European Innovation

Light at the end of the tunnel

Finally, a vision. Finally, a return to policy. Finally, a credible attempt to solve the pressing issues of our times, from overcoming recession and fighting climate change, to strengthening employment and getting public finances back in order.

President Barroso’s “political guidelines for the next Commission,” published last Thursday, present a welcome step towards something resembling a return to business in Brussels after three months of institutional naval gazing and power brokering. Especially for a think tanker, the last couple of months have been quite painful because the intellectual content of the EU’s public discourse was dangerously close to zero.

But at last, it seems that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Reading President Barroso’s manifesto, I am impressed with the quality and comprehensiveness of his policy blueprint. To be sure, what he is proposing is very necessary and long-overdue. As I know from personal experience, the Lisbon process was always hampered by the plethora of EU policy agendas – agendas that in theory were supposed to compliment but in reality were used to divide.

For instance, even though it was the very raison d’être of the Lisbon Agenda to put forward a vision in which environmental, social and economic objectives go hand in hand, the reality was that the Lisbon Agenda was often purposefully portrayed as being antithetical to the Social Agenda or the Sustainable Development Agenda. The result was that instead of making progress in a given policy area and focusing on delivery and success, we too often succumbed to inward-looking, inside-the-Brussels-beltway bickering on whether it was “social”, “environmental” or “economic.”

Another shortcoming of the current system is that the Stability and Growth Pact operates almost independently of the Lisbon Agenda. I have for years argued that sustainability and quality of public finances should feature more prominently in the Lisbon Agenda, the EU’s key roadmap for modernisation and renewal. The massive investment that is needed to bring about a low-carbon and knowledge-based economy can in no way be captured by the 3% R&D target, not to mention that there is no fiscal sustainability indicator in the current Lisbon Agenda.

Against this backdrop, uniting the various EU agendas into a consolidated, ambitious and compelling EU 2020 strategy does not only make sense but is also testimony that this Commission President is ready to practice the disruptive and citizen-centric innovation that so many can only preach. And perhaps if member states and other stakeholders can no longer blame their under-performance and persistent cynicism on strangely named EU policy agendas, they might begin to face up to their own inadequacies and deficits, and finally get ready to make their contribution to European renewal and modernisation.

It is one thing to make endless demands and cause difficulties simply because you can. It’s another, more difficult, endeavour to formulate a cross-party, centrist roadmap for the future. These guidelines deserve at a minimum a fair hearing because there has never been a time in recent history when good ideas and concise policy blueprints were more urgently needed than today.

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