The EU is Missing its Targets

Member nations carrying out their promises poorly

December 14, 2005

European heads of state are in disagreement about EU financing this week at their summit meeting in Brussels. This conflict is about more than just economics; it is about how the goals of the European Union can be adjusted to what is realistically achievable. If the EU’s Lisbon Strategy from the year 2000 had actually been implemented properly, European countries today would have caught up with the United States economically, and European social systems would be successfully modernised. But this never happened. Research by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies now shows that the non-binding decision-making and implementation processes of the European Union are responsible for the failure of Europe’s "Agenda 2010".

At their summit meeting in March 2000, European heads of state declared that they intended to make the continent the most competitive and innovative economic area in the world within 10 years. More than five years later, this strategy is far from being realised. In February 2005, the EU Commission in Brussels gave a sobering report on the status of the Lisbon Strategy. Germany had only been able to reach 40 percent of its goals; EU countries on average, 58 percent. The Commission called it a very poor performance. Armin Schäfer of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies has published new research saying it was a lack of will and imperative that caused the failure of the EU to implement the Lisbon Strategy. Because the strategy was not legally binding, governments were willing to accept it. But now, it is not possible to force them to carry it out.

Now the EU is attempting to increase pressure on governments to reform their economies with a view to common goals. It has not, however, gained additional competencies; European governments are evaluating themselves. They are responsible not just for implementing the strategy, but also for checking to make sure it is being implemented correctly. If their national policies go against the agreement, they cannot be sanctioned. There is very little monitoring either by independent committees, or by the European public. The efforts of other international organisations receive much more public attention than the EU's Lisbon Strategy has. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) demonstrated in its PISA study that one way to gain public attention is to set up comparisons between countries with clear rankings. This has been able to help spur reforms in the OECD states.

"Continuing high unemployment in many European countries is part of the reason for the current crisis of the EU," says Armin Schäfer. Furthermore, because the EU has not come through on its ambitious, historic promise to increase the prosperity of its citizens, the European integration is losing public support. One sign of this was the failed referendum on adopting the proposed EU constitution. Politics loses its credibility, and democracy is damaged, when the expectations of European citizens are left consistently unfulfilled.

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