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The ‘most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’ was the future for the EU laid out at a summit in Lisbon in 2000. As the ten year programme comes to an end its achievements are patchy but perhaps it is more important to ask the question: ‘Where do we go from here?’. Both the European Commission President and the European union movement have recently tried to answer it and there is a surprising measure of agreement between them.
IN THE YEAR 2000 THE EUROPEAN UNION consisted of fifteen Western European states and the USA was experiencing the short-lived but ballooning dot-com boom which was spilling over into economic optimism and job creation in Europe. China had not entered the World stage and Russia was still recovering from near-bankruptcy. EU leaders, meeting in Lisbon, mirrored this state of affairs. There was much talk of the Internet and new technology creating twenty million new jobs and ambitious targets were set for employment, especially of women and older people. Life-long learning and the promotion of equal opportunities would end social exclusion and the modernisation of the European social model would provide high-quality jobs whilst maintaining social protection.
The World in 2010, as the Lisbon programme ends, will look very different. Added to the incorporation of the much poorer countries to the East the EU has been shaken by the biggest economic slump since the nineteen-thirties, the dominant US-led laissez-faire financial system has been destroyed and China is poised to become Europe's main economic competitor. Climate change has moved rapidly up the agenda and governments talk of green economies as the way ahead. In employment precarious, often part time, jobs have been created in their millions, largely occupied by women, but although this has helped to meet the 60% employment rate target for female workers, there has been no noticeable increase in quality.
So what should be aimed at, post-Lisbon: more of the same, only hit the targets this time or a sweeping new vision catering for the effects of the slump, climate change and the attacks on the European social model and trade union rights? The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) certainly believes the latter and EU President Barroso, agrees with them to perhaps a surprising extent. In a recent speech to the European Parliament he set out his political guidelines for his second term which lasts until 2014. He emphasised the importance of solidarity and ethics and discounted the model of growth through untrammelled financial markets as 'unsustainable'. In one of several forays into the topic of employment he insisted that the transition to a low-carbon economy should be 'a source of jobs for workers' and that he respected 'fundamental social rights and ... the principle of free movement of workers'. On specific measures he proposed a regulation to amend the Posted Workers Directive and another effort to get agreement on revising the Working Time Directive, he declared himself ready to create a quality framework for Services of General Interest and to work towards a 'Women's Charter' to be ready in 2010.
The ETUC would be likely to agree to many of these aspirations but also want a 'Social Progress Protocol' to be adopted which would enshrine the 'link between economic performance and social progress' and define the latter as the improvement of 'living and working conditions' and 'the right to negotiate, conclude and enforce collective agreements and to take collective action'. It considers that a new Lisbon strategy would have to balance long-term and short-term policies. Firstly to get Europe out of the current slump a second stimulus package is needed amounting to 1% of EU GDP to create 2 million new jobs, focusing on green sectors of the economy as well as renewed investment in education, training and rehabilitation. In the longer term the ETUC advocates a three-pronged approach to develop an inclusive and sustainable green economy, to secure quality jobs and prevent a 'race to the bottom' by employers and to manage the European economy in such a way that growth, full employment and wage bargaining are encouraged. Social security payments should be bolstered to underpin spending and youth unemployment should be specifically addressed by increasing the number of apprenticeships and ensuring that all young people are offered a job before they have been out of work for six months. President Barroso concurs with the unions on the need to maintain the right to negotiate and strike but wants to work with the social partners to move towards more inclusive relations in the workplace based on employee engagement and quality of work. It seems that the distance between the Commission and the ETUC is lessening in the face of the collapse of the previous orthodoxy. However the results will be crucial; in the next five years more than ever before.