The Commission will be more candid in its assessment of progress than in the past and will be willing to issue policy warnings, albeit as a last resort, according to Gerard de Graaf, a key player in drafting the 'Europe 2020' strategy at the EU executive's secretariat-general.
Speaking at a briefing hosted by Eurochambres, an umbrella group of EU chambers of commerce, De Graaf said the reputational damage that comes with a policy warning and the "embarrassment factor" will help keep member states on track.
He said the Commission would use the scoreboard to benchmark countries' performance and that some heads of state and government should feel uncomfortable with the results –"otherwise there's no point".
Commission seeking new R&D yardstick
One of the key indicators of success set out in the 'Europe 2020' document is a commitment to invest 3% of GDP in research – a long-standing target most member states are a long way from reaching.
The 3% target has proven controversial, with critics saying it is a blunt instrument which measures only inputs. Innovation Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn has defended the controversial yardstick but indicated she will set up a panel of experts to draw up a new set of indicators (EurActiv 09/03/10).
De Graaf said using this "input target" was far from ideal but was currently the best available. "We are determined to come up with a better measure of outputs," he said, adding that internationally comparable benchmarks are needed.
US President Barack Obama has already embraced the 3% target, but Japan is aiming for 4% and Korea has set its sights on 5%.
According to de Graaf, innovation-related reforms will be central to the 2020 strategy and Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn will bring forward a comprehensive research and innovation plan in September.
A similar blueprint on the Digital Agenda is also in the works but de Graaf warned that some of the recommendations may not sit well with member states. "If these things were easy they would have done them already," he said.
Leadership required from European Council
De Graaf said there needed to be "consequences" for member states of failing to meet their commitments and that the success of the strategy would depend on whether larger member states were to embrace it.
He said the patchy successes of the Lisbon Agenda could not be tolerated this time and hit out at the European Council's failure to take the last ten-year strategy seriously.
The economy was rarely debated by heads of government prior to the economic crisis, he said, adding that Council conclusions were routinely pre-drafted and leaders "always found an excuse to talk about something else".
"We need strong political leadership and are vesting responsibility in the European Council," he said.
With EU leaders due to meet later this month to discuss Europe 2020, a number of member states want more time to consult with regional governments such as German Länder, whose buy-in is seen as critical.
De Graaf also revealed that targets on poverty reduction and education are still hotly contested by several member states and will be a key issue for the upcoming EU summit.
Barroso delivers 'inconvenient truths'
Commission President José Manuel Barroso presented a slideshow to EU leaders at an informal summit in Brussels on 11 February in an effort to hammer home the risks of not acting radically.
De Graaf likened the presentation to Al Gore's climate change slide-show, which highlighted the dangers of global warming.
Barroso outlined several possible growth trajectories, warning the EU would face a "lost decade" of persistent low employment and diminishing global power if it settled for sluggish 1% growth.
"Politically and socially, this is totally unacceptable," de Graaf said.
EU facing an 'uphill battle'
Many of the "fundamental weaknesses" Europe faced before the crisis, like ageing and global competition, are still looming large, said de Graaf, while fiscal stimulus packages have "blown a huge hole" in public finances.
He said productivity gains urgently needed if Europe is to compete with rising challenges from China and Korea, which have invested heavily in the green economy and are at the forefront of developing electric cars.
De Graaf, who will be central to implementing the Europe 2020 plan, urged member states, business groups and NGOs to adopt the strategy as their own.
"Get in the boat and row – don't just stand on the river bank and criticise," he said.