Regions want more say on EU growth and jobs policy

A consultation of European local authorities and cities has revealed strong criticism of the way the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs has been implemented across the 27 member states of the European Union.

The Lisbon Strategy, the EU’s flagship policy to turn the bloc into the world’s leading economy by 2010, has suffered from a lack of flexibility and did not take sufficient account of local differences across Europe, according to regional authorities.

The Committee of the Regions, an EU consultative body, has gathered the views of cities and local authorities regarding the revision of the strategy, which expires next year.

Their viewpoints and concerns are summarised in a report that will be fed to a summit of EU leaders next spring. The summit is due to adopt a revised Lisbon Strategy for the period after 2010.

Strategy ‘too focused on the economy’

Christine Chapman, a socialist member of the National Assembly for Wales who oversaw the Committee of the Regions’ contribution to the revised strategy, said the policy has been too focused on economic matters.

“Since 2005 the Lisbon Strategy has been clearly focused on the hard-edged economic drivers, under the revised branding of ‘Growth and Jobs’, and achieving structural changes in the EU economy to enhance productivity and improve overall competitiveness in the global economy,” Chapman said in a consultation document circulated to the Committee of the Regions.

The crisis, she added, “has underlined the need to rethink our pre-occupation with economic growth, and consider looking more broadly in terms of the well-being or ‘happiness’ of people within society”.

“This means there must be a more people-centred and ‘human’ approach to economic policy,” Chapman wrote, saying people represent “the competitive advantage for Europe’s enterprises in the global market place” and “must be given stronger emphasis” in the revised strategy.

Quality of life and the green economy

In her opinion for the Committee of the Regions, Chapman calls for the EU to re-balance the strategy and merge it with sustainable development priorities, such as climate change and preserving the environment.

To reflect this change, she proposes that the strategy be re-named, a move she says will also avoid confusion with the Lisbon Treaty. “For example ‘Quality of Life for All: Building a Sustainable Future for Europe in the World,’ or in a shortened version, the ‘Sustainable Europe Strategy’.”

She further calls for EU leaders to develop Europe’s competitiveness in the green economy “as a core priority” and to draw up a “European Green Skills and Green Jobs Strategy”.

“The other big message coming out of our consultation is that you cannot exclude the green agenda from the revision of the Lisbon Strategy,” Chapman told EURACTIV in an interview. “The environment has got to play a key role in the strategy because our economic growth must be achieved within the Earth’s ecological limits. And Europe could play a leading role in this.”

In the current economic downturn, the value and importance of social insurance and social protection systems that protect the most vulnerable in society are also crucial, she says.

Greater involvement from local authorities

The Welsh representative also underlines the need for regional and local authorities to be more involved in shaping, delivering and evaluating the revised strategy.

Regional authorities’ lack of involvement in the strategy has drawn policymakers away from the realities of European territories, she says, leading to a loss of effectiveness, especially after the EU’s enlargement to Eastern European states.

“One of the main concerns from the consultation was that they [the regions] wanted to be much more involved in setting the strategy because as regional and local authorities, ultimately they play a strong role in carrying out the strategy. There was a strong sense that they had a lot to offer. Maybe in the past they had not been adequately recognised.”

According to Chapman, regional and local authorities can play a crucial role in bringing the message to people on the ground. “I think the Committee of the Regions is again a very good vehicle to do this, because we have access to the ordinary citizen and it’s about bringing the ordinary citizen with us.”

More effective communications

In her paper, Chapman further underlines that the current Lisbon Strategy has failed to give sufficient recognition to the role played by regional and local authorities across the EU in implementing and communicating the strategy on the ground. 

It therefore calls for a more effective communication strategy, involving regional and local authorities, to raise awareness and promote the key messages of the new Strategy.

But communications is not everything, she warns. “As far as the Lisbon Strategy is concerned, I don’t think it strikes a chord with the ordinary citizen,” she told EURACTIV. “And one of the messages in my paper is that if we redefined the strategy, we could ensure that the ordinary citizen identifies with it. It is about how you define it really, and not only about communications.”

To communicate more effectively, she stressed the need for the Committee of the Regions to engage more with the European Parliament.

To read the interivew with Christine Chapman in full, please click here

As the recession bites, the European Commission and national governments have begun to reflect on replacing the EU's overarching strategy for growth and jobs, known as the Lisbon Strategy. 'Green growth', innovation and education are likely to feature highly among the strategy's new priorities (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

Meanwhile, the Commission recently launched a reflection on how the EU's Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) should evolve in the future and how it could be better aligned with other cross-cutting EU policies.

The EU executive particularly stresses the need to find greater synergies with the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs, which will be reviewed in 2010 (EURACTIV 29/07/09).

  • 6 Oct. 2009: Chapman to present her report on the Lisbon Strategy consultation post-2010 to the Committee of the Regions.
  • Mid-Oct.: European Commission expected to launch a wide Internet-based consultation on the revision of the Lisbon Strategy post-2010. 
  • Late 2009-Early 2010: New Commission to present its formal proposals for Lisbon Strategy post-2010. 
  • March 2010: EU summit to adopt main policy orientations. 
  • 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).

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