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Assessing the failures and successes of the Lisbon Strategy Overview

Author: Jiri Krcek, Manchester University. POLI70381, 2013

Friday 15 March 2013, by Carlos San Juan


The quest for economic supremacy has been at the heart of the European integration process since its very inception. Tracing the historical origins of the economic progress agenda, Europe’s ambition to bolster its economy vis-à-vis its main competitors has traditionally rested on major projects, namely the foundation of the common market in the 1950s and 1960s, the Werner Plan in the 1970s, the Single European Market in the 1980s, and the Economic and Monetary Union in the 1990s (James 2012: 10). In March 2000, the European Council Summit in Lisbon marked yet another significant step in an attempt to offset the EU’s uninspiring economic performance. The so-called Lisbon Strategy set out to make the EU “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” by the end of the decade (European Council 2000). With emphasis on decentralized ‘soft law’ governance mechanism – Open Method of Coordination (OMC) – as a means of spreading the best practices, the implementation of the agenda relied heavily on voluntarism and peer pressure (Papadimitriou 2012: 2). However, since its launch, the scheme has been falling far short of expectations and came under a great deal of critical scrutiny, most notably from Sapir (2003) and Kok (2004), prompting a substantial revision of its ambitious targets halfway through its term in 2005 only to be struck by the emerging financial crisis in 2008. This aim of this article is to assess the Lisbon Strategy in terms of its failures and successes. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the Lisbon Strategy, the essay identifies two distinct categories of failures. The first category involves output-oriented failures that centre on the Strategy’s performance in light of its goal quoted above. By examining the development in each individual sub-aim, the analysis posits non-fulfilment in every aspect of this overarching aim. I label this set of failures as consequential, as they constitute a direct outcome of the underlying category of causal failures. These relate to the way the Lisbon Strategy was pursued, allowing us to understand factors that induced the disappointing results of the project in the first place. In simple terms, whereas the first category demonstrates how the Lisbon Strategy culminated into a failure, the second one explains why this was the case. Finally, the essay acknowledges that the single positive, yet still dubious, development of the Lisbon Strategy lies in its capacity to encourage policy learning through partial Europeanization of policy problems.

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