PA bosses assess Barroso’s flagship ‘Lisbon Strategy’

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The global economic downturn represents a “tremendous opportunity” for the EU to revive its flagship Lisbon Strategy for boosting growth and jobs, public affairs consultants told EURACTIV. But opinions vary regarding its future priorities amid mixed evaluations of the strategy’s success.

The EU’s Lisbon Agenda, launched in 2000, “has failed so far to serve its main purpose of ‘dynamising’ and galvanising European forces around a European project,” according to José Lalloum, managing partner of Logos Public Affairs, a Brussels-based consultancy. 

This assessment comes despite its targets and goals being “even more valid in the context of the global economic downturn,” which in fact presents a “tremendous opportunity” for the European Commission and EU governments to revive the strategy, Lalloum said. 

“The Lisbon Agenda should not be replaced, but furthered and activated,” he explained, calling for its remit to be broadened to tackle climate change by modernising Europe’s economies – primarily by investing in research and development. 

This view was echoed by Jacques Lafitte, founder of Avisa Partners, another Brussels-based consultancy, who says the crisis means that the strategy’s basic goals – jobs, a knowledge-based economy and growth – will remain on top of the EU’s agenda “way beyond 2010”. 

Searching for a ‘new narrative’ 

“A ‘new narrative’ which complements rather than replaces the Lisbon Agenda would be sustainability and cutting-edge technologies for the creation of jobs and a low-carbon economy,” Lafitte said. 

Gerard De Graaf, head of unit in charge of the Lisbon Strategy at the European Commission, told EURACTIV in an interview recently that the EU needs to speed up implementation of its economic reform agenda, but suggested that no radical changes in substance are to be expected when the strategy comes up for revision later this year (EURACTIV 24/06/09). 

Similarly, current EU presidency holder Sweden believes the Lisbon Agenda has been successful in many respects, the country’s EU Affairs Minister Cecilia Malmström told EURACTIV in an interview (EURACTIV 29/06/09). 

Nevertheless, a “new, more focused and more efficient” strategy is expected to be adopted during the Spanish EU Presidency in spring 2010, and “preparing and setting the framework” for this strategy will be an important task for Sweden, Malmström said. 

The Barroso factor 

Many Brussels observers believe the Union’s priorities for the coming years will not change dramatically if José Manuel Barroso is re-confirmed as president of the European Commission for a second term. 

Barroso won the unanimous backing of EU heads of state and government at their summit on 18-19 June (EURACTIV 19/06/09), but he will have to wait to be formally re-appointed after MEPs decided to delay a vote on his nomination until the autumn (EURACTIV 07/07/09). 

Should Barroso remain in charge of the EU executive, “issues such as the reform of financial supervision or the fight against climate change will continue to feature high on the agenda,” Laurent Chokoualé Datou of Brussels-based PR firm Edelman told EURACTIV, perhaps to the detriment of “more social-welfare oriented support policies designed to help weather the impact of the global financial crisis”. 

Regulatory pressures 

For Fleishman-Hillard Europe Managing Director Caroline Wunnerlich, post-election buzzwords from 2004 like ‘better regulation’, ‘implementation’ and ‘competitiveness’ have since been “turned on their heads” by the economic crisis, which has “turned everyone’s attention [onto] the need to regulate the financial sector”. 

“The level to which this regulatory momentum in financial services ‘migrates’ to other policy areas is of course key, but it is hard to see how it would not,” Wunnerlich told EURACTIV. 

The Commission is due to launch a wide Internet-based consultation of European and national stakeholders on the post-2010 Lisbon Strategy in early autumn 2009, with formal proposals expected to be presented at the end of this year or early next. 

EU leaders would then likely adopt the EU executive’s main policy orientations at their summit in March 2010. 

"I do not foresee any significant change in the EU's priorities. The financial crisis, the climate and the Lisbon Treaty will remain on the agenda. As for what comes after the Lisbon Agenda, I would choose the key words 'sustainable recovery', 'growth' and 'security'," Georg Danell, managing partner in the Brussels office of Kreab Gavin Anderson, told EURACTIV in an interview. 

"A new narrative replacing the Lisbon Agenda could very well be the Lisbon Treaty, given the uncertainty that remains concerning its ratification," according to Julia Harrison, managing partner of Brussels public affairs consultancy Blueprint Partners

"If it isn't adopted, the EU must find other means to re-organise itself internally, and this could be a rather lengthy process," Harrison added. 

The Union needs a "reinforced Lisbon Agenda as the driver of a European project to federate EU citizens, with a vision in terms of sustainable growth as an enabler of prosperity in Europe," José Lalloum, managing partner of Logos Public Affairs, told EURACTIV. 

"We have not had a federal European project since Jacques Delors, so no wonder the turnout in EU elections is so disappointing," Lalloum added. 

For Michiel van Hulten of PA firm Burson-Marsteller, the priorities of the revamped Lisbon Strategy should be "regulation (of financial markets) and deregulation (of other markets), partnerships instead of enlargement, fighting climate change without undermining EU growth, and strengthened transatlantic cooperation". 

When voicing its support for a renewed mandate of José Manuel Barroso as Commission president, the EPP called upon their candidate to "commit to a five-year legislative pact based on the main priorities of [its] Warsaw Manifesto: social market economy, security, subsidiarity, borders and a clear European identity," CEO of Hill and Knowlton's Brussels arm Elaine Cruikshanks told EURACTIV (EURACTIV 26/06/09). 

"This does not reflect much of the Lisbon Agenda. If Barroso wants to gain the necessary support of the European Liberals, he should think about adding issues such as competitiveness and a common policy versus legal immigrants and asylum seekers," Cruikshanks said. 

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 heads of state and government 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. 

In response to public concern about climate change, ageing populations and social exclusion, EU leaders agreed to shift the Lisbon Agenda away from the purely "growth and jobs" focus of the past three years, putting the environment and citizens in the foreground instead (EURACTIV 18/03/08). 

Given the current economic turmoil, the pendulum has seemingly swung back again, making job creation and increasing competitiveness the bloc's key priorities (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Growth and jobs: Reshaping the EU's Lisbon Strategy'). 

  • Early autumn 2009: Commission to launch a wide Internet-based consultation of European and national stakeholders on the post-2010 Lisbon Strategy (based on an issue paper). 
  • Late 2009 /early 2010: New Commission to present its formal proposals for Lisbon post-2010. 
  • March 2010: EU summit to adopt main policy orientations. 
  • March 2010 / June 2010: EU summit to provide more detailed decisions, including integrated guidelines, country-specific recommendations, a new type of Community Lisbon Programme and more developed proposals in specific policy areas (such as the EU's innovation strategy). 

PLEASE NOTE: EURACTIV will publish the full series of interviews with EU public affairs bosses during its Special Week on the new European Parliament next week. 

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