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Time for a Change of Direction

He sees tripled resources for research and development both a possibility and a necessity for Europe to recruit and sustain the best scientist available.

Creating a single market in healthcare services, Hökmark argues, would support integration of research and practitioners in one of the most strategic parts of the knowledge society, giving the European medical- and pharmaceutical industry a unique level of competitiveness.

Finally he asks for opening of telecoms so that European culture, businesses, media and citizens would enjoy far greater possibilities to interact and to develop in a market of 500 million people, while giving our Union a head-start over other regions of the world in terms of connectivity.

– This represents four central strategies but the final responsibility rests with Member states who must strive for macro-economic balance; to keep taxes low, labour markets flexible and to improve schools concludes Gunnar Hökmark.

Read MEP Gunnar Hökmarks contribution to the book The Lisbon Strategy: Mode d’Emploi in it’s entirety below:

Time for a Change of Direction
Gunnar Hökmark MEP

The goal set in Lisbon in March 2000 for Europe to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world was extremely ambitious and although the European Union and its Member States fell short in reaching that goal, the truth is that the process of discussing those short-comings, as well as the successes, is finally bringing momentum to this agenda and Europe one step closer to being a leading player in the world of tomorrow.

Let us first of all state what Lisbon is all about. Economic growth or competitiveness is not just about money and materialistic figures as too many critics tend to claim. It is about promoting independent families, about men and women having good jobs and making the best of their skills, it is about children who not only feel safe and secure but also know they can rely on their parents, and parents feeling confident about how to deal with the problems of daily life.

It also means ensuring decent pensions and resources for our health services as well as putting in place capabilities for investing in future needs as well as taking care of our environment and natural resources. It means tackling climate change effectively and helping poor countries deal with its consequences. That is not bad and it is not materialistic. It is idealism backed by reality, as opposed to idealism not even in touch with reality.

However the Lisbon Agenda is also there to tackle that fact that Europe is lagging behind. We are lagging behind the rapidly developing Asian economies, not only in terms of economic growth, which some tend to refer to as a catch-up effect, but strategic and crucial areas for future development such as broadband penetration and the next generation of telecom services, education, training and recruiting future researchers and scientists, and the development of financial markets.

The fact that European economies today perform much better than they did some years ago – an achievement which many claim is due to the relative success of the Lisbon Agenda to date – does not diminish the importance of current developments outside the transatlantic economy and the fact that emerging economies will have a far larger share of the world economy in only a decade or so.

Since the era of Christopher Columbus Europe has been so used to leading the world in all spheres, from the economy, to trade and scientific developments, that it thought its pre-eminence was mandated by the force of history. That is certainly not the case and Europe needs to accept that it is in open competition with the world’s peoples, a competition from which we can prosper if we make the necessary adjustments but which could put our hard-fought welfare provisions at serious risk if we fail to engage with the reform process.

Luckily, with little more than a year to go before the 2010 deadline to meet the Lisbon targets, a number of possibilities remain which, if put in place, could accelerate the development of a knowledge society and scientific innovation in Europe that would give us the cutting edge in a new era of world trade based on the demands of sustainable development. The latter is a prerequisite for any leading world economy in the twenty-first century, combining the twin demands of energy efficiency and clean technology that enable us to fight climate change and address its consequences while maintaining modern standards of living and extending them to as many as possible.

So how should we proceed? First off, we should reform the controversial Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) since high and rising food prices mean the world needs fewer subsidies and more cultivated land. The next decade could be historic for the EU if we do so, setting European farmers free as entrepreneurs and producers. At present, global agricultural markets are more regulated than other, with production, subsidies, trade and prices all strictly controlled. It is not a coincidence that, consequently, agriculture does not enjoy the same benefits from globalization as other sectors which benefit from the increased supply, lower prices, developed production and higher wages, that exist in open markets.

It is time we phased out the higher prices, limited supply and shortages that belong to old fashioned economic systems. It is time we said goodbye to agricultural subsidies, including the export subsidies that undermine farming in poor countries, while simultaneously scrapping all the different rules limiting the use of the EU’s farmed areas, which were designed to decrease surpluses that no longer exist. By eradicating export subsidies we will make way for agriculture in Africa and other poor regions of the world. There is no better way of developing the rural areas of poor countries for the benefit of their peoples while providing the developing world with an export industry.

Despite reports that the amount of agricultural land under cultivation is decreasing year on year, the fact remains that there are huge unused areas of suitable land in Europe, and indeed, the rest of the world, which simply need to be put to use. As much as 21 million hectares were removed from production after the fall of the Soviet Union alone, while in Africa, as well as in the Americas, unused areas are plentiful. Similarly, regaining what has been lost from desertification would not only provide better living conditions for poor people and develop rural areas, but would also prove a natural storage system for CO2.

The question is of course whether there is a market for such a change. Today’s high food prices – affecting the whole world – symbolise it exists and it does not take a genius to realise that increased prosperity and a bigger world population will do nothing to reduce market growth in the future. Indeed, if we break away from the regulations of today, development of bio fuels will not occur at the expense of traditional agriculture, as critics have complained to date, but will complement it by making both sectors more competitive since, in reality, there is no lack of available land for either food or bio fuels production.

