The Lisbon Strategy: Economic and Social Strategic Impacts for the South East European Countries

1. Introduction

The paper aims to give an answer to the question to which extent the Lisbon agenda goals are relevant for the countries of South Eastern Europe (SEE) during the EU accession process and how they relate to the Copenhagen criteria for the European Union membership1. It tries to evaluate the position of Croatia in relation to the Lisbon goals. The initial Lisbon Strategy has not been a success due to the lack of political leadership, commitment and ownership on the part of member states, but also due to bad governance and lack of prioritisation.
Hopefully the reforms following the mid-term review will result in improved delivery and better results thanks to the more focused objectives, clearer planning and stronger ownership of the process in member states. The experiences and achievements in implementation of the strategy in EU member states show that the situation differs from country to country. Good practice in new member states is particularly useful for Croatia and other SEE countries. Although not obligatory, the Lisbon Agenda objectives are relevant for candidate countries already in the pre-accession stage. The Lisbon Strategy does not introduce additional EU membership criteria but, as was announced in the Commission documents, its objectives will be reflected in the EU’s policies towards the whole South-East European region in the areas that can be considered priorities for the countries’ overall reforms.

2. The Lisbon Strategy – Challenge for the New Candidates

The Lisbon Strategy objectives are relevant for candidate countries during the pre-accession stage. It was also the case with former candidates of the fifth enlargement, remembering the fact that the Barcelona Summit (2002) already highlighted the Lisbon Strategy “as an incentive for candidate countries to adopt and implement key economic and social environment objectives as a two-way learning process”2. However, the negotiations within the fifth round of enlargement were completed in time before the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy, meaning that the importance of the whole Lisbon Process was not so stressed even within the old member states.
Lisbon Agenda became an issue for the Western Balkan countries in 2006. Three years after the Thessaloniki Summit progress in implementing the Thessaloniki instruments was evaluated and certain new issues were introduced. The Lisbon Agenda was one of them, as it was clearly stated that “… its objectives are also relevant for the Western Balkans. The region should be involved gradually to achieving these objectives, taking into account the level of development of the economies and the individual stage of rapprochement to the EU. The Lisbon objectives will not constitute additional criteria or economic objectives, but the Commission will ensure that its policies towards the region also reflect Lisbon activities that can be considered priorities under the European/Accession Partnerships. The Western Balkan countries should thus start taking into account the Union’s Lisbon objectives in their reforms” (European Commission, 2006a, p.7).
The Lisbon objectives became even more important in the negotiations process due to the fact that these objectives are deeply embedded in many EU policies and thus represent an overall horizontal policy for adjustment. They are not an obligation or new criteria, but many of the instruments of the Lisbon Strategy are a reference point during screening in many areas. Furthermore, it was for the first time that the Lisbon Agenda, as a horizontal policy, was introduced into the screening process for Croatia and Turkey3. The strategy is being implemented in partnership between the EU institutions and the member states, while the candidates are involved in various consultative mechanisms during the pre-accession stage.
Naturally, the countries that are involved in the screening process or have started negotiations have more possibilities and better chances to introduce the Lisbon goals into their policies and thus to approach the envisaged targets more effectively. This is due to the fact that they are involved in different kinds of (economic and other) consultation mechanisms that are, among other things, a process of learning. At the moment this is the case with Croatia and Turkey. The other present and potential candidates (Macedonia and the remaining SAP countries) are gradually introducing the Lisbon goals in the areas covered by European partnerships, at a speed that is in accordance with their own needs and possibilities.
Based on the experiences of new member countries, a recommendation for candidate countries is to take into account the Lisbon Process in the preparation of their reform programme. During the process of harmonising their economies to EU requirements, countries in transition like Croatia should aim towards the economic models and solutions that have to be implemented in current EU member states in order to restore the vitality of their economies. This, however, does mean that candidates should avoid simple imitating the economic policy solutions developed and still present in many EU member states. They should rather combine the Lisbon experiences with the reform framework they have to undertake. There are good examples in some old (Ireland, after 1986) and new EU member states (Slovakia after Meciar, or the Baltic countries) that implemented deep reforms which were usually difficult at the beginning but proved fruitful in the long run. These states, already EU members or aiming to achieve it, put efforts into creating flexible and entrepreneurship-friendly economies with a limited role of the government. The Lisbon Process, while not ideal in its essence and method, can be used as a stimulus for such a policy. However, the effectiveness of the Lisbon Strategy cannot be overestimated, because the most important economic reforms have to be accepted and implemented at the national level, not the EU one.
All candidate countries face the opportunity to combine their efforts to meet the Copenhagen economic criteria in full with their efforts to meet the goals of the Lisbon Agenda. In this interrelated endeavour they have substantially increased their interest, contribution and understanding of the Lisbon Process. It is no longer just the business of member states – it is becoming a substantial part of the economic policy of the candidate countries themselves.
Table 1 shows the progress made by the SEE countries in implementing the Lisbon goals. The World Economic Forum ranked for the first time the SEE countries (as compared to the 25 countries that were EU member states in 2006). Croatia was the best positioned one within the region according to sub indexes for information society, innovation and R&D, industrial networks and sustainable development, and was positioned on 24th place as compared with the EU 25. The only EU member that was behind Croatia was Poland.

Table 1: Ranking and scores of potential EU member countries ccording to the Lisbon goals
Source: World Economic Forum. The Lisbon Review 2006. Measuring Europe’s Progress in Reform.

Višnja Samardžija, PhD Institute for International Relations, IMO Zagreb, Croatia.
1 This article is based on the book edited by the author and published by the Institute for International Relation and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in 2006: Reforms in Lisbon Strategy Implementation: Economic and Social Dimensions. See:
2 Presidency Conclusions, Barcelona European Council, 15 and 16 March 2002.
3 Multilateral Screening on Lisbon Strategy was held for Croatia and Turkey in Brussels on 23 July 2006. It covered policy aims and instruments for implementing the Lisbon goals.

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