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Annette Bongardt and Francisco Torres

The Lisbon (2000–2010) and its successor, the Europe 2020 strategy (2011–2020), denote EU-wide exercises in economic policy coordination for economic and institutional modernization. They set an ample reform agenda with common targets to transform a host of common challenges facing the EU and its members (as varied as globalization, the paradigm shift to a knowledge economy, demographic aging, or climate change) into economic opportunities and quality growth. The economic and political economy arguments for EU-level coordination rested on positive spillovers from trade and peer pressure, respectively. The Europe 2020 strategy, a revised Lisbon rather than a new strategy, set a renewed vision of a European social market economy that also plays an important role in the global context (the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development). Built on the Lisbon strategy’s governance framework, Europe 2020 inherited a problem-laden legacy with respect to governance and ownership of reforms and in addition faced the impact of large negative transnational spillovers, which put in sharp focus that there was an as-yet-unaccounted-for euro-area dimension to the reform agendas. The sovereign debt crisis (2010–2014) added urgency to dealing with the EU’s structural weaknesses and economic governance building. The European Semester was set up as the chief instrument to help overcome compliance and implementation problems, inserted within broadened economic policy coordination, of which structural reforms under the Europe 2020 strategy constitute one of three blocks. The OMC method affords member states the possibility of finding their own consensual path toward agreed economic reform targets within the strategy’s adequate, 10-year timeframe. The central idea continues to be the promotion of reforms tailored to member states’ heterogeneous situations and preferences and that so are also politically sustainable. Without being framed and perceived in terms of desirable reforms in line with socioeconomic objectives and preferences, reforms carry potential for a political backlash. The Europe 2020 strategy also captures the fundamental and long-term issues for economic development and competitiveness, notably institution building, and outlines a forward-looking model of society with social and environmental dimensions. The European Commission came to base its assessment of the implementation of structural reforms on the broader objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and also included the respect for the European social pillar in the European Semester. Nonetheless, Europe 2020 results have been mixed. The OMC does not feature sanctions for non-compliance. The sovereign crisis context added compliance-enhancing mechanisms that were absent before (market and peer pressure, conditionality in countries subject to adjustment programs) although those came essentially to a halt when financial market pressure subsided, and ECB actions had the side effect of relieving pressure. Efforts undertaken to improve implementation include a structural reform support program to make country-specific recommendations more effective. Yet, close to the end of its term the Europe 2020 strategy continues to be held back by member states taking insufficient ownership of reforms and not prioritizing the relevant ones from an EU point of view, a lack of visibility and ultimately, governance (the unanimity requirement).


Simona Piattoni and Laura Polverari

Cohesion policy is one of the longest-standing features of the European construction; its roots have been traced as far back as the Treaty of Rome. Over time, it has become one of the most politically salient and sizable policies of the European Union, absorbing approximately one-third of the EU budget. Given its principles and “shared management” approach, it mobilizes many different actors at multiple territorial scales, and by promoting “territorial cooperation” it has encouraged public authorities to work together, thus overcoming national borders. Furthermore, cohesion policy is commonly considered the most significant expression of solidarity between member states and the most tangible way in which EU citizens “experience” the European Union. While retaining its overarching mission of supporting lagging regions and encouraging the harmonious development of the Union, cohesion policy has steadily evolved and adapted in response to new internal and external challenges, such as those generated by subsequent rounds of enlargement, globalization, and shifting political preferences regarding what the EU should be about. Just as the policy has evolved over time in terms of its shape and priorities, so have the theoretical understandings of economic development that underpin its logic, the nature of intergovernmental relations, and the geographical and administrative space(s) within which the EU polity operates. For example, whereas overcoming the physical barriers to economic development were the initial targets in the 1960s and 1970s, and redesigning manufacturing clusters were those of the 1980s and 1990s, fostering advanced knowledge and technological progress became the focus of cohesion policy in the new century. At the same time, cohesion policy also inspired or even became a testing ground for new theories, such as multilevel governance, Europeanization, or smart specialization. Given its redistributive nature, debates have proliferated around its impact, added value, and administrative cost, as well as the institutional characteristics that it requires to function. These deliberations have, in turn, informed the policy in its periodic transformations. Political factors have also played a key role in shaping the evolution of the policy. Each reform has been closely linked to the debates on the European budget, where the net positions of member states have tended to dominate the agenda. An outcome of this process has been the progressive alignment with wider strategic goals beyond cohesion and convergence and the strengthening of linkages with the European Semester. However, some argue that policymakers have failed to properly consider the perverse effects of austerity on regional disparities. These unresolved tensions are particularly significant in a context denoted by a rise of populist and nativist movements, increasing social discontent, and strengthening Euroskepticism. As highlighted by research on its communication, cohesion policy may well be the answer for winning back the hearts and minds of European citizens. Whether and how this may be achieved will likely be the focus of research in the years ahead.