The Brussels based knowledge economy think tank 'The Lisbon
Council' derives its name from the 'Lisbon Agenda' which in 2000
stated the ambition to make the EU by 2010 "the most competitive
and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world". That goal was
sadly not quite realized.
High time to ask the executive director and co-founder of the
Lisbon Council, Ann Mettler, whether she still finds it convincing
when European Commission President Barroso claims that Europe needs
to "unleash growth and create jobs," as he reiterated in his interview with ScienceGuide.EU just
two weeks ago. Are such phrases worn out or still relevant?
Real substance neglected
Mettler has clearly thought of this question before. To her,
there is still a lot of merit in the label of 'growth and jobs.'
But she also offers alternatives: "How about 'equitable prosperity'
or 'equity and opportunity'?", she suggests. "I like the notion of
economic systems that foster social mobility and meritocracy.
Sustainable growth is the prerequisite for that. But by the same
token, the absence of growth means equitable distribution will not
be sustainable. The bottom line is: We Europeans need to earn our
standard of living. Sometimes we seem to think that we have some
sort of birth right to our living standards."
"In the current context I am actually relieved that we are
getting back to the debate on growth and jobs", Mettler continues.
"In the last two years we have been totally preoccupied with the
financial and debt crisis. But short-term crisis management and
incessant talk about new economic governance models do nothing on
their own to stimulate growth and lay a new foundation for
"Honestly, the last two years were at times exasperating for me!
The real substance, the growth and job-goals, the wider
transformation towards a knowledge-based economy, were often
"We have always said: the EU has to be able to do two
things at the same time. Work on budget constraints, on the fiscal
compact, the day-to-day crisis management. And on the other hand to
tackle the underlying problems: the lack of growth, the high
unemployment, particularly among the young, the lagging
competitiveness in many EU-countries and sectors. Because these are
the reasons why budget deficits have grown so large in the first
"On the one hand, I'm glad that the topics 'growth and jobs' are
back on the agenda. On the other hand, for me it was a complete
déja vu-moment when the EU rediscovered growth and jobs in
the last couple of months. I thought: 'hello….where have you been?'
We've really come full circle on this one."
Barroso is not the problem
Does the problem of this ' total preoccupation' with the short
term crisis point lie with the European Commission and in
particular with President Barroso? Ann Mettler strongly denies
this. "When he renewed the Lisbon Strategy in 2005 he was severely
criticized for his supposed neglect of social cohesion. But he was
purposefully misunderstood. Be sure you quote me right:
purposefully misunderstood. By those interests that still
like to believe that economic goals inevitably come at a social and
environmental cost -- as if you had more social cohesion and jobs
or a better environmental performance you somehow cripple and
sabotage the economy."
"The very opposite is the case: you see that the countries with
the highest growth rates also have the highest degree of social
cohesion. In Sweden for example they have pretty strong growth and
they still are the champions of social equity."
Ann Mettler is glad that the depth of the impact of the crisis
woke us all up from the state of complacency Europeans have been in
for so long. "You meet a deeper understanding now that the crisis
is real, here to stay even and that we cannot continue running up
our deficits with the low growth rates we have. I'm so relieved
that former complacent attitude is over."
Growth and jobs: 99% of all firms are SME's
So Europe is really back to growth and jobs, but then what's
next? Mettler still pushes the insight that the EU has important
levers to foster economic growth. For instance, the internal market
continues to be too fragmented, particularly in the areas of
digital economy, energy and services. Or take the next multiannual
financial framework, where there is a real chance to redirect EU
funding towards more future-oriented investment, in higher
education, in R&D, in innovation. In the meantime, the Lisbon
Council is taking matters of economic growth, innovation and
competitiveness in its own hands by setting up various centers of
"One center of excellence, for instance, focuses on the
importance of SMEs in the single
market", she explains. "99% of all firms are SME' s and 90% of
them are so-called micro-enterprises, meaning they employ fewer
than 10 people. Between 2002 and 2010, 85% of total employment
growth was driven by SME's. Their importance cannot be overstated!
But how can we empower these companies and give them the tools to
become more competitive and successful?"
In trying to answer these questions, Ann Mettler recently
co-authored a paper on the rise of the 'Micro-Multinational',
"where I examine how technology has the potential to
transform small organizations by providing global reach, increasing
productivity and unleashing innovation."
Mario Monti as an epitome
The second center of excellence the Lisbon Council launched
focuses on the 'Government of the Future'. "How can governments be
transformed to become more citizen-centric? Going even further, can
citizens perhaps even co-create public services? How can we
innovate public services and help prepare them as citizens for our
grand challenges, such as the ageing of our societies, the need to
raise our game with regards to skills and human capital, the
urgency of responding to climate change. For instance by offering
smarter mobility options."
Two more centers of excellence are under construction. Is
'European leadership' maybe one of those themes? Mettler neither
confirms nor denies. She does admit she is fascinated by the
current developments in Italy and Greece, where 'technocrats' have
taken over from democratically elected politicians.
"It is ironic that Mario Monti carries out all the reforms
necessary with a view to strengthen the economy for the long-run.
Making it possible for women and young people to participate in the
labour market, making the social system more sustainable by raising
the retirement age. Finally tackling the vested interests and
incumbents that have stifled entrepreneurship and economic dynamism
for too long."
"He is the epitome of an ideal politician and it is interesting
to see that he continues to enjoy strong popular support. But the
fact is that he has not been elected. That's a very interesting
phenomenon for someone like me who has studied the dynamics of the
political economy of reform for over a decade."
Literacy of adult citizens
"The root of the problem lies in the fact that many politicians
don't treat their citizens as mature adults who deserve to be told
the truth about current and future challenges. Instead, they treat
them like children who somehow need to be shielded from
uncomfortable realities. But guess who is footing the bill when
things go wrong? It's the citizens of course. We are now
collectively paying a high price for the economic mismanagement -
and misinformation - of past years and decades."
"That is why citizens need access to better information when it
comes to underlying economic and financial fundamentals. And this
is why it' s so necessary to boost economic and financial '
literacy' across the board. I honestly find it curious that
in Spain for instance, you see people taking to the streets,
protesting against labour market reforms, while they experience a
level of 24% in unemployment and almost 50% in youth
"I mean, how bad does this have to become? How
disastrous, before people realize that the current system is not
working? Especially when there are countries that have a strong
record on social cohesion and that perform much better. Look at
Germany, which is currently enjoying the lowest unemployment rate