Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Economy and climate are the priorities of Herman van Rompuy

euinside, January 22, 2010

Around the hearings of the Commissioner-designates, the activities of the new permanent president of the European Council Herman van Rompuy were a little ignored. He took the post officially on the 1st of January. In a speech in Madrid for the beginning of his term as well as the start of the Spanish EU Presidency, Van Rompuy outlined 2 major issues on which he said he would focus all of his efforts - climate change, especially in the context of the achievements of Copenhagen and the exit from the financial and economic crisis against the background of the new Strategy EU2020, being prepared by the Commission.

Undoubtedly the priorities are very important but their implementation is entirely dependent on the will of the member states as Herman van Rompuy put it himself in Madrid: "We now need a renewed economic Strategy, with stronger ownership at the highest level, i.e. the European Council. I find it crucial that Heads of State or Government be clearly associated, from the onset, with this work. This will ensure their engagement and thus their commitment to implement what we agree". These words of the European president practically show intention to seize some of the functions of the Commission - control over EU's policies implementation to pass from the Commission to the political format of the European Council, meaning that EU leaders will control themselves how and whether they implement measures, planned by them. And the role of the president of the Council will be to coordinate the process.

According to the former Belgian prime minister, the first and major task of the EU will be the full recovery after the financial and economic crisis. This can be achieved through structural changes, envisaged in the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs. At the moment, more than ever, the EU needs economic growth to be able to finance the European social model. "This is a matter of survival, and we will succeed", the European president hoped.

For the purpose he is organising an informal summit on the 11th of February, where the 2 major issues for the development of the EU will be discussed: climate change and the new strategy EU2020, offered by the Commission. The main priorities in the strategy are:

- Creating value by basing growth on knowledge. Opportunity and social cohesion will be enhanced in a world where innovation makes the difference in both products and processes, harnessing the potential of education, research and of the digital economy;

- Empowering people in inclusive societies. The acquisition of new skills, fostering creativity and innovation, the development of entrepreneurship and a smooth transition between jobs will be crucial in a world which will offer more jobs in exchange for greater adaptability;

- Creating a competitive, connected and greener economy. The EU should compete more effectively and increase its productivity by a lower and more efficient consumption of non-renewable energy and resources in a world of high energy and resources prices, and greater competition for energy and resources.

Achieving these goals though is doomed like the Lisbon Strategy, unless it is raised to supranational level. As Herman van Rompuy said himself so as to ensure success in the economic sphere it was necessary all barriers in labour market to be dropped, the help mobility and science - issues on which many old member states disagree for fears of flows of migrants from the poor Eastern-European nations.

Another serious problem is the will of the member states themselves to implement the new strategy which, if approved, envisages very serious reforms, especially in the field of education. According to the working document of the Commission, "Strengthening education is one of the most effective ways of fighting inequality and poverty. The high number of low achievers in basic skills (reading, mathematics and science) needs to be addressed urgently to enhance the employability of young people and to bring them into the world of work after school. Preventing early school leaving reduces future exclusion from the labour market and the threat of future social exclusion. A greater emphasis on vulnerable groups, gender equality and social cohesion is needed to ensure that no one is excluded from knowledge".

The document plans also a serious reform of the high education - a problem which, especially for Bulgaria, is even slightly discussed. "Europe has some of the best universities in the world. But our ambition should be to have many more and turn them into a true engine for knowledge and growth. This will not only require investment but also reforms and where necessary consolidation, closer co-operation, including with business, and a more open attitude to change".

The ambitious programme EU2020 will be discussed by EU leaders on the 11th of February and only then we will be able to forecast more precisely to what extent its implementation is possible. Furthermore only 10 years are left by 2020 - a period too short as the experience from the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs showed, especially after it was being implemented in a quite different global and internal European context.