Cohesion Policy Trends in Lisbon Strategy and Europe 2020

The Lisbon Strategy, also known as the Lisbon Agenda or Lisbon Process, was an action and development plan devised in 2000, for the economy of the European Union between 2000 and 2010. Europe 2020, on the other hand, is a 10-year strategy proposed by the European Commission on 3 March 2010 for the advancement of the economy of the European Union. It aims at “smart, sustainable, inclusive growth” with greater coordination of national and European policy. It follows the Lisbon Strategy for the period 2000–2010.

Telle et al. (2019, pp. 149-172) examined trends in Cohesion Policy (CP) by applying computer-assisted text analysis on EU documents on the Lisbon Agenda and the Europe 2020 strategy as well as some of the Old Member State (OMS) and New Member State (NMS) operational programmes (OPs). The research found a substantial decrease in the relative word frequency of the concepts social and employment and a simultaneous increase in the frequency of the concepts of growth and innovation as illustrated below.

Their collocation analysis further confirmed the general trend from social towards growth-related issues. As shown in Figure 2, the main findings include:

  • the term social features prominently in the Lisbon Agenda, closely related to employment, protection, and exclusion, while the Europe 2020 strategy alludes to a variety of terms referring to Europe, ostensibly demonstrating the intention of signalling supranational political unity during the financial crisis;
  • while development in the Lisbon Agenda is related to employment and human, the Europe 2020 strategy links development closely to the structural funds as a critical delivery framework; and
  • while cohesion is related to employment in both documents, the Lisbon Agenda refers to employment growth with a purely economic focus of CP, but the Europe 2020 strategy refers to productivity growth in both social and economic terms.

Telle et al. explain: “On the one hand, the Lisbon Agenda reflects the expected effects of impending Eastern enlargements, putting questions of social inclusion and employment at centre stage. On the other hand, the Europe 2020 strategy was drafted during the aftermath of the financial and sovereign debt crisis of the late 2000s and reflects a greater concern with innovation-driven economic growth.”

In the same research, Telle et al. observed that the shift towards innovation and growth in the Europe 2020 strategy suggests that enhancing labour productivity is seen as a core strategy towards greater cohesion. This strategy corresponds to the neoliberal future-oriented “Competitive Europe” discourse. However, the researchers also found that while OMS OPs are generally in line with this macro shift, trends in NMS-NMS cross-border OPs show a significant rise in growth and employment in combination with a decline of social. This suggests that labour market participation is a preferred strategy towards cohesion in NMS-NMS context, corresponding more to the cohesion-supporting “Social Europe” discourse.

This reasoning confirms the divergence between OMS and NMS, the former preferring a future-oriented competitive budget and the latter preferring cohesion-supporting social budget. As long as this divergence persists, the EU will have to embrace both priorities, which is not only tricky but ineffective. To address this, Telle et al. suggest that future CP reforms should identify common objectives between OMS and NMS. They also recommend that the recent proposal of the EU Commission to concentrate future CP funding exclusively in below-average GDP MS should be combined with a sharper focus on the promotion of good governance and systematic institutional capacity building.

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