Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Lisbon Agenda is good for another row

Wim Kok, the former Dutch Prime Minister has chaired a group of experts (expertise unspecified) that looked into the Lisbon Agenda and how far it has moved. Unsurprisingly, the report that will be presented to the European Commission on November 3, just before the European Council meets in Brussels to discuss that Agenda, among other things, will be damning.

From the draft it appears that Mr Kok has described the Lisbon Agenda as being about everything and, therefore, about nothing. A fair point.

On the detail, the report will point out that job creation had ground to a halt in 2001 in most EU member states, though there seems no mention of the fact that almost all the jobs were in the public sector, anyway, and, therefore, non-productive. Only three EU member states have boosted spending on research and development to the target of 3 per cent of GDP. There seems to be no specification at this stage of which countries and whether the R & D is of the useful kind. Still research is research.

Finally, and most mysteriously, Wim Kok criticizes the EU countries for being well below the their Kyoto pledges on greenhouse gas emission. Whatever the Kyoto pledges may be about, it is not about growth. Quite the opposite. So, being below the pledges may even be a good thing, though with all the other problems, it clearly is not.

As the European Voice puts it:

“The report makes 21 recommendations about research, the internal market, innovation, labour reform and sustainability. Member states should decide by July 2005 how they will slash their administrative burden, implement financial services laws by the end of 2005 and take concrete steps towards making it easier for people to set up businesses.

The report calls on member states to be more accountable, finalize national action plans by the end of 2005 and appoint a representative to oversee the co-ordination of national progress.”
So far, reactions to the draft report have been hostile, though nobody has suggested that the picture it paints is inaccurate. The problem is, that there are no real suggestions on how to deal with the problems.

Industry representatives thought that governments should have been told to focus on economic reform, rather than just generally do something about it.

The French Socialist MEP, Pervenche Bérès, who chairs the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee, rather incoherently criticized the report for concentrating on economic issues and competitiveness (presumably, like the rest of us, Wim Kok thought that competitiveness is what the Lisbon Agenda was supposed to be about), not paying enough attention to the “European agenda” and too much to national governments.

While Ann Mettler, speaking at the Lisbon Council for a group campaigning for the Lisbon Agenda said:

“With a team of only union leaders, big business representatives and an average age of 57, it’s not surprising that this bureaucratic solution has been reached.”
All this argy-bargy sums up well what the problem is: the Lisbon Agenda is looked on as some kind of a miracle cure. The idea that competitiveness is not something you can legislate, regulate, tabulate or evaluate simply does not enter these people’s heads.

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