Barroso pledges ‘to fight’ for EU social agenda

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European Commission President José Manuel Barroso this week (16 December) faced accusations from MEPs that his draft EU 2020 strategy for economic and environmental renewal lacked a sufficient social dimension.

Barroso, responding to a barrage of questions from MEPs during a one-hour ‘question time’ in Strasbourg, was repeatedly challenged over the lack of social aspects in the strategy. 

UK Socialist MEP Stephen Hughes cited claims by the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) that the 2020 strategy was “a step backwards from the commitments of successive European Councils to strengthen the social dimension” of EU policies. 

In response, Barroso claimed his goal was a “strengthened mechanism of governance” for the social elements of the strategy. 

He added that the strategy is as yet only a consultation document and that the social elements may differ in the final draft. 

Barroso blames member states for social inaction 

Barroso appeared to be talking up his own social credentials, telling MEPs that he has pushed in the past for stronger social cooperation in EU policy only to be told ‘no’ by member states, who jealously guard their sovereignty over social issues. 

“This isn’t new,” he said, adding that on several occasions, his Commission had made “very specific proposals” to enhance social cooperation only to receive a “very loud ‘no'” from the member states.

However, the Commission president claimed that things may be different this time. 

“After this crisis, there is much more awareness among member states of the need to have a real co-ordination of social aspects, and I’m going to fight for it,” he said, indicating that newly-appointed EU Council President Hermann Van Rompuy has called for an informal exchange of views among EU leaders on this topic in early February 2010. 

“We need the support of member states,” Barroso concluded. 

Regarding the timeline for finalising the strategy, Barroso explained that he hopes to have a formal communication ready for the spring EU summit next March, but would delay presenting formal conclusions to EU leaders until their June meeting. 

“I think this is better,” he noted, as it will ensure that there is enough time for the Parliament to “take full ownership” of the strategy.

Barroso has been widely criticised for scheduling the consultation for the strategy over the busy December holiday period. 

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). 

With the 2010 deadline drawing nearer, the European Commission and national governments have begun to reflect on replacing the strategy. 

In November 2009, Commission President José Manuel Barroso published a consultation document for such a 'roadmap'. The 'EU 2020' strategy aims to lead the EU out of recession while pushing Europe towards a green, knowledge-based economy by 2020 (EURACTIV 19/11/09). 

As reported by EURACTIV, the draft plans have already been condemned in some quarters for being too "short-termist" (EURACTIV 16/12/09). 

  • 15 Jan. 2010: Deadline for consultations on EU 2020 strategy.
  • March 2010: EU summit to be presented with a formal communication.
  • June 2010: EU summit to approve strategy.

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