EU leaders split over 2020 economic targets

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EU heads of stateand government are meeting in Brussels today (25 March) to discuss the European Commission's proposed 'Europe 2020' strategy for green growth and jobs. But several countries have already questioned some of the objectives of the plan.

The two-day summit will largely focus on the short term with the Greek debt crisis set to dominate talks, although the issue is not officially on the agenda.

But EU leaders are also struggling to hammer out a common vision for the long term, with several countries questioning the European Commission's proposed 'Europe 2020' strategy presented earlier this month (EURACTIV 03/03/10).

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso proposed five "headline targets" for the strategy – on employment, climate change and energy, education, research and poverty reduction.

But few of these have garnered much support at this stage, EURACTIV has learnt.

Germany, for instance, has criticised a target of ensuring that at least 40% of youngsters have a degree or diploma and reducing the share of early school leavers to under 10%, saying the EU objectives could step on its federal competences (EURACTIV 19/03/10).

Last week, EU finance ministers disputed a suggestion to invest at least 3% of their GDP into research and development, calling instead for a more result-oriented approach (EURACTIV 17/03/10).

Today, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary – the so-called 'Visegrad' group – are questioning a proposed target to reduce the number of Europeans living below the poverty line by 25%.

"Our questions and doubts are that the situation in respective countries regarding poverty is very, very different," Ivan Kor?ok, permanent representative of Slovakia to the EU, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Speaking to the European Parliament yesterday (24 March), Barroso urged EU leaders to sign up to the targets, saying they had been "carefully chosen".

"These five headline targets pinpoint objectives which people can relate to and show that the EU is leveraging reform in areas that they know are important. This is also about the political will to tackle tough problems."

"Of course the targets must be achievable. But they should also require an extra effort compared to the status quo, a recognition by our member states that change is needed. And I will try to convey to the European Council this sense of urgency."

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, formally unveiled his 'Europe 2020' strategy proposals on 3 March, proposing a limited set of targets on education, R&D and poverty reduction and "policy warnings" for countries that fail to meet them. (EURACTIV 03/03/10).

The strategy defines five headline targets at EU level, which member states will be asked to translate into national goals reflecting their differing starting points:

  • Raising the employment rate of the population aged 20-64 from the current 69% to 75%.
  • Raising the investment in R&D to 3% of the EU's GDP.
  • Meeting the EU's '20/20/20' objectives on greenhouse gas emission reduction and renewable energies.
  • Reducing the share of early school leavers from the current 15% to under 10% and making sure that at least 40% of youngsters have a degree or diploma.
  • Reducing the number of Europeans living below the poverty line by 25%, lifting 20 million out of poverty from the current 80 million.

EU heads of state and government are meeting on 25-26 March to debate those targets and formally approve them.

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