Time to involve European citizens

The EU 2020 Strategy is no solution for current challenges

, von  Gaute Vannuten, Stefanie Dietzel

Time to involve European citizens

EU 2020 as a solution for current challenges? European people are not well informed about the new strategy which makes it hardly more promising than the Lisbon Strategy.

Europe is not where it should be today. After a decade of working for economic progress and a more competitive EU, Europe didn’t move much. Sure there was continuous economic growth for ten years, but that growth was limited, reforms went slow and the financial crisis has put us right back where we took off in 2000 (pdf). This is despite all the effort put in the ‘Lisbon Strategy’, the much hyped plan to make the EU the “most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”.

Now Europe set new goals for itself with the EU2020 strategy (pdf). A scheme that is much like the Lisbon Strategy, but that aims to deliver in 2020. Under pressure of the European Parliament, the European Commission formulated three priority growth areas: smart growth, sustainable growth and inclusive growth. Supported by five criteria which measure growth in these areas and seven initiatives to enable that growth. It all sounds very good, but is it going to work as well?

That remains a big question if you consider the similarities with the Lisbon Strategy. The EU 2020 is a framework based upon voluntary action by the national governments under the competency of the European Council, just like the Lisbon Strategy. Both schemes are not binding, but should ‘name and shame’ member states into action by identifying bad and good policies. This way the process shames national governments who produce little results concerning the stated objectives into action, while at the same moment they can learn from the best students of the class. However the results the Lisbon Strategy produced were meager, many experts considered it a failure and point out that the process was flawed.

Why the EU 2020 strategy will fail

Karel Lannoo from the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels calls the new strategy a “recycled Lisbon agenda”. The idea of EU 2020 is doomed to failure as it resembles the Lisbon strategy, which consisted of targets that were not reached and which could not convince the people.

This may be due to fact that both the old and the new concept are not binding. There will be no sanctions for member states which do not strive for the common goals. The commission will only be allowed to issue a caution. So the incentives to realize the strategy remain weak.

Furthermore, most of the targets and methods mentioned in the paper are insubstantial. For example, the proposed target of reducing poverty by twenty million people has been reformulated to only reducing poverty in general, which is a rather vague objective. The question remains unanswered in how far the member states may act according to a strategy which does not provide concrete targets. It is also unclear in what way those targets are feasible in every EU member state.

Citizens’ opinions are ignored

“Growth, sustainable public finances, tackling climate change, social inclusion, a strengthened industrial base and a vibrant services sector” are ambitious aims but is this really what Europeans strive for? Experts complain that the strategies mentioned in the EU 2020 do not reflect the opinions of the European people. The Europeans are still not involved sufficiently in the decision making processes at the EU level. The aims of the Europe 2020 Strategy were established by the European Commission after consultation, although the response of ordinary citizens was low.

Another critical factor of the strategy is that the people are not addressed emotionally. The paper only consists of aspects which aim mainly at economic growth. The people themselves, their identity and feelings do not play a role at all. As long as Europe does not consider the variety of the people’s interests, it will not be able to overcome crises such as the current deadlock around the Euro and to cope with political challenges.

Little media attention

An essential reason why the concept will fail is that people are not well informed about the strategy, its targets and the methods to reach them. Until now many Europeans have not yet heard about EU 2020. Besides, this is not the only aspect which has got little media attention. In general, people do not know enough about the European Union and many are not aware of the positive effects of the EU on their home country. Therefore, we suggest a big information campaign to attract the people’s interest in EU 2020 Strategy.

Getting people involved

People in Europe have to be asked if they agree with these ambitious goals and if they really appreciate a 10-years “strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth“. In 2001 the Commission already promised to make Europe the “most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world” – and failed. One reason for this failure was that citizens and the civil society were not involved in the decision-making process.

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