The Future EU 2020 Strategy

Posted by Mary C. Murphy & Katy Hayward

The European Commission’s ‘EU 2020’ Strategy is a successor to the current Lisbon Strategy. The Commission Working Document sets out a plan for expanding on the successes of the ten year old Lisbon Agenda. To read the document or an executive summary, please go to: This document is likely of interest to members of the European Studies Specialist Group of the PSAI. Some core points, and preliminary reflections, are set out below. We warmly welcome your comments and thoughts.

The current global financial crisis is the backdrop against which the Commission’s draft plan is framed. Europe is entering what the Commission terms a period of ‘deep transformation’. The language used in the Document is optimistic. Despite the challenges posed by the current economic climate, this period is presented as enabling the emergence of:

 ‘a new sustainable social market economy, a smarter, greener economy, where … prosperity will come from innovation and from using resources better, and where the key input will be knowledge’. 

What this might mean in practice is unclear, but environmental considerations and reducing pressure on resources are stated priorities to be balanced against energy policies and infrastructural needs.  

The Commission Working Document sets out three key thematic drivers as being the means by which to advance this agenda and to guide the development of EU policy-making:  

  1. Creating value by basing growth on knowledge
  2. Empowering people in inclusive societies
  3. Creating a competitive, connected and greener economy

 We particularly note, with reference to the first theme, the goal of a ‘European Knowledge Area’, harnessing the potential of education and research and underpinned by a ‘world-class knowledge infrastructure’. Lifelong learning is also prioritised in this proposal, with a commitment to improve the accessibility of education to non-typical learners.

 According to the Commission, exiting the current crisis and delivering on the EU 2020 objectives must draw on the strengths of member-state, institutional, policy and global interdependence. This framework provides the means to fully exploit the single market and to use the Stability and Growth Pact as a means to support growth. In particular, the Commission advocates that member-states develop strategies which facilitate investment in sustainable growth. However, many member-states face severe constraints in this regard. Bringing public expenditure under control limits the degree of flexibility available to national governments and diminishes their capacity to invest. Their endeavours in this regard, therefore, would require the active support of stakeholders such as the social partners, civil society and national parliaments.

 Although ambitious in tone and content, the manner of delivering on the agenda proposed in this Document does not appear to signal any substantial shift in the competence or capability of the EU. The 2020 strategy clearly emphasises the role of member-states as being the key drivers of change. The focus is resolutely on national governments. Individual member-states will frame specific programmes tailored to their individual situations. These will be monitored by the European Commission, in the context of the overall EU 2020 strategy. A successful exit from the current financial crisis, therefore, appears to require hard and bold decisions to be made by European governments, under the watchful eye of the European Commission.

 In sum, the EU 2020 strategy is not overtly designed to be a means by which to further develop the nature and character of the European project. The emphasis on national governments reinforces the intergovernmental qualities of the EU. This is, it might be argued, somewhat curious. Surely the events of the last year present an opportunity for the EU and national leaders to at least consider more elaborate and innovative responses. The crisis has been occasioned, in part, by poor institutional and regulatory design. Responding to these failings requires a new, bold, and maybe even daring vision for the future governance of Europe. The EU 2020 Strategy goes some way in this direction by outlining impressive policy plans. Unfortunately, however, the Commission fails to present any clear vision as to how these pressing policy priorities might be delivered in new and creative ways – ways which may lessen the possibility of past mistakes being once again repeated in the future.

 The unprecedented events of the past year have provoked profound challenges. Perhaps now is the time and opportunity for the EU to countenance profound responses.

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