In defence of the Lisbon Agenda

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“Rather than a wholesale dismissal of all the efforts that have been made to date, we would be well advised to focus our attention on constructive input, actionable ideas and sound improvements” to the Lisbon Agenda, writes Ann Mettler, executive director and co-founder of the Lisbon Council, in a March blog post.

“These days, the Lisbon Agenda, Europe’s growth and jobs programme, is making an unexpected comeback in the news […] in reference to José Manuel Barroso’s bid for a second term at the helm of the European Commission,” declares Mettler.

Asking whether Lisbon has really been “a flop”, Mettler says “the two key targets of the Lisbon Agenda, a 70% employment rate and R&D spending of 3% of GDP, have not been met by all member states”. 

Nevertheless, “that ‘failure’ overshadows two positive aspects,” she explains. “Firstly, several member states have met these targets. Eight EU member states have employment rates in excess of 70%, while two have managed to reach the ambitious R&D goals.”

“Secondly, the targets themselves have been extremely helpful in shifting and guiding the policy debate.”

Moreover, “targets are important policy levers, even if they are not met. They allow countries to compare themselves with others, and provide crucial goals and milestones that policymakers can use to raise awareness,” she adds.

“Another area where the Lisbon Agenda in general and President Barroso in particular deserve praise is in bringing different policy spheres together,” writes Mettler.

“Compared to the beginning of the decade or even the time when President Barroso first entered office in late 2004, there is a much greater understanding that ‘social’ isues such as education, skills, diversity, youth employment and equal opportunity are of fundamental importance to ‘economic’ policymaking,” she explains.

“Sure, the fact that there are fewer bold announcements or aggressive comments within the European Commission and vis-à-vis the member states is in stark contrast with the last European Commission, led by Romano Prodi,” she says.

“But is there anyone who can seriously claim that the end of the Prodi era had anywhere near the respectability or commanding attention of the current leadership?,” Mettler asks.

“That is not a sign of ‘failure’ but simply a different kind of leadership and modus operandi, which is ultimately the prerogative of a leader in power,” she insists.

“Even if the current Lisbon Agenda doesn’t make the news often and is subject to much criticism, it is nonetheless an important and meaningful policy process for the EU member states,” she stresses.

Mettler concludes by asking: “Is there anyone, even among the harshest critics, who believes that Europe can get by without a solid, visionary and comprehensive medium- to long-term strategy for itself and its member countries?”

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