Kok group issues report on Lisbon strategy

In November 2004, a report on the EU's 'Lisbon strategy', issued by a high-level group chaired by the former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, was discussed at the autumn European Council meeting. The report, which will feed into the mid-term review of the Lisbon economic and social strategy, states that there has been disappointing progress in implementation. It urges all those involved to work together to make better progress.

The European Council met in Brussels on 4-5 November 2004 to discuss a range of issues, including the preparation of a mid-term review of the EU’s Lisbon strategy. This strategy was agreed at a European Council summit in Lisbon in March 2000 (EU0004241F) and aims to create 'the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion' by 2010, using a strategy with an economic, social and environmental dimension. The strategy contains concrete targets in several areas, including overall employment levels, female employment rates, and the employment of older workers.

The progress of the Lisbon strategy, which is linked to the European employment strategy, launched in November 1997 (EU9711168F), is discussed annually at a spring European Council meeting. However, 2005 marks the mid-point in the strategy and a formal mid-term review will therefore take place. A high-level group, chaired by Wim Kok, a former Dutch Prime Minister, was set up in March 2004 (EU0404205F) to carry out an independent review of the Lisbon strategy. This assessment will feed into the mid-term review of the strategy, which will take place at the March 2005 spring Council.

The high-level group met six times between March and October 2004 and has now finalised its report, which was presented by Mr Kok to the European Commission on 3 November and the European Council on 4 November.

Main findings of the Kok report

The full title of the Kok report is Facing the challenge. The Lisbon strategy for growth and employment. It arguably offers a rather damning overview of the lack of progress made since 2000.

The document states that events since 2000 have not helped the Union in its Lisbon strategy aims, but adds that the EU itself and its Member States have contributed to this slow progress by 'failing to act on much of the Lisbon strategy with sufficient urgency'. It attributes this perceived lack of delivery and inadequate progress to 'an overloaded agenda, poor coordination and conflicting priorities' in addition to what it views as the key issue of a lack of determined political action.

The report urges all those involved in the Lisbon strategy to work together to improve implementation, particularly given the challenges of low population growth and ageing in Europe: 'Time is running out and there can be no room for complacency. Better implementation is needed now to make up for lost time.' It calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to commit themselves more fully to the Lisbon strategy and urges the EU’s citizens to engage with it more deeply and broadly.

Key recommendations

The report makes a number of key recommendations to all those involved in the Lisbon strategy:

  • the spring 2005 European Council should make a priority of revitalising the Lisbon strategy, sending a clear message to engage national governments and citizens. It must also ensure that sufficient time and attention are dedicated to assessing the progress made in achieving the Lisbon goals. The meeting should also focus on the progress that has been made in establishing 'partnerships for reform', which were called for at the spring 2004 European Council;
  • a key focus for the EU and Member States should be growth and employment, which will underpin social cohesion and sustainable development;
  • the President of the Commission should focus on driving the Lisbon strategy forward;
  • national governments should draw up by the end of 2005 a national action programme on delivering the reforms agreed as part of the Lisbon strategy;
  • the European Parliament should establish a standing committee on the Lisbon strategy; and
  • the EU budget should, as far as possible, be reshaped to reflect the Lisbon priorities, so as to encourage Member States to achieve the Lisbon targets.

In terms of implementation of the strategy, the report states that the 'open method of coordination', under which there are no legal sanctions but it is hoped that peer pressure will suffice to ensure implementation, 'has fallen far short of expectations. If Member States do not enter the spirit of mutual benchmarking, little or nothing happens.' However, the report also states that the 'Community method' has not been particularly successful, in that Member States are lagging behind what has been agreed and the transposition of Directives is mostly behind targets.

The report therefore suggests that the Commission should deliver to the spring European Council 'in the most public manner possible' an annual league table of Member State progress towards achieving the 14 key indicators and targets set out in the Lisbon process: 'Countries that have performed well should be praised, those that have done badly castigated.'

The key areas where action is seen as urgent include:

  • the 'knowledge society'. This includes increasing the attractiveness of Europe for researchers and scientists, making research and development a priority and promoting the use of information and communication technologies;
  • the internal market. The internal market for the free movement of goods and capital should be completed and urgent action taken to create a single market for services (EU0412202N);
  • the business climate. The total administrative burden should be reduced, the quality of legislation improved, the start-up of businesses facilitated and a more supportive environment for business created; and
  • the labour market. Strategies for lifelong learning and 'active ageing' should be developed.

In conclusion, the report states that the leaders of Europe need to 'instil hope that tomorrow will be better than today'. It urges all those involved to work towards achieving the Lisbon goals, stating that it is not too late to change and that the clear message must be 'if we want to preserve and improve our social model we have to adapt ... the status quo is not an option'.


The Kok group’s report on the Lisbon strategy is blunt in its criticism of all actors in failing to implement the strategy adequately over the past five years. While acknowledging that it is not easy to attain the concrete targets set out in the strategy due to the difficult economic climate, the high-level group believes that more can and must be done to achieve better results. It paints a picture according to which there can be no option but to make the implementation of the strategy more dynamic, urging all those involved, including the EU institutions, national governments and social partners at all levels, to take action to revitalise the strategy. Whether this will have the desired effect remains to be seen. When the Lisbon strategy and the European employment strategy were first put in place, there was concern that, as the strategies relied on peer pressure rather than sanctions, they would have no teeth. To a certain extent, that appears to have been the case, as evidenced by the Kok group’s report. The report suggests tightening up the peer-pressure element of the Lisbon strategy, which might bring better results. In any event, more discussions on this issue will take place during 2005 at the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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