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Document 52015AE0034

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on progress made on implementing the Europe 2020 strategy and how to achieve its targets by 2020 (exploratory opinion requested by the Latvian Presidency)

OJ C 251, 31.7.2015, p. 19–24 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

31.7.2015   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 251/19


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on progress made on implementing the Europe 2020 strategy and how to achieve its targets by 2020

(exploratory opinion requested by the Latvian Presidency)

(2015/C 251/04)

Rapporteur-general:

Mr BARÁTH

In a letter dated 25 September 2014, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia, Rihards Kozloviskis, asked the European Economic and Social Committee to draw up an exploratory opinion on the

Progress on implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy and how to achieve its targets by 2020.

On 14 October 2014, the Committee Bureau instructed the Europe 2020 Steering Committee to prepare the Committee’s work on the subject.

Given the urgent nature of the work, the European Economic and Social Committee appointed Mr Baráth as rapporteur-general at its 505th plenary session, held on 18 and 19 February 2015 (meeting of 19 February), and adopted the following opinion by 184 votes to 5 with 6 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1.

The EESC agrees with the Latvian Presidency, recognising the fundamental importance of the EU 2020 Strategy review to boosting European competitiveness. The EESC supports the direct link made between improved European competitiveness and the ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’ flagship initiative (1), including the enormous consequences for industry, the labour market and society in general, which have been underestimated by the European Commission and the Council. The situation needs an over-arching medium- and long-term vision and a greater sense of ownership.

1.2.

The measures suggested in this opinion of the EESC should help ensure that gradually, over a period of several years, the Europe 2020 strategy (and then Europe 2030) should be the central concept underpinning the EU’s economic, social and territorial strategies in the long term, taking into account the range of differing situations in the Member States.

1.3.

The financial crisis has had a major impact on the implementation of the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, creating limitations and constraints in terms of the effectiveness, appropriateness and legitimacy of its targets and governance model. Broadly speaking, the EU is now much further away from the Europe 2020 goals than it was in 2010. The strategy has suffered as a result of the crisis.

1.4.

The details of the current situation can be found in the survey issued by the Commission on the mid-term review of the EU 2020 Strategy and in the EESC opinion (2). The opinion contains a number of interesting points to be taken into account with regard to the forward-looking changes to be proposed for the revised strategy. On several occasions, the EESC underlines the point that Europe does not need a completely new strategy, but a much more effective one.

1.5.

The new Commission, which took office in autumn 2014, has published its work programme entitled ‘A New Start for Europe’ (3).

The EESC agrees with the three pillars of the work programme:

a.

to provide an additional boost to the recovery of the European economy and to job creation;

b.

to boost long-term competitiveness in strategic areas;

c.

to strengthen European human capital and physical infrastructure, focussing on the European interconnections.

1.6.

The new work programme addresses implementation of the ten policy guidelines that form the priorities of the Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. This is all the more important considering that several of these directly support the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy:

a.

An Investment Plan for Europe (4), establishment a new risk-bearing European Fund for Strategic Investment,

b.

An ambitious Digital Single Market Package and

c.

Initial Steps towards Energy Union.

1.6.1.

There must be a global vision, along with a strategy for its implementation, and widespread information about it. The EESC is of the opinion that Europe 2020 and the Investment Plan should be much more closely linked.

1.6.2.

The EESC is currently examining in an opinion (5) the extent to which the Investment Plan should remedy the main shortcomings of the Europe 2020 Strategy, and the new financial instruments increase the chance of implementing its objectives.

1.6.3.

The EESC is in favour of improving the Digital Single Market Package (6), taking a decisive step towards implementation of the Digital Flagship of the EU 2020 Strategy. Securing the European Union’s digital future is one of the main pillars supporting the competitiveness of the European economy and determining the sustainable development of an environment-friendly European society. The EESC demands measures to ensure that the marked increase in digital applications used by people in Europe also has a positive impact on work.

The EESC reiterates its support for allocating funds to cover the underfinancing decided by the European Council on expanding broadband and digital networks in the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (7).

1.6.4.

The EESC reaffirms its position on promoting a common European energy policy, fostering principles such as adjusting and reducing differences in energy prices, improving conditions for the internal energy market, reducing energy dependency on non-EU States and promoting renewable energies.

2.   Analysis of the main effects on the future steps to improve implementation of the EU 2020 Strategy

2.1.

The Annual Growth Survey (AGS) (8) published in late 2014 formally takes account of the new development plan, which is essential to the future of the European Union. The main objectives of the European Semester, National Reform Programmes and the Europe 2020 strategy should finally be aligned by a long term vision:

2.1.1.

A coordinated boost for investment, based on the Investment Plan for Europe;

a.

the target is to harness at least EUR 315 billion in additional finance at the EU level for investment in infrastructure, where progress is expected to achieve substantial economic and social gains,

b.

ensuring that finance reaches the real economy,

c.

improving the investment environment and

d.

reinforcing an innovative co-financing system;

2.1.2.

A renewed commitment to structural reforms;

2.1.3.

Pursuing fiscal responsibility;

2.1.4.

