The paper, dated 22 September, aims to assist member states in preparing reports on planned economic reforms that are to be submitted as part of the recently agreed 'semester' of economic surveillance.
The guidance paper emerges as European Union leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit aimed at streamlining the bloc's economic governance.
Under the Commission paper, national economic reform plans will have to be handed in "no later than end of April" and should include "forward-looking elements covering targets, bottlenecks and policy plans for at least three years," according to the paper, seen by EurActiv.
The draft National Reform Programmes (NRPs) should be sent to the Commission by 12 November, the document adds.
Giving teeth to 'Europe 2020'?
The national reform plans are part of the 'Europe 2020' strategy for long-term economic growth, endorsed by EU leaders in June.
The 2020 agenda puts innovation and green growth at the heart of its blueprint for competitiveness and proposes tighter monitoring of national reform programmes. It is meant to replace the Lisbon Strategy, adopted in 2000, which largely failed to turn the EU into "the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010".
However, this time, Brussels believes it has more chance of getting reluctant governments to buy in to its new plan by making growth-enhancing reforms an integral part of the European 'semester' of economic surveillance that was agreed in the aftermath of the Greek sovereign debt crisis.
National governments will be asked to report about pro-growth policies alongside their draft budget plans, in order to make the two match in an "integrated assessment," said Amadeu Altafaj i Tarido, spokesperson for Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn.
For the Commission, the National Reform Programmes (NRPs) should set out how member states aim to meet their 'Europe 2020' targets on issues such as employment and R&D, and detail "which measures will be implemented, by when, by whom and with which budgetary consequences," according to the guidance paper.
The reform plans should be listed "in parallel to fiscal surveillance under the Stability and Growth Pact," the paper adds, arguing "this will ensure the overall consistency of EU policy advice by identifying the fiscal constraints within which member states' actions are to be developed".
However, reporting under the Pact and broader economic surveillance "will remain legally separate," said Altafaj i Tarido, with the two reports "submitted to the Commission simultaneously but separately".
This could be seen as a sweetener for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who expressed fears in March that closely linking pro-growth policies to budget discipline would make economic surveillance "unnecessarily political".
An extended peer-review process will be triggered in January with the publication of the Commission's Annual Growth Survey, and is expected to culminate at the end of the new European 'semester' of economic surveillance, around June or July.
At this stage, EU finance ministers or heads of state would provide an assessment of National Reform Programmes and possible "country-specific guidance" to countries whose policies and budgets are out of line.
These recommendations would be issued "at a time when important budgetary decisions are still in a preparatory phase at the national level," Altafaj i Tarido stressed, allowing for "much more integrated assessment and insight into the interactions between policies".