The Government has consistently held the view that any new European Strategy for Jobs and Growth (also known as "Europe 2020") must be effective in steering a comprehensive exit from the financial and economic crisis in the short term, while also equipping the EU towards a higher sustainable growth potential, accompanied by job creation, in the medium to long term.
We hold that the primary focus for the Europe 2020 Strategy must remain squarely on sustainable jobs and growth.
The European Commission Communication, of 3 March 2010, on "Europe 2020, A Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth", provides us with a very useful framework for the discussions which will continue on this proposed new Strategy, up until its anticipated adoption before the end of June 2010.
The broad thrust of the Commission Communication is for Europe, over the coming decade, to deliver "smart, sustainable and inclusive growth". It proposes a set of five EU headline targets covering employment; research and development, including innovation; climate change and energy; education; and poverty.
The Government believes that the creation of sustainable jobs and growth is central to improving social inclusion in Europe. The key link between jobs and growth and social inclusion is underlined in the Commission's Communication. Of the five EU headline targets, three directly concern issues of social inclusion: employment, education and poverty. Specifically, these targets seek to increase employment to 75% of those aged between 20 and 64; reduce the share of early school leavers to under 10%, ensuring that at least 40% of the younger generation have a third level degree; and work to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty by 20 million. Furthermore under the Strategy, the Commission propose putting forward a dedicated initiative, the ‘European Platform against Poverty', to combat social exclusion by ensuring that the benefits of growth and jobs are shared throughout society.
The Spring European Council (25 – 26 March 2010), at which the Taoiseach represented Ireland, had a lengthy discussion on the new Strategy. The European Council agreed on the new Strategy's main elements, including the key targets which will guide its implementation and arrangements for its improved monitoring.
Ireland fully supports the core elements of the new Strategy as they have been agreed, with a sharp focus on knowledge and innovation, a more sustainable economy, high employment and social inclusion — which are in line with our own national strategy —Building Ireland’s Smart Economy.
We are very satisfied with the broad thrust of the five EU headline targets which the European Council have agreed upon, which cover: employment; research and development, including innovation; climate change and energy; education; and social inclusion, in particular poverty. These targets cover the main areas where efforts are rapidly needed and they are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
In the case of the education and social inclusion targets, further work is needed to be done to reach numerical rates and appropriate indicators respectively. The European Council will return to these at its June meeting.
Ireland had also sought to ensure that the role of the agriculture and food sector in achieving growth and jobs, whilst ensuring sustainable use of natural resources and addressing the critical strategic issue of food security, should be appropriately recognised in this new Strategy. We are very happy with the conclusions reached by the European Council, which now recognise the important contribution of a sustainable, productive and competitive agricultural sector to the new Strategy and the role of the Common Agricultural Policy in supporting the Strategy.
We have also cautioned against complicating discussions on Europe 2020 by running them into the EU budget and financial perspectives debate, as to do so would likely delay reaching agreement on this Strategy. We are most satisfied with the outcome of the Spring European Council on this issue of importance also.
The Government previously made a written submission to a European Commission consultation process on a new Europe 2020 Strategy in January of this year. We have availed of every opportunity to promote Ireland's position on the new European Strategy for Jobs and Growth in all appropriate fora at EU level, including in the Council of Ministers and the European Council. We will continue to do so ahead of its anticipated final adoption at the June European Council.