EU leaders to end dispute over 2020 targets

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After months of quarrelling, EU member states are set to agree on numerical targets to improve the European social economy by 2020, including education and poverty, according to the draft conclusions of tomorrow's EU summit, obtained by EURACTIV. 

"The European Council confirms the five EU headline targets which will constitute shared objectives guiding the action of member states and the Union," read the draft conclusions. The objectives include employment, research, climate change, education and poverty (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

The text stresses that the European Council "agrees on the quantification of the education and social inclusion/poverty indicators," which have been a matter of dispute for many months.

Education

On education, leaders are set to agree on the target of reducing school drop-out rates "to less than 10%" from their current 15%.

They will also back the objective of "increasing the share of 30-34 year olds having completed higher education to at least 40%," reads the draft text.

Germany had long opposed these targets, arguing that education is a national and regional matter, and that EU meddling in these issues would be counterproductive.

However, after strong pressure from the EU institutions, Germany accepted the targets. The objective also indicates a more limited age group for which the education targets are considered.

Rather than seeking to increase the number of diplomas for youngsters, as initially foreseen, the new more specific target focuses on tertiary education for people in their mid-thirties.

Poverty

Anti-poverty targets have also been widely contested, especially by Eastern European countries, which feared not being able to match ambitious objectives tailored for Western EU countries. The definition of what poverty is has also been an issue of controversy.

EU statistics indicate that 17% of the EU's population (almost 80 million Europeans) currently live below the poverty threshold. For Europe 2020, the European Commission recommended reducing the number of Europeans living below the poverty line by 25%, lifting 20 million out of poverty.

The agreement which features in the draft summit conclusions scraps the percentage from the target, but leaves intact the absolute objective of reducing by 20 million the number of people at risk of poverty and exclusion (EURACTIV 08/06/10). 

The other concession made to reluctant countries concerns the possibility of choosing between three different indicators. Each country will be free to set its national target on the basis of the most appropriate indicator: "at-risk-of-poverty", "material deprivation" or "jobless household".

However, diplomatic sources said this new choice of measurement would result in a far higher figure for EU citizens living in poverty, jumping from an initial 80 million to 120 million (EURACTIV 04/06/10).

Employment, research and climate change

Less controversial were the other targets on employment, research and climate change.

Leaders are set to reiterate their agreement to "raise to 75% the employment rate for women and men aged 20-64, including through the greater participation of young people, older workers and low-skilled workers and the better integration of legal migrants," reads the document.

They will also agree to raise "combined public and private investment levels to 3% of GDP" for research and innovation. However, the indicator reflecting R&D and innovation intensity has still to be sorted out by the Commission and might be subject to future controversy.

Finally, leaders will confirm their commitment to the well-known climate change targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels and increasing to 20% the share of renewable energies in the EU's energy mix.

The more ambitious objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30% will be reiterated on the condition that other industrialised countries accept "comparable reductions".

Overall objectives

"Member states must now act to implement these policy priorities at their level. They should, in close dialogue with the Commission, rapidly finalise their national targets, according to their national decision-making procedures," the draft paper stresses.

"Work must also be taken forward at the European level, mobilising all EU instruments and common policies, including the agricultural policy and policies aimed at promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion," the text adds.

The EU's strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, called 'Europe 2020', comes in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades. 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".

The new agenda puts innovation and green growth at the heart of its blueprint for competitiveness and proposes tighter monitoring of national reform programmes, one of the greatest weaknesses of the Lisbon Strategy.

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

The Commission struggled to convince member states to accept the proposed targets, especially for poverty (EURACTIV 01/03/2010) and education (EURACTIV 19/03/2010). 

  • 17 June 2010: EU summit.

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