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Commission fires the starting gun in Europe's 'race for growth and jobs'

The European Commission unveiled its new-look Lisbon strategy on 2 February, placing a strong emphasis on growth and jobs, as well as on partnership and shared ownership. At the core of the revised agenda is a new Action Programme for Growth and Jobs, which sets out a number ...

The European Commission unveiled its new-look Lisbon strategy on 2 February, placing a strong emphasis on growth and jobs, as well as on partnership and shared ownership. At the core of the revised agenda is a new Action Programme for Growth and Jobs, which sets out a number of clear actions to boost productivity and create more and better jobs. To complement this, the Commission has also set out a simplified delivery mechanism and system of governance for the Lisbon strategy. Launching the new strategy in Brussels, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: 'The overall Lisbon goals were right, but the implementation was poor. The lesson from the last five years is that we must refocus this agenda to deliver results. With this new strategy, I believe we have the right tools to achieve our goals.' Among the priority actions that appear in the Commission's action programme are: - extending and deepening the single market, particularly in services; - improving regulation and reducing red tape; - speeding up efforts to meet the three per cent research spending target; - gearing the EU state aid framework more towards research and development (R&D) and innovation; - directing EU cohesion and structural funds more towards innovation, training and infrastructure; - creating a 'European Institute of Technology' to attract the brightest minds in the world. To ensure that these objectives are being met, the Commission proposes to assign clear responsibilities, set deadlines and closely measure progress. The proposals stress the importance of clear ownership and decisive action at Member State level if the strategy is to succeed. 'This is where the Lisbon agenda fell down in the past. We cannot afford to let the second chance slip by,' added Mr Barroso. Each Member State government will be responsible for adopting a single National Action Programme for growth and jobs after consultation with their parliament. EU countries must appoint a 'Mr or Mrs Lisbon' at government level to coordinate the strategy and act as the public face of the Lisbon programme. 'But,' Mr Barroso explained, 'success depends on reaching beyond national capitals. This is not just for Member States [...] that we must explain what Lisbon is and why it is important. [...] Together we must mobilise civil society, regional and local authorities, business leaders and all those with a stake in Lisbon's success.' The Commission itself will be responsible for initiating policy and ensuring its implementation, and at a national level it will act as a facilitator through benchmarking activities, the provision of financial support, promotion of social dialogue and the establishment of best practice. Clear roles will also be defined for the Council and European Parliament. Mr Barroso defended the refocusing of the Lisbon strategy towards broadly economic objectives, saying that this would not undermine existing policies and commitments with regards to the environment and social cohesion. 'Let me say this. It is as if I have three children - the economy, our social agenda and the environment. Like any modern father, if one of my children is sick I am ready to drop everything and focus on him until he is back to health. That is normal and responsible.' The Commission promises that if all components of the new strategy are successfully implemented, the result will be to boost the EU's gross domestic product (GDP) by at least three per cent by 2010, thereby creating some six million new jobs. It also stresses, however, that such high ambitions come at a cost, and they can only realistically be achieved if the Member States are prepared to grant the EU a budget that reflects its commitments. 'I know we are setting ourselves a daunting challenge,' said Mr Barroso. 'But if we look at the single market in 1992, the euro in 1999 or even enlargement and the constitution in the last 12 months, we know that together we can deliver the results that Europe's citizens demand.' 'I am quite certain that the race for growth and jobs will be Europe's next great project [and] I believe the strategy we have launched today maps out the route to take us there,' he concluded.

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