The deregulation of agricultural policies will lead to open markets and free trade, with the same results as we have seen in other sectors of the economy. Underdeveloped countries will benefit, deregulation will contribute to prosperity and to a better environment, as well as to a reduction in greenhouse gases.

From a European perspective this will bring more opportunity to enterprises and agricultural production in rural area as commercial, instead of subsidised, activities vitalise the agricultural sector by adapting to world markets and allowing the agricultural industry to become a base for investment and new businesses. Letting these regions develop is the most crucial reform we can make in order to succeed with cohesion and economic integration, as well as providing a level playing field for the rest of the world.

This will also give new opportunities for promoting development through the European Union’s budget which is currently dominated, and thus hamstrung, by agricultural subsidies. By abandoning this enormous area of expenditure we can ear-mark funds for investment in science, research and innovation which have suffered under-investment in recent years, despite political will to provide the funding required. And while results in these areas can never be driven by political decisions, cash injections can provide researchers with a much-needed stimulus that will pay dividends in terms of spin-offs in the years to come.

Secondly, we must not stop at opening the agricultural sector to competition: we should do the same for the core of the knowledge society: our universities and research institutes. To reach their full potential, these should be free and independent, and they should be European in the sense that they should be able to operate and compete in a European research and science area, just as open as the internal market for goods and services. If we tripled spending on research and development compared to today’s levels, we would create what could truly be termed a European research area with the power to recruit and retain the best of the best so that our researchers have access to the most competitive conditions anywhere in the world.

European research funding should be directed to creating and maintaining centres of excellence and, where outstanding research occurs, more funding should follow, whether it is found in Slovenia, France, the UK, Spain, Sweden, Poland or in Finland. We should open European universities for students from all parts of Europe with the help of EU funding and agreements between Member States so that universities can compete between themselves in order to attract more students. Mobility of researchers has been one of the main successes of EU framework programmes in the past and it is precisely mobility, combined with enhanced competition and the variety of funding streams that has given US research its leading and innovative edge.

That’s why we should also open European universities to researchers from all over Europe. I would like us to introduce a voucher that could follow every researcher active in another Member State, which would not only be used for financing his or her stay but for adding to the research budget of the host institution. With such a system in place, we could spontaneously create a critical mass of researchers and resources in the most narrow competences and fields of research within the short time-frame that remains for Lisbon to meet its objectives. A critical mass can emerge wherever researchers are actively working on visionary, pioneering projects and we must boost its creation by giving research the priority it deserves to let our universities compete and give distant regions the ability to attract new businesses and products.

In addition to expanding the knowledge society by deregulating agriculture and by moving resources from farming to research and development, we should also take further steps to increase European integration in another core sector of the knowledge economy – health care. I would like us to open up the European health care system. Now, health care is a Member State competence and it is my belief that it should remain so, but that does not contradict the fact that we could have open borders for patients to use Europe’s differing health care systems, by ensuring that funding follows the patient from one Member State to another.

By creating a single market in healthcare, we would not only give every single citizen the opportunity to get the best possible health care but stimulate the development of European health care across the board, by allowing – indeed, encouraging – hospitals to offer different models, specialised services, better management and faster innovations than they do today. For instance, doctors in Gdansk might provide the best in ear surgery, while the Italians or Danes excelled in cataract surgery, all of which would be available to EU citizens, wherever they may reside, by virtue of maintaining current funding structures in Member States. Such a move would support integration of research and practitioners in one of the most strategic parts of the knowledge society, giving the European medical- and pharmaceutical industry a unique level of competitiveness.

Fourthly, we should open European telecom markets to encourage our providers to be the first to develop new services for customers across the world and new markets for broadband and internet, thus securing a rapid increase in the number of households with internet access across Europe. By rapidly expanding this infrastructure European culture, businesses, media and citizens would enjoy far greater possibilities to interact and to develop in a market of 500 million people, while giving our Union a head-start over other regions of the world in terms of connectivity.

Broadband would connect all Europe’s regions, however far flung, to each other and provide all customers with the same vast array of possibilities for learning and developing, whether in terms of e-trade, e-health, e-medicine, e-government or e-shopping. It would also intensify the European lead regarding mobile internet provision and integrate our markets, for learning, knowledge, services and goods, in a way that no one else in the world could compete with. Europe has the world’s biggest internal market and the expansion of e-commerce could connect citizens and create cohesion between sellers in a way that political decisions are currently unable to do.

The Lisbon Targets cannot be achieved through these four reforms alone. There are yet more pieces to the puzzle, and resources freed from agriculture could also be used in a host of other ways to contribute to sustainable economic growth. Towards building a better electricity grid, for example, constructing integrated transport networks that connect roads and railways, and decrease journey times. Member States too must strive for macro-economic balance; to keep taxes low, labour markets flexible and to improve schools. They should proceed with completing the internal market – the guarantor of Europe’s prosperity – and opening up the market financial services, in addition to all I have discussed above. Then, and only then, will Europe combine the Lisbon, Gothenburg and Cardiff agendas for sustainable, social, economic development to the benefit of all its citizens Yet if we are to meet the 2010 deadline we must accept that the time for contemplation is over: now is the time for action.