Spring EU Summit prioritises social aspects of Lisbon Agenda

At the annual Spring European Summit, held this year in March 2008, the priorities for the last three years of the Lisbon process were endorsed. These new priorities place a greater focus on the social aspects of the Lisbon Strategy and have been coined as a ‘social makeover’ of the strategy. Priority issues include an increased focus on flexicurity and greater efforts to increase social inclusion, education levels and lifelong learning.


In 2000, the Council of the European Union adopted the so-called Lisbon Strategy, which seeks to make the EU ‘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, and respect for the environment by 2010’. In 2004, the Council and the European Commission conducted a mid-term review of the Lisbon process. A group of high-level experts, led by the former Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok, was asked to prepare a report on the state of the Lisbon process. The resulting Kok report (512Kb PDF), which was published in November 2004, concluded that little progress had been made in the previous first five years and recommended that the EU place a greater emphasis on growth and employment (EU0412205F).

At its 2005 Spring Summit (236Kb PDF), the Council decided to re-launch the Lisbon process on the basis of a Commission communication, entitled Working together for growth and jobs. A new start for the Lisbon Strategy (490Kb PDF). Despite the fact that the social side of the Lisbon Strategy was always mentioned in the relevant EU publications, it has been a point of growing contention. Critics of the re-launch process argued that too much emphasis was being placed on economic growth and the creation of new jobs and that it thus lacked a more balanced approach, as set out in the European social model.

Four priority areas

In preparation for the Spring 2008 European Summit, the Commission published a communication, entitled Keeping up the pace of change. Strategic report on the renewed Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs: Launching the new cycle (2008–2010) (200Kb PDF) in December 2007. This communication was based on decisions originally taken at the Spring 2006 European Council meeting, at which four priority areas were identified as the cornerstones of the renewed Lisbon Strategy. Accordingly, the December 2007 communication stated that measures should focus on:

  • investing in people and modernising labour markets;
  • unlocking the business potential, especially of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
  • investing in knowledge and innovation;
  • energy and climate change.

Focus on social issues

At the Spring 2008 Summit, a ‘heightened concern for citizens and social issues’ was mentioned first as a new focus of the Lisbon Strategy. This was followed by the issues of ‘climate change’ and a ‘more modern view of innovation and creativity’ (see press release of the Slovenian Presidency). In the summit’s official Presidency Conclusions (156Kb PDF), several measures seeking to strengthen the social side of the Lisbon Strategy were suggested, among the most important of which are:

  • a call on the Member States to implement the principles of flexicurity at national level;
  • the promotion of higher, overall labour force participation and tackling of segmentation in order to ensure active social inclusion;
  • the provision of high-quality education and lifelong learning – these measures are explicitly mentioned as ‘effective ways of fighting inequality and poverty’;
  • a reduction in the number of young people who are illiterate and early school leavers, along with efforts to improve the achievement levels of learners with a migrant background or from disadvantaged groups.

Besides these issues, other necessary areas for action mentioned were: youth unemployment; the employment of disabled persons; the availability and affordability of quality childcare; the reconciliation of work with private and family life for women and men; and the reduction of the gender pay gap.

Furthermore, the Council called for the adoption of a renewed Social Policy Agenda,

which should play a key role in strengthening the social dimension of the Lisbon Strategy by taking account of Europe’s new social and labour realities and also covering issues such as youth, education, migration and demography, as well as intercultural dialogue. In this context, combating poverty and social exclusion, promoting active inclusion and increasing employment opportunities for those furthest from the labour market are all of major importance.


The Spring 2008 Summit reflects the European Council’s intention to improve the balance between Europe’s economic and social side in the future. Nevertheless, the shortlist of problems to be tackled reads more like a mixed bag of existing social problems than a well thought-out strategy. It remains to be seen whether a renewed social agenda will remedy this problem.

Rainer Trinczek, Technical University Munich

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