EU unveils new 10-year blueprint, receiving mixed responses

13:48, March 04, 2010      

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European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso holds a news conference at the EC headquarters in Brussels March 3, 2010. Barroso outlined his goals on Wednesday for growth and jobs in the 27-country European Union. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)


The European Union (EU) on Wednesday unveiled a 10-year blueprint for reviving the economic growth in the 27-nation bloc, only to receive mixed responses.

Critics doubt whether the new plan, named the EU 2020 Strategy, can work.

AN URGENT NEED

"The Europe 2020 is about what we need to do today and tomorrow to get Europe back on track," European Commission President Jose Barroso told a press conference.

The new plan is supposed to replace the Lisbon Strategy, a 10-year blueprint adopted in 2000, which was seen to have failed to meet its target to transform the EU into the "the most competitive knowledge-based economy" by 2010.

Badly hit by a global economic crisis starting in 2008, the EU's economy contracted by 4 percent last year and the jobless rate reached a record high of 9.5 percent.

Barroso said that the EU was already falling behind before the crisis and that the crisis exposed "fundamental weaknesses and unsustainable trends" that could not be ignored any longer."

"There is a real sense of urgency in this economic strategy that we are presenting today," he said.

The president said that increased economic interdependence demanded a more determined and coherent response at the political level. "That clearly makes the case for a stronger economic governance in the EU," he said.

INNOVATION, GREEN ECONOMY PRIORITIZED

The new strategy will focus on education, innovation, labor mobility and green economy. It also sets concrete aims, such as raising the employment rate from the current 69 percent to 75 percent and increasing research and development investment from below 2 percent to 3 percent of the EU's gross domestic product (GDP).

Research and development spending is 2.6 percent in the U.S. and 3.4 percent in Japan.

"Our smaller share of high-tech firms explains half of our gap with the U.S.," the European Commission said in a statement.

The commission added that smart growth means strengthening knowledge and innovation as drivers of future growth.

In Europe 2020, the EU also promised to reduce its carbon emissions by 20 percent compared to 1990 levels and increase the share of renewable energy sources in final energy consumption to 20 percent.

New greener technologies can stimulate growth, create as many as 400, 000 new jobs by 2020, and help the EU meet climate change goals, according to the commission.

MIXED RESPONSES

Barroso said that the Europe 2020, unlike the "too ambitious and too detailed" Lisbon Strategy, is "ambitious and realistic."

  He said that "the difference this time is that the EU appears ready for stronger economic governance."

To drive the new strategy at a national level, the European Commission will address country-specific recommendations to member states.

"We will also issue policy warnings in case of inadequate response," he said.

However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier that she was not keen on having these new Lisbon instruments in formal warnings used by the commission, adding that this could politicize the budget process.

Analysts said that the attitude of Germany, the biggest economy in Europe, might greatly affect enforcement of the new plan.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of Alliance of Liberals and Democrats group in the European Parliament, said that the plan "offers some carrots but few sticks other than a possible warning from the Commission, which is unlikely to send a shudder down the spines of national finance ministries."

"I maintain that the European Commission, not the European Council, is best placed to set the targets, oversee performance and name and shame underperformers because member states will always lack the political will for self criticism," Verhofstadt said.

Some others questioned whether the EU had the tools to achieve its ambitious objectives.

"Looking at the targets, it looks like the tools to deliver are mostly at member-state level so it remains to be seen how far member states will match action to aspiration this time around," said the European Policy Center, a think tank in Brussels.

The new strategy will need endorsement by the European Council this month.

Source: Xinhua
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