EU shies away from sanctions in ‘Europe 2020’ plan

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EU President Herman Van Rompuy has proposed to reward European governments with extra funding if they meet their commitments under the new 'Europe 2020' strategy, according to a paper seen by EURACTIV. Member states will not be punished for missing targets, but could be publicly chastised for failure to deliver.

The document, drafted by Van Rompuy's staff, was presented to European leaders this morning (11 February) at the first informal EU summit to be chaired by the former Belgian prime minister.

National leaders endorsed the plan in Brussels but will have to flesh out the detail by next month.

Van Rompuy wants governments to adhere to a limited number of guidelines on R&D spending, participation rates in the labour markets, third-level education and poverty reduction.

In return, member states could get funding and loans to support national efforts.

"For instance, investing in human capital could be better matched by funds from the Research Framework Programme or the structural funds," the paper says.

Van Rompuy also suggests that European Investment Bank lending could be used as an incentive for structural reform, while the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and regional policies could also "lend more support to such reforms".

However, he will steer clear of imposing sanctions, preferring to keep member states in line using public assessments.

As part of a broader effort to learn from the mistakes of the Lisbon Strategy, the EU president wants a reduced number of guidelines and a maximum of five "quantitative targets with a deadline and possible immediate steps".

The paper likens the monitoring system to the approach applied in setting climate change goals. However, it notes that national targets for EU 2020 will not be binding and says sanctions are not foreseen.

Governments will have to agree on five targets at the European Council meeting in March. National targets will be prepared for the June Council meeting, with discussions on specific policy issues – such as research and development – expected in the autumn.

"Member states should send their stability and convergence programme and national reform programme" in time for the autumn gathering of EU leaders in Brussels. Each country will have a tailored strategy reflecting how well developed Europe's 27 members are in terms of research spending and infrastructure. 

Diplomatic sources indicated that "peer review" could be used to maintain the pressure on governments to hit their targets. This could involve grouping clusters of countries together which would consult regularly on progress and bottlenecks in reform.

The paper alludes to plans for independent assessments and scoreboards, which will be made public with the intention of addressing the kind of drift that afflicted surveillance of the Lisbon Strategy.

Annual progress reports

Van Rompuy said there was consensus on the content of the Europe 2020 strategy and that leaders were enthusastic about his blueprint for sustainable growth.

"It is clear that we have to work together towards common objectives as we all have the same problems: low growth and high unemployment. We have to decide on what we want to do, together," said the EU President.

He added that one Council meeting each year would include an evaluation of progess on three central themes: stability and growth, climate action, and the EU 2020 strategy – thus elevating the plan to the highest level of political priority. 

In 2000, the EU launched its ambitious 'Lisbon Strategy' to become "the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010".

After five years of limited results, EU leaders re-launched the strategy in March 2005, placing greater emphasis on growth and jobs and transferring more ownership to member states via national action plans (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

A new plan, dubbed 'EU 2020', was launched for consultation by the European Commission in November last year, placing the emphasis on green growth and jobs through innovation (EURACTIV 19/11/09).

The consultation resulted in 1,500 submissions. These highlighted widespread concern about the jobs crisis, which made the need for a comprehensive roadmap to recovery even more pressing.

  • March 2010: European Council to agree on focus of 'Europe 2020' strategy, including quantitative targets.
  • June 2010: EU governments to endorse guidelines for 'Europe 2020' and country-specific targets.
  • Autumn 2010: Member states to submit stability and convergence programmes, as well as national reform programmes.

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