The best possible use of flexibility in the existing rules, and

2.1.5.

It is essential streamline the governance system to make it more effective and increase common ownership by the Member States and the EU.

3.

The adjustment of Operational Programmes, which were drawn up on the basis of the Partnership Agreements between the Commission and the Member States, is nearing completion. Since the ‘New Start’ programme will inevitably have an impact on the various national programmes, in terms of both objectives and instruments, the European coordination that has been developed so far should be stepped up.

3.1.

The relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of the way in which Structural and Cohesion Funds are used have a major influence on the frameworks for implementing the new financial and legal instruments. The EESC proposes that an overview of investments in infrastructure and economic development programmes supported by the Funds be established, and be brought in line with the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) (9).

3.2.

Fulfilling the aims of the Investment Plan and the European Fund for Strategic Investments, increasing the leverage of the 2014-2020 EU Funds and doubling value of innovative financial instruments are crucial to achieving the objectives of the EU 2020 Strategy.

3.3.

The EESC, the CoR and Members of the European Parliament have presented a number of options enabling certain concessions to be made for a transitional period, in order to increase resources, with the aim of kick-starting EU investments. Consideration should be given to how it might be possible to remove Member States’ co-financing of structural funds used for long-term social investment (especially in education) from the deficit calculation without changing the rules, in line with the Commission approach. The EESC supports the ongoing discussion in the European Commission on applying the financial ‘golden rule’, i.e. on excluding future-oriented public investments from the calculation of net public deficits under the EMU’s fiscal rules (10).

3.4.

On the financial side, it is important to find a comprehensive approach to the different expenditure types, such as the co-financing system for the Trans-European Network (11) and the Connecting Europe Facility (12), and the national investments co-financed by the ESFI. This has to be clarified by the Commission.

3.5.

Among the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy, in addition to improving long-term competitiveness, it is important that the Structural Funds focus more on the implementation of environmental programmes or those with a human aspect, which would also promote the sustainable development of factors ‘beyond GDP’ (13). Due to the additional financing possibilities, the greater focus on a ‘production-oriented’ development system and on spheres supporting society, families and individual values, such as education and healthcare should be extended.

4.

The EESC firmly believes that a revised and enhanced Europe 2020 Strategy could play a key role in implementing a new European economic governance geared towards increased competitiveness and development.

4.1.

Due to changing priorities and in order to ensure successful implementation of the EU 2020 Strategy, it would useful to have a ‘one-stop shop’ able to ensure effective coordination and rationalisation of tasks and procedures, and this includes EU agencies.

4.2.

It is worth considering setting up a one-stop shop to manage and oversee inter-agency cooperation and coordination between the real economy and the pan-European and national/regional levels, or converting an existing body for this purpose. This approach might avoid overlaps and create better synergies.

5.   Actions to strengthen European economic governance

5.1.

Since the Europe 2020 governance links between the short- and long-term goals are very weak, the following action is necessary, as a minimum:

5.1.1.

The AGS should incorporate a reference to progress on Europe 2020;

a.

the Semester should concentrate much more on improving competitiveness and the public and external debt and implementation in particular;

b.

EU Cohesion Fund spending should be based on National Reform Programmes, in accordance with the Semester;

c.

fiscal integration should be deepened and the fight against tax fraud stepped up; and

d.

monitoring should be based on clear indicators and benchmarks, including ‘beyond GDP’ measures.

5.1.2.

The very different situations in the Member States call for flexibility in assessment and clear goals and targeted tools in the Country Specific Recommendations; for example:

a.

structural reforms in the public sector, maintaining the sector as one of the basic guarantees for the quality of life;

b.

an improved business climate to attract capital;

c.

promotion of investment in infrastructure;

d.

improved access to credit for SMEs;

e.

create the necessary conditions for a smoother energy transition;

f.

strengthened education sectors;

g.

a higher activity rate and lower unemployment, overseen at the EU level (14);

h.

reducing social gaps between and within Member States, paying particular attention to the situation of minorities;

i.

combating poverty and boosting GDP; and

j.

strengthening social cohesion and reducing inequality through solidarity, social dialogue and collective bargaining.

6.   Fine-tuning the concept of ‘growth’:

a.

implement in conjunction with ‘sustainable competitiveness’;

b.

adopt policies supporting new welfare and environmental protection; and (15)

c.

introduce a new EU-wide indicator of labour market trends in the creation of genuine new jobs at EU level.

7.   The Digital Agenda for Europe

7.1.

