germany prefers not to rely on immigrants in the future but rather, given the demographic trends, to use the potential of the existing labour force.

The German position shows Berlin's unwillingness the European Commission to get a greater role in the implementation of the strategy. According to Germany, the partnership approach should be kept in the relations between the Commission and member states. It is necessary to respect and support the fields of national competences, the largest European economy says. For Germany no strategy is better than member states' willingness to perform reforms.

For the Czech Republic, structural reforms are also a precondition to maintain and increase Europe's competitiveness. According to the Czech position, it is not necessary the current priorities to be changed significantly. Just an additional focus on life long learning is necessary, as well as on better linking education with labour market, revealing the full potential of the Internal Market and fully developing the European Research Area.

And something very interesting which the Czechs offer - a reconciliation between professional and family life. This might mean a lot of things but, in any case, it means creating more flexibility for work at home, without keeping strict count on working hours and other conservative practices of the same type, which could lead to liberation of creativity of the workers.

The Czech Republic has reduced to dust and ashes the current scheme for assessment of efforts and for management of European strategies in general. Insufficient system of mid-term horizons for meeting long-term goals. Insufficient coordination and communication between the working bodies of respective relevant Council configurations and committees. The necessary coordination and communication is not always secured by the system of Presidency. High reporting burden put on Member States. Often a rather formalist evaluation of reports submitted by Member States. Missing methodology for the continuous evaluation of
strategy’s fulfilling. High number of often overlapping Integrated Guidelines.

Latvia has also chosen a sincere approach in its position on Europe 2020, by pointing out that Lisbon Strategy goals were extremely broad and not clearly defined which seriously hinders assessment of progress. This is why it is important, according to the Latvian opinion, the goals in Europe 2020 to be clearly defined and easy to measure. Latvia also admits that the experience from the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy so far shows that economic cohesion among member states is still not achieved.

For Latvia the main challenge is to transform its economy from a labour-intensive to knowledge-based one. This means that Latvia should stop relying on cheap labour but invest more in high qualified human resources instead. Latvia is also at the opinion that it is not very clear how the priorities in Europe 2020 will be financed. It would be best if it is co-financed by national and European budgets. For the purpose, however, a radical reform of the European budget is needed, the Latvian position shows.

The position of Greece is very interesting, as far as the country insists on a real and fully-fledged assessment of the effects of past European policies and methods, especially with regard to the implementation of the Lisbon and Goeteborg strategies. Such an assessment would give the new Europe 2020 more meaning, is the opinion of Greece which suffered the most from non investing in science, new technologies and an overall lack of vision how the Greek economy must develop in global realities.

The ambition of the European Commission is the new strategy to be discussed in details on national and European level by the June European Council when the Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso hopes the document to be approved. By then, his expectations are member states to be aware of their own development goals, the financial resources these goals would need and also with the role of the European Commission in their implementation.

However, there are less than 3 months by the June Council. So far in Bulgaria there is no real discussion on the issue. The president Gheorghi Parvanov made an attempt but it was not successful because he tried to use Europe 2020 for personal needs. The truth is, though, that discussing Europe 2020 is a chance for Bulgaria to incorporate itself more successfully in EU's plans for the next 10 years, which will put an end to the tradition the country to be a laggard and always needing special care, instead of start on its way steadily toward economic prosperity.

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