20th Nov 2019

'Mediocre' EU scores low grade for economic reform

  • Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is singled out for particular criticism (Photo: EUobserver)

An influential report due to be unveiled later today (Monday 8 March) by Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has delivered a very downbeat assessment of progress towards the EU's economic goals.

The "Lisbon Scorecard", compiled by the London-based Centre for Economic Reform (CER) assesses progress made by the EU towards the so-called Lisbon objectives, which is the ambitious goal to make the EU the "most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the World by 2010".

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Overall, the report is highly critical of EU leaders for failing to implement the necessary economic reforms that would enable these goals to be met.

The survey concludes, "even the most enthusiastic proponent of the Lisbon agenda can only describe the EU's performance over the last 12 months as mediocre ... After a second consecutive year of disappointing economic growth, it is already apparent that the EU will miss some of its key targets".

Furthermore, the CER believes, "worryingly, EU governments look bereft of new ideas to reinvigorate the reform agenda just as the EU begins a mid-term review of the Lisbon process".

Some ideas that have been advanced, such as creating a commissioner especially to oversee the Lisbon process, are dismissed as "restatements of existing proposals and commitments".

Overall, the EU scores a disappointing 'C' grade for its progress towards its self-imposed goals.

Northern lights

But the picture is not all bleak.

Nordic countries Sweden, Denmark and Finland receive high praise, "scoring well in almost every aspect of the Lisbon agenda".

France and Germany are also commended for pushing through economic reforms, but these reform projects are nevertheless "unlikely to ensure the two countries meet their Lisbon goals".

And the European Commission is praised for "valuable work" on reducing illegal state aid and "pushing forward the financial services action plan".

Ireland, too, has made "rapid progress over recent years".

Heroes and villains

But the real 'villains' of the piece - as the CER terms them - are Italy, Greece and Portugal.

Rome is singled out for particular criticism for appearing "to be sliding backwards".

The report says, "the Berlusconi government regularly talks about the need for radical economic reform, but has made little real progress. Italy's economic performance is steadily deteriorating while, to the outside world at least, its government pursues an idiosyncratic agenda".

As for Portugal and Greece, the two Mediterranean countries "score poorly on most Lisbon measures but at least are pushing through some reforms".

Lisbon in Ljubljana

On the vexed question on how enlargement will affect progress towards the Lisbon goals, the document is even-handed, saying, "it is hard to provide a definitive assessment of the performance of the accession countries".

Some analysts think that the entry of ten new member states will boost the EU's chances of meeting its ambitious targets. Former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen recently told this news site that enlargement would be a "wake-up call" for current EU states.

But others are worried that the less developed economies of the new member states will slow down what progress there is.

The CER reflects this in its report, stating, "the new entrants are starting from a much weaker economic base than the existing EU member states" but its analysis also recognises that "several accession countries are in better shape than some of the existing members".

All eyes on Brussels

Economic reform and the Lisbon agenda will be the main topic for discussion in the forthcoming summit of EU leaders in Brussels on 25-26 March, where everyone will be looking for leaders to provide a new boost to the stalling process.

The European Commission itself is downbeat on the chances for success, blaming the individual member states for the lack of progress and admitting in a recent report that "the Union cannot catch up on the United States as our per capita GDP is 72 percent of our American partner's".

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