Plans for a new ten-year strategy to replace the Lisbon Agenda for growth and jobs, due to be unveiled by the European Commission today (24 November), risk being agreed behind closed doors between member states without proper consultation of civil society, social NGOs have warned.
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.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "EU 2020 means the EU working together over the next decade to overcome some of the toughest economic challenges that Europe has ever faced. A smart economy and a wise society based on strong European values go together. Growth, sustainable public finances, tackling climate change, social inclusion, a strengthened industrial base and a vibrant services sector are not alternatives. They reinforce each other".
He went on to note that "Europe reduced unemployment from 12% to 7% in the decade to 2008. We now need new sources of growth to replace the jobs lost in the crisis. We have set out in this paper the keys that can unlock Europe's potential. At the same time, we can increase our influence in the world and on globalisation by showing our partners that the social market economy is the most efficient and the most equitable. We want stakeholders' views on our EU 2020 Strategy before presenting our proposals to the Spring European Council."
Writing on BlogActiv, Ann Mettler, executive director of Brussels think-tank the Lisbon Council, argued that "the EU 2020 agenda needs a much improved governance and ownership structure, as well as a new modus operandi that will credibly embody the innovation and renewal that is the very foundation of this strategy".
"For starters," she argued, "we must prevent another glaring discrepancy between announcing goals that only member states can ultimately deliver on while providing the European Commission with woefully inadequate tools for enforcement".
Instead, Mettler favours "a realistic, yet smart and compelling strategy," focusing on areas where the European Commission "has competences and adds inherent value, such as competition policy, the single market, external trade, and the enforcement of the Stability and Growth Pact".
In a letter to Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Greens/EFA Co-Presidents Rebecca Harms and Daniel Cohn-Bendit called for adoption of the Europe 2020 Agenda to be postponed to December 2010.
Commenting on their letter, Rebecca Harms and Daniel Cohn-Bendit said: "The Europe 2020 Agenda will be a cornerstone of EU policy for the next decade. It needs to reflect the lessons of the crisis and provide the springboard for the reconstruction of the European economy and society in times of climate change".
"It would be a huge mistake to revise the Lisbon Strategy without careful reflection, honest self-criticism and a genuine process of consultation," they said. "Barroso's current schedule leaves too little time for the public consultation process that he personally promised. It will also be virtually impossible for the European Parliament to conduct a thorough debate and make detailed recommendations by March 2010," they concluded."
- 24 Nov. 2009: European Commission to launch consultation on EU's 2020 strategy.
- Jan. 2010: New Commission to table final proposal for EU's 2020 strategy.
- March 2010: EU summit to approve strategy.
On 8 September, Fondation EurActiv held a workshop on the priorities for the next Commission and the replacement of the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs (
see programme here
). As the new Commission settles in, EurActiv will continue to cover the review of the Lisbon Agenda in its
EU Priorities section
and during 'Special Week' coverage of the Spanish EU Presidency (
see programme here