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Europe 2020: so close and so far away…

By Antonia Carparelli 
Economic Advisor, European Commission Representation in Italy
EU Fellow 2013-2014

10 March 2015


Eurostat has just released the 2013 figures for Europe 2020, exactly five years since the European Union launched its long-term growth and jobs plan. As expected, the figures show that in many cases we are very far from the objectives.

In numbers, the Europe 2020 strategy aims at building a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy with: an employment rate above 75%; at least 3% of GDP spent in research and development (R&D); more than 40% of young people with tertiary education and less than 10% school droppers; a substantive increase in energy efficiency (+20%), greater reliance on renewables (+20%) and declining greenhouse gas emissions (-20%); 20 million people lifted out of poverty or social exclusion over a decade.

Where are we now, five years from the target date? Although the financial crisis was not over yet in 2010, no one could imagine that Europe would remain long mired in such a complex and multifaceted crisis. At that time the objectives defined at European level seemed ambitious, but not unrealistic. However, when national targets where set, Member States did not show the level of commitment that was required to reach the EU objectives. More crucially, the duration and the severity of the crisis have substantially undermined the ambitions of the Union.

Data released by Eurostat indicate that for two of the five headline targets, employment and poverty reduction, there has been a setback rather than an improvement. The employment rate, which was slightly above 70% when the strategy was launched, is now at 68.4%. In the same period, the number of people living in poverty increased by about five million, and now exceeds 120 million. In two other areas - innovation and education - progress has been modest, and not consistent with the achievement of the targets: investment in R&D as a percentage of GDP increased only marginally, from 1.85 to 2%; the school dropout rate is at 12% and university education is still below 37%. Only for the environmental indicators progress has been consistent with the target set.

The European Commission will present the mid-term review of Europe 2020 by the end of the year. A public consultation ran by the Commission in 2014 confirmed full support by people and organisations for the aims and values of Europe 2020, but it also raised questions on the effectiveness and consistency of the instruments responsible for its implementation.

In fact, despite the many reforms and the unprecedented strengthening of EMU governance in response to the crisis, key questions remain open as regards economic policy coordination and the adequacy of existing tools to ensure the achievement of commonly agreed objectives. This is particularly true in areas that are still largely in the remit of national policies, as employment, poverty alleviation, and education.

There are no easy answers to these questions, but 2020 is no longer that far, and the mid-term review represents a unique opportunity to explore new settings to ensure commitment and delivery.


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