Europe’s Lost Decade

MILAN – “Never confess a failure. Whenever you are about to miss a target, just move the deadline. Sooner or later, you will make it.” This simple rule, largely followed in Eastern Europe in the socialist days, is also popular among European Union bureaucrats in Brussels today.

On March 24, 2010, what all observers of European affairs have long known will be written in stone: the EU failed to attain the targets for economic growth, efficiency, and modernization set ten years ago in Lisbon. Rather than becoming “the most dynamic economy in the world,” the EU is losing ground.

The gap in per-capita income of the EU15 (the membership prior to the accession of mainly post-communist states in 2004) relative to the United States – taken as a reference in many targets – is unchanged at 30-40%, depending on the adjustment to purchasing power parity. The EU as a whole has attained none of the 17 quantitative targets set in the Lisbon Strategy. And all the qualitative targets, added later in the process, have been used mainly to feed national bureaucracies preparing plans within the so-called “open coordination method.”

Rather than digging into the reasons for this general failure, the EU is now issuing a document that calls for new ambitious targets for 2020. For another ten years, it seems, we can talk big and dream.