Barroso: National Lisbon plans a good effort but more needed

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Having received national reform programmes on growth and jobs from all member states, the Commission has presented its first annual progress report on the Lisbon strategy. The report is mildly optimistic.

Addressing journalists in Brussels on 25 January 2005, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: “My overall message is clear, it is time to move up a gear. […] We’ve come a long way since last year and the right foundations are now in place. […] Now the spotlight moves to delivery.” Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, in charge of enterprise and industry, compared the 25 member states to a group of ships. “The convoy has left the harbour and is slowly and jointly moving in the right direction – not all at the same speed, but the process encourages slower ships to step up speed.”

When asked about concerns regarding differences between the national action plans, Commissioner Verheugen admitted: “It is true that the quality is very different, but I am more than happy that the process has started.” President Barroso declined to comment on which countries were doing worse than others, saying he believed a collaborative effort was going to achieve more than “naming and blaming” member states for shortcomings.  

Barroso said he also did not believe in a sanction system similar to the one established for the Stability and Growth Pact: “It would not be accepted by member states, and we want to do this in partnership with them. We hope that the member states will accept this kind of peer review, of collective monitoring.” 

EPP-ED  MEP Alexander Radwan  said: "Increased spending on research will only have value if the research can be put into practice. In this sense, Europe has been lagging behind. What good does it do if European researchers come up with heaps of ideas only to see them realised in the US and in China?"

For the PSE Group, which has published its own extensive comment  on the renewed Lisbon strategy, MEP Hannes Swoboda said: "EU action is handicapped not only by lack of funds and a minimalist budgetary framework but also by financial rules that give rise to useless bureaucracy and require impossible guarantees from small- and medium-sized enterprises, especially to obtain loans for research. [...]More public investment is needed, including from the EU budget, as well as urgent measures to facilitate private investment."

ALDE Leader Graham Watson said: "[The] chief responsibility for the success or failure of the Lisbon goals of economic growth lies with the Member States. The Commission can take the Member States to water but it cannot make them drink. It is now up to each and every national government to take these recommendations seriously and commit, at the Spring European Council, to comply with their National Reform Programmes and learn from best practice across the Union."

John Monks, Secretary General of the European Trade Union Congress (ETUC), said: "The Commission needs to understand that excessive competition at the expense of working conditions leads to less, not more productivity and innovation. Workers who feel insecure or even exploited will be less willing to invest in productivity and will resist change."

Eurochambres  President Pierre Simon said: "I believe that the Commission, in a muted and diplomatic manner, confirms the business community reaction to the Reform Programmes. They lack ambition. The NRPs will not bring Europe the radical reforms needed to regain competitiveness: they will only result in slight improvements, and then only if they are actually implemented."

UNICE President Ernest-Antoine Seillière  said: "The lack of growth is the root of Europe’s problems. The national reform programmes are a step forward. But many of the programmes lack ambition when it comes to concrete implementation of the announced reforms. We must go beyond a mere diagnosis of Europe’s problems and start the therapy, with a clear governance process. European social partners are invited to play a role. UNICE is ready to participate under the condition that it focuses on the real issues." 

 

In its evaluation, the Commission has defined four priority areas where more action is needed. Next to repeated calls for more investment in education and research, more support for SMEs and higher employment rates, the Commission has taken on board one new area, which was up to now not part of the Lisbon strategy: the need to define a common EU energy policy. 

  • At the March 23-24 Spring Council, the Commission expects clear commitments, e.g. from those member states which are not meeting the Lisbon target of 3% of GNP, of sums to be spent on research and development. 
  • Governments are expected to report on the implementation of their NRPs by October 2006.

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