MEPs and national MPs focus on practical steps for Lisbon Strategy

Pressmeddelande   •   Feb 07, 2007 10:11 CET

Climate change, energy security, cutting red tape, demographic changes and increasing research spending all featured in Tuesday’s concluding session of the 3rd Joint Parliamentary Meeting on the Lisbon Strategy. Commission President José Manuel Barroso and German Minister Thomas de Maizière joined MEPs and national MPs to debate the way forward.

The morning began with representatives of the three working groups, which discussed specific issues on Monday evening, reporting back to the plenary session.

Sustainable Energy Working Group

Jürgen Trittin, (German Bundestag) reported broad consensus on a number of issues. Most parliamentarians had, he said, agreed that energy efficiency and renewable sources play a fundamental role in boosting competition in European economies and in meeting the Lisbon goals. They also agreed on the need to increase the proportion of renewable energy by 20 per cent by 2020, though Mr Trittin noted that "not a great deal was said on concrete proposals on how to achieve that goal". There was no agreement on nuclear energy, different Member States being in very different situations: for example, while Finland is currently building nuclear plants, Germany is reducing them. The general view was that it should be up to Member States to decide whether to use nuclear energy.

Internal Market and Innovation Working Group

Malcolm Harbour (EPP-ED, UK) set out the group’s belief that the EU needs to "safeguards the four freedoms underpinning the Internal Market" from Member State protectionism. Indeed, further reforms were necessary, particularly in the banking sector and in telecommunications. He gave strong support to the proposed reduction by 25% of the red tape from EU legislation to facilitate business for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). As for innovation, participants had agreed that research and development policies should be "higher in Member States' agendas". Mr Harbour stressed the difficulties national parliamentarians have to face when promoting the advantages of the Single Market to public. He said: "We need to explain to our citizens that the Internal Market is our response to globalisation."

Human Capital – Education, job creation and social aspects – Working Group

Maria Manuel Oliviera, (Assembleia da República, Portugal), said the consensus had been that “the best way forward is to achieve the right balance between employment, competitiveness and social cohesion". On education and job creation, she stressed the importance of respecting the principle of equal opportunities. Special attention should be given to women, disabled people, older and young workers encountering difficulties in the labour market. Another issue was the respect of workers' social rights. The group agreed a balanced approach was needed. A flexible labour market favouring mobility should be accompanied by a correspondent level of protection of social rights. The EU should, they believed, define minimum standards of protection to be observed by all Member States.

Plenary debate with Barroso and De Maizière

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, also spoke about the need to balance competitiveness and social rights. He said that is possible to "have a flexible and business friendly Europe while having high social standards." To achieve this goal, he said, it is necessary to introduce social safety nets, "not to protect uncompetitive jobs, but to protect people." Mr Barroso said Europe was currently experiencing growth with job creation. The EU economy was growing at the fastest rate since 2000 and unemployment was at the lowest level since 1998. For Mr Barroso this meant it was time to accelerate reforms, at both EU and national level, also aiming to reduce the economic gap among Member States. National parliaments, together with the EP, could, he said, represent a "parliamentary movement for change".

Thomas De Maizière, Head of the Federal Chancellery, spoke for the German Presidency of the Council. He said the Lisbon Strategy was now more than just a slogan, with Member States having made a greater commitment to it. But it was not just a matter of politics: “we can spend more on research and development, but if young people don’t want to study engineering, money will not help. It is about changing the image of certain professions in society.” He agreed with plans to cut administrative burdens for SMEs to free money to create jobs. It was not, he said, about undermining social standards, but ensuring the minimum inconvenience for citizens and businesses.

The German Presidency would, he said, be talking to Russia about energy and the need for long term security of supply. It was also important to “use our shared clout to encourage the US to do more,” he said. Climate change was one issue among many where it would be better to avoid two sets of standards on either side of the Atlantic, he said, others included patent law, counter-piracy and financial market regulation. The EU could be more than the sum of its parts in tackling global warming – he supported the Commission’s plans for a 20 per cent cut in emissions, with the aim of bringing others on board to go further.

General debate: climate change, vehicle emissions, demographics

Climate change and energy loomed large in the general debate. Lena Ek (ALDE, SE) said plans to have 10 per cent of transport fuel replaced with alternatives were a good idea, but did not go far enough given the projected increase in freight and passenger on the roads. Jo Leinen (PES, DE) suggested adopting a protocol on climate change alongside a revised constitutional treaty. For Andrea Lulli (Italian Chamber of Deputies) this was more than ever the time to have a European energy policy: “the climate emergency means there is no time left to ponder,” he said. Sotitios Hatzigakis (Greek Parliament) said there should be an energy policy partly financed from the EU budget, like the Common Agricultural Policy. Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA, DE) said Finland’s subsidy for nuclear power would lead to “economic disaster”. Gudrun Kopp (German Bundestag) on the other hand, said climate protection aims could not be met without nuclear power.

Françoise Grossetête (EPP-ED, FR) said the Commission’s proposals aim of 30 per cent cuts in CO2 emissions if international agreement could be reached was a bold one. She wondered however, if the Commission would follow this up by backing the Environment Commissioner’s plans for binding limits on carbon emissions from the car industry. Otmar Bernhard (German Bundesrat) said “unless we try to be stringent in getting reductions from all vehicles we won’t achieve much.” Gunther Krichbaum (German Bundestag), though, said: “We should not condemn a whole industry, the automobile industry need support through our policies.” Mr Trittin also called for the impact on competitiveness to be taken into account, but for voluntary agreements to become legally binding.

Other issues raised included the difficulty in convincing the public of the need for economic reform. Marianne Thyssen (EPP-ED, DE) said “Many people are afraid of the internal market. They see the opening up of labour markets as dismantling the welfare state and deregulation as a threat to their jobs.” Jim Dobbin (UK, House of Commons) warned of the “potential time bomb” of demographic change: “Being able to look after retired people in dignity is a major challenge,” he said.

Responses to debate

Mr Barroso said there was a continual need to explain that the economic reforms of Lisbon were the best way to respond to globalisation. On climate change, he was optimistic that opinions were shifting: “We want to engage others. I believe the Americans will change, and I have discussed this with President Bush... I believe the US is more receptive than ever, the administration is moving, they recognise the challenge of the situation. There is growing awareness in Congress and in society. China too will move. They understand the serious challenges for their own environment.”

Mr de Maizière was not keen on including climate change in the treaty – he thought this risked delaying real action. On the car industry, he did not want to comment until the Commission had adopted its plans. Regarding globalisation, he said Europe had so far been among the winners.

Summing up the debate, co-chair Susanne Kastner (Deputy Speaker of the Bundestag) said she was sure everyone agreed the challenges ahead were social and environmental as well as economic. She said there needed to be a dialogue between politicians and civil society, with employers and workers taking part in the debate. She was confident the national reform programmes would be implemented and improve the present situation.

Closing the event, co-chair and EP President Hans-Gert Poettering welcomed the fact that the European Parliaments and national parliaments were showing they were partners not rivals: “We work together to serve our citizens on the European continent,” he said. He added that it would be worth considering a separate joint parliamentary meeting to examine how to tackle climate change in more detail.

Co-chair, EP President : Hans-Gert Poettering
Co-chair, Bundestag Deputy Speaker : Susanne Kastner
3rd Joint Parliamentary Meeting on the Lisbon Strategy

Ref.: 20070206IPR02841
Ralph Pine
Press Service
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