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Europe 2020 strategy

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The Europe 2020 strategy is the EU’s jobs and growth plan for the current decade. It was launched in 2010 to replace the Lisbon strategy (2000-2010) and will finish in 2020. The Europe 2020 strategy aims to help Europe overcome the economic crisis and move beyond it by addressing the structural weaknesses in Europe’s economy.

What does the Europe 2020 strategy do?

The strategy’s objective is to create higher employment, productivity and social cohesion in member states, whilst reducing the impact on the environment. The European Commission believes this can only be achieved if the European economy develops in a specific way, via smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

To achieve this type of economic growth the strategy focuses on five areas: employment, research and development (R&D), climate and energy, education, social inclusion and poverty reduction. These are converted into headline indicators to give an overview of how close the EU is to reaching its targets. These are:

  • Increase the employment rate of the population aged 20 to 64 to at least 75%.
  • Increase combined public and private investment in R&D to 3% of GDP.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels.
  • Increase the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption to 20%.
  • Move towards a 20% increase in energy efficiency.
  • Reduce school drop-out rates to less than 10%.
  • Increase the share of the population aged 30–34 having completed tertiary education to at least 40%.
  • Lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty or social exclusion.

These headline targets are translated into national ones. National targets reflect the situation and potential of each member state to contribute to the EU’s overall target. Member states must specify how they will meet their own targets in national reform programmes. These are submitted to the European Commission. The European Council reviews each member state’s progress at an annual summit.

The Europe 2020 strategy’s predecessor was the Lisbon strategy (2000-2010). The strategy’s main objective was to tackle low productivity and the stagnation of economic growth. It would achieve this by making the European economy more competitive, dynamic and sustainable, whilst offering more jobs and better social cohesion.

Whilst the Lisbon Strategy was initially supported, the subsequent economic downturn made it difficult for member states to follow the strategy’s timetable. National governments became reluctant to push through difficult and unpopular economic reforms or to spend more on research and innovation. Because the strategy was not legally binding, the EU could not force states to make changes to reach the strategy’s targets.

The EU launched an inquiry, led by former Dutch Prime Minster Wim Kok, to understand why the strategy was not bringing about the intended improvements. Published in 2004, the Kok Report blamed member states for not doing enough to bring about difficult changes. It recommended reducing the ambition of the strategy’s targets. Following calls for the Lisbon strategy to be updated, the Europe 2020 strategy replaced the Lisbon strategy on 17 June 2010.

In 2014 the European Commission published a report which analysed the challenges and possibilities of meeting the targets. The EU is on track to meet some of its headline targets. It is within reaching distance of both education targets and has made progress with regards to climate change and energy. However the EU has fallen behind with regards to others. R&D investment is some way off target, whilst meeting the employment and poverty targets will be challenging.