19th Sep 2020

Lukewarm reception for EU's 2020 plan

Reactions to the European Commission's communication on a new economic strategy for Europe have so far proved to be lukewarm, at best.

While a list of targets advocating higher employment, greener growth and greater research spending have met with general approval, few feel confident they can actually be achieved by means of an EU plan.

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  • Barroso, and others, say political will is essential if the plan is to succeed (Photo: European Community, 2006)

"For me this is like a broken record. I've heard it for 10 years. It's all words and no substance," Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies think tank, told EUobserver on Thursday (4 March).

"This idea that the EU can fundamentally change the growth prospects of its member countries, via the EU, always struck me as being fanciful," he added.

Announcing the proposals a day earlier, commission President Jose Manuel Barroso himself identified what many deem to be central to the strategy's success or failure: member state political will.

"We have to be quite honest with you, there are 27 member states and if they don't want to play ball nothing will happen," said the Portuguese politician, who has overseen the second half of the bloc's current plan - the Lisbon Strategy - widely considered to have been a failure due to poor implementation levels.

Member-state noises have so far given little reason to believe this time round will be any different, with Germany, crucially, coming out against stronger governance proposals.

Optimism among European businesses appears to be low. "There's no incentive for politicians to reach targets if it doesn't further their political goals," Ben Butters, director of European affairs with Business organisation Eurochambres, told this website. "Tough reforms would not be popular with voters."

With the commission holding little sway over member states, the role of European Council president Herman van Rompuy will be vital in providing the strategy with any credibility, he added.

Earlier this year, the Spanish rotating presidency raised the prospect of introducing some form of incentive for member states that successfully reach their agreed targets, such as extra money from the EU's structural funds. While absent from the commission's proposal, the European Parliament may revisit the idea when it issues an upcoming resolution.

"We've got to have carrots, we have to convince member states that they want this strategy," said Liberal MEP Sharon Bowles who chairs the parliament's economy committee.

The group's leader, Guy Verhofstadt, has indicated he has little confidence new commission powers under the Lisbon Treaty to issue warnings will bring about much change on their own. "[It] is unlikely to send a shudder down the spines of national finance ministers," he said.

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