EU Soft Law: The Lisbon/Europe 2020 Strategy

As it was deemed that Europe was in need of reform to keep up with its competitors, the European Council in Lisbon in 2000 announced that its strategic goal for the next ten years would be for the EU ‘to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’.[1] As regards HEIs it was considered necessary that these face internationalisation. The European Research Area was announced, the concept of which encourages many of the commodification trends discussed in Chap. 1,[2] and the aims of the Bologna Process (discussed below in Sect. 2.2.3) were endorsed as part of the Lisbon Strategy.[3]

The Lisbon Strategy itself is only a declaration and not legally binding. Instead the OMC has been chosen as the appropriate instrument for achieving the aims of the Lisbon Strategy which have been further specified in numerical targets. The aim of the OMC is to allow for the formation of a ‘common will’ and enhance social learning by providing a network for EU organs, national authorities and social partners as well as the private and the third sector.[4] The EU Institutions (mainly the Commission and European Council/Council) evaluate and steer the process.[5] This allowed the EU organs to get involved in policy areas which are/ were the primary responsibility of the Member States. Inter alia the ‘Commission now has an entry to Bologna coordination’[6] and it gave a new impetus to research policy for which it is next to Horizon 2020 still an important governance mechanism.[7]

However, the progress towards the ambitious numerical targets has been slow[8] and the Lisbon Strategy was re-launched in 2005[9] and re-introduced after the financial crisis as the new Europe 2020 Strategy in 2010.[10] The most important numerical targets in higher education and research to be achieved by 2020 are: an increase in research spending to 3 % GDP, a decrease of school drop-out rates to less than 10 % and an increase to 40 % of all 30-34 year olds with tertiary education. None of these differ significantly from the original aims.[11] Young has described this as the Member States opting in as regards the targets, ‘but opting out in practice by not meeting those’.[12]

  • [1] Lisbon European Council 23 and 24 March 2000 Presidency Conclusion para 5.
  • [2] Presidency Conclusion (n 34) para 12 seq. The European Research Area is based onCommission Communication ‘Towards a European Research Area’ COM (2000) 6 final,18.01.2000. See further on the European Research Area Ulnicane 2015.
  • [3] Presidency Conclusion (n 34) para 25 seq.
  • [4] On the OMC see Hummer 2005, p. 72 seq; Begg 2008; Cohen-Tanugi 2008, p. 23 seq, 47 seq.An in-depth account of the OMC can be found in, for example, Kroger 2009.
  • [5] European Commission (2014) European institutions and bodies. Europe2020, Accessed 4 March 2016.
  • [6] Chou and Ulnicane 2015, p. 8.
  • [7] Chou and Gornitzka 2014; Chou and Ulnicane 2015; Young 2015.
  • [8] See further with regards to the latest mid-term review Vanhercke 2014 who describes a ‘continuous and sharp deterioration’ as regards meeting the targets and attributes the limited successes in education and energy at least partly to the financial crisis since high unemploymentincentivises people to return to education and the worsened economic situation required savingswhich could lead to the reduction in emissions.
  • [9] Brussels European Council 22 and 23 March 2005 Presidency Conclusions.
  • [10] Brussels European Council 17 June 2010 Conclusions (EUCO13/10 CO EUR 9 CONCL 2).
  • [11] For an overview of targets and current achievements see Eurostat (2016) Europe 2020Indicators. Accessed 4 March 2016.
  • [12] Young 2015, p. 24.
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