With the European Parliament and Commission busy reshaping themselves, the outcome of the Kok High Level Group to Review the Lisbon strategy will take on even greater importance.
While Lisbon marked an important historical shift in the agenda of the EU, by firmly establishing the inter relatedness of social, employment and economic policies and a commitment to the future development of the European Social Model, the trend since Lisbon has not reflected this reality. Indeed as Fintan Farrell, Director of EAPN has commented, “it has been possible to follow many ‘high level’ debates and proposals about the implementation of the Lisbon agenda and find no reference to the social cohesion objective”. Mr Farrell called on the High Level Group, “to re-establish the vision outlined in Lisbon and to outline a way forward for a European Union based on achieving prospects for all and that is seen to be defending the values of social inclusion and social cohesion”
So far, the Lisbon strategy has singularly failed to make a decisive impact on the eradicating poverty. Barring a major change of tack, it cannot conceivably have a decisive impact on poverty by the year 2010 as was the stated ambition of the Head of States and Governments when they met in Lisbon. Worse, EAPN is concerned to see that the economic downturn has pushed the fight against exclusion down the priority list as reflected in the second wave of National Action Plans for inclusion. The review of the Lisbon agenda must reverse this trend and re-establish the fight against poverty and social exclusion as a priority objective of the EU.
EAPN also regrets that both the EU inclusion strategy and the Lisbon strategy generally are little-known and not very visible. This, combined with a failure to maintain the balanced agenda set in Lisbon, works against the public taking ownership of these strategies, and the strategies being the focus of democratic debate. Substantial actions and commitments are needed if we want the public to have an informed opinion and consciousness of the ambitions behind these strategies and the role the EU can play to ensure a more social cohesive Europe. Without such actions and commitments the EU is likely to continue to appear remote to the people and would seem to be of more relevance to the markets, than to the citizens.