The Social Platform of European NGOs, in an open letter to EU leaders last week, expressed its dismay over the process by which this key decision – effectively deciding the direction of the EU for the next 10 years – is being reached.
The European Commission will today publish a consultation document on the new strategy, and all relevant stakeholders will be invited to respond accordingly.
However, social NGOs are critical of both the timing and method involved.
Firstly, they claim that the EU is selling itself short by aiming to reach a final decision on this issue by March 2010. This is simply too soon, the NGOs argue, given that a new Commission is not likely to be confirmed before January, or, if complications emerge at the European Parliament hearings, February 2010.
Furthermore, the Parliament will not have time by March 2010 to come up with clear recommendations on the 2020 agenda, they say.
Secondly, the EU has made its usual mistake of coming to a decision behind closed doors, failing to engage citizens and civil society in a properly transparent way, allege the NGOs.
Three specific attacks are levelled at the procedures involved.
Firstly, despite a commitment made by the Commission to the European Parliament that a public consultation would take place in September 2009, "it seems that the consultation has been postponed to the end of November".
Secondly, the March 2010 date may fall short of the Commission's minimum standards for consultation, in that not enough input from the relevant opinion-makers will have been gathered and analysed.
Finally, the letter is scathing about the Commission's failure to better plan the consultation on the 2020 strategy, remarking that "the Lisbon Strategy was a five-year cycle that should have naturally encompassed a period for evaluation and consultation".
Slow it down, do it right
There is still ample time to rectify these mistakes, say the authors, as the current Lisbon Strategy runs until end the end of 2010. The message to the Commission and EU leaders, therefore, is to take their time and do it right.
"There is no urgency in trying to come up with a new strategy" in such a short timeframe, the letter concludes, urging EU leaders to "start the new 'era' on a firm democratic basis, rooted in dialogue with citizens and civil society".
However, European Commission sources contacted by EurActiv countered by saying that there is plenty of urgency given that Europe is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the 1930s, a point echoed by Ann Mettler, executive director of Brussels think-tank the Lisbon Council.
"If we ever needed a sound exit strategy and long-term policy blueprint, it's now. And we have no time to waste," she wrote today on her Blogactiv post.
The Commission spokesman refuted claims that the EU has not been sufficiently inclusive in its consultation process, arguing that the EU executive has been consulting with stakeholders on a regular basis. "We're not starting from a blank page," he said.
Today's consultation document will be fully open, and everyone will have an opportunity to comment, he added, despite stressing that from the Commission's perspective, the consultation needs to take place now.