The EESC agrees with the position of the Commission: the digital technologies introduce new ways of producing goods, services and are reshaping the way we live, work and learn (16). The EESC’s contribution regarding the implementation of the Digital Agenda for Europe Flagship Initiative (17) and the main focus points for an Ambitious Digital Single Market are proposals to:

 

In the economic sphere

a.

actively design the EU’s digital future;

b.

mainstream digitisation and reduce digital failure at EU and Member State level;

c.

digitise the economy and develop research and innovation;

 

In the social sphere

d.

massively expand education in the digital sphere to make Europeans creators and producers of digital content;

e.

address the need for a qualified ICT workforce;

f.

create the conditions for a vibrant digital economy and society by strengthening the regulatory environment for telecommunications;

g.

review the general regulatory and legislative framework with a view to establishing stable conditions for businesses and start-ups;

h.

recognise the digital sector as a service of general economic interest;

 

In the digital environment sphere

i.

promote e-inclusion and universal, equal access to the broadband internet;

j.

simplify rules for consumers who make online and digital purchases by reinforcing their trust through greater security;

k.

improve cross-border e-commerce;

 

In the security sphere

l.

use the digital technologies to protect the human and natural environment;

m.

speed up the law-making process based on an ethical approach and on enhancing consumer protection;

n.

update copyright rules;

o.

boost cyber security to preserve citizens’ rights and freedoms (EU Charter on Fundamental Rights (18)); and

p.

protect children and vulnerable users from cyber-crime;

7.2.

The development of digital technologies and marked increase in their range of applications are having an impact in almost all economic sectors as part of a far-reaching structural shift. Ordinary people are affected by this not just as consumers but above all in their jobs. As well as increasing autonomy and flexibility, digital technologies create pressure to maximise efficiency in the workplace, which has considerable costs for the people concerned, including in some cases the loss of their job. In view of this, the EESC considers the virtual exclusion of these issues from almost all Digital Agenda for Europe initiatives to be a serious failing; it calls for change of thinking here and will take a position on the matter itself in an own-initiative opinion (19).

8.   Towards a new Development-oriented Economic Governance

8.1.

Steps towards development-oriented governance;

a.

strengthen governance at EU and Member State level as well;

b.

reconfirm the need for the EU 2020 Strategy, making it more compatible with EU policies within the European strategies;

c.

complement the economic coordination part of European governance by strengthening its development-oriented institutional and financial frameworks;

d.

reinforce long-term strategic coordination under the EU 2020 Strategy in the targeting and implementation phases as well.

e.

carry out a far-reaching territorial assessment of the renewed Europe 2020 Strategy;

Graphics Development-oriented governance — to see the graphic, please follow the link:

http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.europe-2020-opinions.34752

f.

strengthen the value chain through cross-cutting and sectorial policies;

g.

enhance territorial cooperation;

h.

reinforce governance through Organised Civil Society Participation.

i.

recognise the EESC’s potential in the coordination of multilevel cooperation between the real economy, the organised social, and institutional partners.

9.

The prerequisites for ‘good’ development-oriented governance are for it to have:

a.

fixed strategic planning capacity;

b.

executive capacity for better coordination and cooperation;

c.

a comprehensive system for monitoring both planning and implementation;

d.

a reliable database specific to the objectives concerned and having the necessary analytical capacity;

e.

adequate communication resources;

f.

the requisite adaptability and

g.

transparency in its activities, in order to ensure accountability.

Brussels, 19 February 2015.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Henri MALOSSE


(1)  For the ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’ please see the European Commission website http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/

(2)  EESC opinion on Taking stock of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth — OJ C 12, 15.1.2015, p. 105–114 .

(3)  For the work programme ‘A New Start for Europe’ please see the European Commission website http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/docs/pg_en.pdf

(4)  For the ‘Investment Plan’ please see the European Commission website http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/jobs-growth-investment/plan/index_en.htm

(5)  EESC opinion on An Investment Plan for Europe, ECO/374 (not yet published in OJ).

(6)  For the ‘Digital Single Market Package’ please see the European Commission website http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/digital-single-market-analysis-and-data

(7)  During the MFF negotiations the broadband element of the Connecting Europe Facility was cut by EUR 8,2 billion to just EUR 1 billion.

(8)  For the ‘Annual Growth Survey 2015’ please see the European Commission website http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/making-it-happen/annual-growth-surveys/index_en.htm

(9)  For the ‘European Fund for Strategic Investments’ please see the European Commission website http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/jobs-growth-investment/plan/financing/index_en.htm#efsi

(10)  EESC opinion on Impact of Social Investment, OJ C 226, 16.7.2014, p. 21–27.

(11)  For the ‘Trans-European Network’ please see the European Commission website http://ec.europa.eu/transport/infrastructure/tentec/tentec-portal/site/index_en.htm

(12)  For the ‘Connecting Europe Facility’ please see the European Commission website http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/connecting-europe-facility

(13)  EESC opinion on GDP and beyond — the involvement of civil society in choosing complementary indicators, OJ C 181, 21.6.2012, p. 14–20.

(14)  EESC opinion on Job-rich recovery (OJ C 11, 15.1.2013, p. 65–70).

(15)  See the Lisbon Treaty, Articles 191-192.

(16)  EESC opinion on Impact of business services in industry (OJ C 12, 15.1.2015, p. 23–32).

(17)  EESC opinion on The digital market as a driver for growth (OJ C 229, 31.7.2012, p. 1–6).

(18)  http://www.europarl.europa.eu/charter/pdf/text_en.pdf

(19)  EESC opinion on Effects of digitalisation on service industries and employment CCMI/136, (not yet published in OJ).


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