Lisbon and Sustainable Development Strategies in the EU: How does mutual recognition take place in practice?

Pirgmaier, E. (2008)

The Lisbon strategy was decided in 2000 by Heads of state as the EU’s ambitious 10-year strategy for economic and social renewal. It is supposed to speed up European economies, to eradicate unemployment and to transform the EU into a knowledge-based economy and society by investing in research and technology.

The original strategy had two dimensions: an economic and a social one. The environmental dimension was added in 2001, when the European Council agreed in Gothenburg about the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (EU SDS). The EU SDS aims at finding a balance between economic growth, environmental protection and social cohesion. Both the Lisbon strategy and the EU SD strategies are intended to be complementary and mutually reinforcing. However, while the EU SDS represents the long-term vision and overall framework for EU policy-making, the Lisbon strategy is more focussed and the Unions intermediate economic and employment target. In 2005, the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy resulted firstly in a stronger focus on growth and jobs, thus, leaving the environmental and social dimensions marginalised, and secondly in a new form of governance to boost the commitment of Member States. In this context, Member States were asked to produce so-called National Reform Programmes (NRPs) that should display a comprehensive national strategy on how to implement the union-wide Lisbon goals.

The EU SDS was reviewed for the first time in 2006. This revision similarly strengthened the relationship to Member States’ National Strategies for Sustainable Development (NSDSs), e.g. by introducing a two-yearly reporting mechanism. Whereas the relationship of the Lisbon strategy and the EU SDS is discussed politically and in the literature, there is no evidence whether and how the national processes of Lisbon and SD, viz. NRPs and NSDSs, are interrelated in practice.
Also, literature does not highlight process features of NRPs, which makes it impossible to compare them with the governance of NSDSs.

This study intends to fill this gap. It sheds light on the NRP and NSDS processes in Austria, Sweden and the UK. More specifically, it explores and compares the evolution, coordination and institutionalisation of the two strategy processes in the three countries. The findings show that the NRP and NSDS processes co-exist side by side in all three countries investigated. The only link is established by a few persons who are involved in both the NRP and the NSDS. The study also shows that the Lisbon agenda is about a comparatively uniform process in which the European and national levels feed into each other through a shared governance cycle. The application of the so-called Open Method of Coordination (OMC), which is a governance mechanism that aims to compare policies and introduces a flexible mutual learning process, led to a streamlined process with better implementation results. In contrast, SD strategies at the European and the national level have quite separate lives up to now. However, the renewal of the EU SDS in 2006 laid the ground for a tighter relation between EU and Member State policies.

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