18th Sep 2019

Kok: Europe should not 'copycat' US

  • Time is running out, warns Wim Kok (Photo: European Commission)

The former Dutch Prime Minister charged with suggesting ways to catch up with the US in economic terms has said that it is not necessary to copy America to achieve this goal.

Europe should in no way abandon its prized social model, which combines the desire for economic growth with concern for welfare and the environment, insists Wim Kok.

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Europe has struggled with its aim to be the "most competitive economy in the world by 2010".

If anything, Europe has fallen further behind America, with gross domestic product per capita - a key indicator of living standards - falling below 70 percent of that of the US for the first time since the 1960s.

"I would not like to copycat the Americans by saying that social welfare systems are just a luxury that we can do without", said the former Prime Minister.

"No we don't want to miss that, because it is part of our values, part of our tradition and part of our type of society".

Welfare relies on growth

However, to retain the "luxury" of its social welfare system, Europe first needs to boost growth rates, emphasised Mr Kok.

"But in order to keep this alive, we need to have the means to finance all that and we can only have the means if we have sufficient growth and employment".

"In a way, Americans or Chinese or Indians have it easier, because they go for growth and competitiveness and that's it".

Keep the deadline

Mr Kok also rejected recent proposals by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to push back the deadline from 2010.

"My preference would be not to forget about the deadline", he said. "We don't have the luxury to slow down".

But he also admitted that the chances of actually being the World's most competitive economy in the world by 2010 are slim.

"Even if every target is met by 2010, it is highly questionable whether we will be the strongest economy in the world".

"But this is perhaps not the most important thing. I wonder if our only wish should be to be the strongest one in the world", he said.

He added that if EU leaders could have foreseen the changes that would take place in the World after 2000 - the terrorist attacks in the US and the burst of the dot-com bubble - "we might have formulated our ambitions in a somewhat more modest way".

Communication is the key

Achieving success in the Lisbon strategy requires EU leaders to keep reform promises made in Brussels, but also requires the active involvement of EU citizens, said Mr Kok, a former Union leader.

"Without convincing people, without engaging people, without communicating to people, without having them on board at least as far as the analysis is concerned, it will be terribly difficult to pursue ongoing reforms".

And time is running short, he warns.

"Now is the time for action, not another report".

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