Auteur: | By Richard Carter
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, who wrote a key report on Europe's competitiveness, has admitted that the EU's Lisbon goal to become the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the World by 2010 is "a bridge too far".
Speaking on Tuesday (1 February) at a conference arranged by the European Venture Capital Association (EVCA) in Brussels, Mr Kok asked whether the EU can still live up to its ambitious goals and concluded, "that is one bridge too far, I fear", adding that hitting the 2010 targets "will prove to be extremely difficult, if not impossible".
Furthermore, Mr Kok noted, "even if every target were to be hit on time, which is highly improbable, we would still not be on safe ground", referring to competition from fast-growing economies such as India and China.
To rise to the challenges Europe faces, both from these external competitors and from internal problems, such as a rapidly ageing problem, Mr Kok called for more political will at both the European and national level.
Europeans also need to become more entrepreneurial and innovative if the EU is to catch up with the US, he added, echoing a recent report from the European Commission that showed twice as many Americans are thinking of setting up their own business than Europeans.
Mr Kok's comments come the day before Commission President José Manual Durao Barroso is due to unveil Brussels' proposal to "refocus" the Lisbon Strategy.
A draft copy of the document, obtained two weeks ago by the EUobserver, makes no mention of the 2010 goal, although the text is subject to change.
The proposal aims to redirect the Lisbon Strategy towards boosting growth and employment. The original plan - agreed in 2000 - was based around three pillars; economic, environmental and social.
The draft also suggests that a "Mr Lisbon / Mr Jobs and Growth" should be appointed in each member state to give individual countries more "ownership" of the process.
The Commission's work will be based on the Kok report and will contribute to a discussion at Head of State and Government level at a summit in March.
Part of the solution, not part of the problem
But the Socialist Group in the European Parliament emphasised that the social and environmental aspects of the Lisbon Strategy should not be lost in the bid for stronger economic growth.
Unveiling an "analysis of the failure to implement the EU's Lisbon Strategy" and "more than 30 new ideas to revitalise it", the Socialist Group said, "We all agree that economic performance must be improved. But the Socialist Group insists that social and environmental progress are part of the solution, not part of the problem".
The President of the Socialist party, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, said in a statement that he was "very worried about rumours on the Barroso plan for more and better jobs".
"Europe's socialists will not stand for a blinkered economic vision that leaves the people and their environment out", he added.