Brussels, 01 Mar 2005
Belgium has prepared a paper on reviving EU competitiveness for discussion at the European Council in March. The paper - 'A European 'pentathlon': A Community growth strategy for the European economy' - questions the open method of coordination, and says that the path ahead must be based on five cornerstones: convergence, tax reform, research, global market and political guidance.
The paper claims that the Lisbon objective of making the EU the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 is unlikely to be met 'since the method employed - the so-called open coordination method - is far too informal.'
'After all, simply compiling results tables and reports comparing the methods used and results achieved by different Member States has little effect and [...] the European Union is coming to resemble an economic think tank,' the paper continues.
Belgium asserts that there has been too much of a focus on national measures, giving the impression that the problems facing the European economy differ from country to country. Taking a national approach also risks undermining the unique European social model through competing national measures that can lead to social and fiscal dumping, according to the paper.
The document lists a number of areas in which Europe is behind competitors in terms of research - investment, patents, high technology exports - and makes specific proposals for an increase in EU funding. When the new financial mechanisms for 2007 until 2013 get underway, half of all spending on competitiveness should be allocated to research and development (R&D), while a quarter of regional spending by Member States in receipt of Structural Funds should be set aside for R&D projects. 'In short, this means that under the new financial mechanisms for the period 2007-2013 spending on R&D should be systematically increased to 16 per cent of total commitments and 18 per cent of overall payments,' states the paper.
New measures such as increased research investment require fresh political guidance, according to the paper, and this must come from the European Commission. 'In practical terms, the Commission should be solely responsible for implementing the new growth strategy and monitoring compliance with the convergence code,' says Belgium. The Commission should also conduct a growth test in order to determine how national measures conform to the growth strategy set out in the convergence code, the paper continues.
The document has been sent to Europe's leaders by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt in preparation for their forthcoming meeting. The paper's concluding sentence is an attempt to compel action on their part: 'European heads of state and government have a choice: they can content themselves with comparing tables and action plans, or they can launch on top of it a new Community project following in the footsteps of the euro and the internal market.' To access the Belgian paper, please visit: http:///www.premie r.fgov.be/fr/communauta ire_groeistrategie_voor_europa_en.pdf