Dump the Lisbon Agenda

As soon as he takes office as President of the European Commission, Durao Barroso - Portugal's former Prime Minister - should devote urgent attention to restoring order and focus to the European Union's economic policies.

The thickest file on his desk concerns the Lisbon agenda, an ambitious programme approved in 2000 by the EU heads of state and government with the goal of making the Union "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy" by 2010. All major fields of economic policy are covered: innovation and entrepreneurship, welfare reform and social inclusion, skills and employability, gender equality, labour and product market liberalisation, and "sustainable" development.

All of these are worthy goals, to be sure, but they belong intrinsically to the sphere of national political decisions. Indeed, under the European Treaties, the Union has no competence to enact legislation and policy in these domains, nor powers to enforce them.

But the European Council, spurred by the European Commission, invented a new policy approach - called "open coordination" - in order to impinge on these fields. Open coordination entails the definition of common goals at the EU level, voluntary compliance by the member states, and peer review of results within the European Council.