Competitiveness

Lisbon Strategy

This strategy responded to serious, long-term weaknesses in the economic performance and competitiveness of the EU countries, in particular as compared to the USA. The task of the Lisbon Agenda was to transform the EU, by 2010, into the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth, with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. However, it has been intrinsically difficult to come close to the Lisbon objectives. At the European Commission’s request, in November 2004 a group of independent experts assessed the results of the first cycle of the Lisbon Strategy and the causes of the muted progress, and proposed a way forward in order to achieve the Lisbon objectives. The Lisbon Agenda was narrowed to ten priority areas focusing on three primary objectives: Europe as a more attractive place to invest and work; knowledge and innovation for growth; and more and better jobs.

The Lisbon Strategy’s priority for the years to come is economic growth and employment. With reference to the European Commission’s recommendations, the European Council launched a new partnership for growth and jobs to speed up the reforms needed to encourage economic growth and employment. The basis of the new Lisbon Strategy structure was the division of the Lisbon programme into three-year cycles and the introduction of a regular annual report at Community level (the Lisbon Community Programme), as well as a report at national level (National Reform Programmes).

The newly drafted document on integrated guidelines for growth and jobs (2005-2008) set out the framework for the economic policy priorities of Member States in relation to the revised Lisbon Strategy. By virtue of this initiative, each Member State adopted its own National Reform Programme – a binding policy document summing up the priorities and measures of the Member State in the macroeconomic and microeconomic fields and in employment policy. The aim is to stimulate economic growth and jobs in the upcoming three-year period.

In December of 2007 the European Commission published the updated proposal for the ‘Integrated Priority Guidelines for Growth and Jobs’ and the proposal for the ’Community Lisbon Programme 2008-2010’. The new three-year cycle of the Lisbon strategy focuses on four priority areas, which are investment into human resources and modernisation of the labour market; business environment; investment into education, research, development and innovation; energy and climate change. On the basis of the revised Integrated Guidelines, the Member States adopted, in the autumn of 2008, the National Reform Programmes for this second cycle covering the years 2008 – 2010.

SME policy

One of the pillars of the Lisbon Strategy is the SME policy, which is geared towards creating favourable conditions for the establishment and successful growth of SMEs. Small and medium-sized enterprises account for 99% of companies in the EU and two thirds of jobs in the private sector. Therefore, they can make a significant contribution to faster long-term economic growth and are a source of new job opportunities and innovations.

Chronologically, the EU’s first pivotal programme document for the support and development of SMEs is the European Charter for Small Enterprises, adopted in 2000. Under this initiative, Member States undertook to foster the development of a business climate conducive to SMEs. In it, they declare their support for innovation and entrepreneurship, the creation of a legal, tax and administrative framework for the support of business activities, easier market access for SMEs, access to top-class research and technologies, improvements in access to funds, and the support of excellent small businesses.

Following up on the European Charter for Small Enterprises, the European Commission adopted a new SME strategy in 2005 entitled the Modern SME policy for Growth and Employment. This strategy seeks to improve the business environment for SMEs, limit the administrative burden, simplify and speed up administrative procedures and improve the competitiveness of SMEs. One of the main principles of this new SME policy is the consistent application of the principle ‘Think Small First’. Following this principle, all initiatives at the European and national level are to be assessed in terms of their impact on smaller businesses.

There has been a fundamental change in the EU’s approach to SMEs under the new Lisbon cycle for 2008-2010. The European Commission plans to pay much more attention to SMEs and underlines the need for staunch advocacy of their interests on a national and European scale. In June 2008, the European Commission published its Small Business Act for Europe. This document contains a combination of legislative measures, political commitments and concrete practical steps designed to facilitate the growth of SMEs, simplify business for them, reduce their administrative burden, and improve their access to funds and innovations, as well as their access to both the EU internal market and the markets of third countries.

Last update: 16.8.2011 16:02

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