EU summit inches towards 10-year economic plan


Brussels : European Union leaders are inching towards agreement on some of the key elements of a 10-year economic plan, but will need months to agree on the final details, draft documents for an EU summit on Friday reveal.

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The two-day EU summit, which started on Thursday, is meant to launch a programme of economic reforms which would reverse the bloc’s economic decline by 2020 by making it more innovative, competitive and climate-friendly.

“We are now facing excessive levels of debt, sluggish structural growth and high unemployment … The EU needs a new strategy,” a draft summit statement seen by the German Press Agency dpa reads.

The strategy is based on proposals from the EU’s executive, the European Commission. The proposals called for agreement on five targets which would, if achieved, catalyse growth in other areas.

Friday’s draft declaration, drawn up overnight by diplomats after an initial debate among EU leaders, formalises three of the targets, but puts off until June any decision on the other two.

The 2020 strategy should “bring to 75 percent the employment rate for the population aged 20-64, including through the greater participation of women,” and boost research and development spending to three percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the draft says.

The EU should also live up to pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels and raise energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy to 20 percent.

Those goals are broadly in line with the commission’s proposals.

But leaders put off until June a debate on what kind of target they should set for boosting education.

The commission had called for 40 percent of young people to have a university degree by 2020, but Germany opposed the target, fearing that agreement would violate its constitution.

In Germany, education policy is in the hands of the 16 federal states, not the national government.

“Taking into account the commission’s proposal, the European Council (summit) will set the numerical rates of these targets in June 2010,” the draft says.

And leaders also scrapped a commission call to bring 20 million people out of poverty by 2020, arguing that definitions of poverty are so varied across the bloc that it would be impossible to decide whether the target had been reached.

The EU will “promote social inclusion, in particular through the reduction of poverty,” but “further work is needed on the appropriate indicator,” the draft says. The June summit is to tackle the issue.

Questions remained over the EU’s will and ability to stick to the goals, after successive drafts progressively weakened the strategy’s enforcement mechanisms.

Analysts say that the EU’s last 10-year economic plan, the Lisbon strategy, missed its targets because of lax enforcement.

“Today I share these concerns, mainly because we do not have yet … any kind of good mechanism of control and enforcement,” the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite told the German Press Agency dpa.

“Some more details will appear, and we hope to have a more precise mechanism of control,” at the EU summit in June, she said.

EU leaders were set to adopt the draft text later on Friday.