Competitiveness, growth, employment: Europe's continuing challenge
It is 20 years since the European Commission's White Paper on competitiveness, growth and employment drafted by then Commission President Jacques Delors, but these still remain top priorities for the EU – all the more so in this European Parliament election year.
Speaking at a conference organised by Notre Europe, the thinktank founded by Delors after he left the Commission, on 22 January, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič drew many parallels between the 12-member EU of 1993 and today's 28-member bloc.
Unemployment for example is running at almost identical levels today as it was then, and the wording of the conclusions from European Council from December 1993 when the White Paper was adopted is very closely mirrored by those from today.
But, VP Šefčovič stressed, while many of the challenges still remain, this does not mean that the EU has not had its successes. Successive rounds of enlargement, and more recently the economic and financial crisis, have masked the significant improvements of the last 20 years, helped by the ongoing strategy of structural reforms first put forward in the White Paper.
He stressed, for example, the strong competitiveness of many EU Member States (11 of them feature among the world's top 30 best-performing countries), urging EU governments to continue with their programme of reforms to help spread that competitiveness to the rest of the EU.
And he outlined the more rigorous approach to planning and implementing reforms that was introduced with the Europe 2020 programme in 2010 – the European Semester of economic policy coordination, for example, which assesses each Member States progress and specific reform requirements on an annual basis.
EU funding, he added was also now being put to very much more focused use, with significant increases in funding for research, for example, more money for SMEs and more rigorous targets linking structural funds to specific Europe 2020 goals.