EEA EFTA Comments to the Barcelona European Council, 15-16 March 2002

Introduction

I. Reforms of the Internal Market

II. European Knowledge Area

III. Environment

IV. Increasing labour market participation

V. Modernising social protection systems

Conclusion

 

Introduction

The EEA EFTA States welcome the renewed impetus given by the Spanish Presidency to the Lisbon Strategy. They endorse the overall objectives set by the Spanish Presidency for the Barcelona Summit of “a more prosperous dynamic Europe at the service of its citizens”. The EEA EFTA States support the conclusions from the Summits in Stockholm and Göteborg, adding a third environmental dimension to the economic and social aspects of the Strategy. They would like to continue their contributions to the fulfilment of the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy. 

Through the EEA Agreement, the EEA EFTA States are involved in most of the initiatives covered by the Lisbon Strategy. They have welcomed the new open method of coordination and are ready to contribute to the development of Europe by sharing best practices with the EU member states. At its 16th meeting on 9 October 2001, the EEA Council underlined the mutual benefits of an enhanced exchange of information between the EU and the EEA EFTA States in all areas of the Lisbon Strategy, including employment, economic reforms, research and innovation, social cohesion as well as sustainable development. In this context, the EEA Council welcomed contributions by the EEA EFTA States to the follow-up meeting in Barcelona, and agreed to look into the possibilities of further co-operation in initiatives within the Lisbon Strategy. 

The EEA EFTA States appreciate the political dialogue on the Lisbon Strategy in the EEA Council as well as in other established common fora such as the informal meetings between ECOFIN and the EFTA Ministers of Finance. They further welcome the participation in informal meetings at the political level in areas covered by the Lisbon process. A follow up to the 1999 EEA Summit could also provide an excellent opportunity to discuss the Lisbon Strategy at a high political level.

 

I. Reforms of the Internal Market 

In order to fully benefit from the Internal Market, remaining barriers to free movement should be removed, while taking measures to avoid undesirable side effects. On the one hand, too many barriers remain, while on the other hand integration of the concerns of citizens needs to be stepped up.

Financial Services Action Plan

The EEA EFTA States wish to emphasise their support for initiatives presented in the Financial Services Action Plan, and in particular the revision and further harmonization of the securities market legislation, as suggested in the report of the Committee of Wise Men (the Lamfalussy report). They hope that Commission proposals regarding prospectuses and market abuse will be swiftly processed by the European Parliament and the Council. This also goes for upcoming proposals related to the Lamfalussy report on the regulation of the securities market, to takeover bids and to accounting and reporting requirements.

Liberalisation and inter-connection of markets

The EEA EFTA States support further structural reforms and further liberalization within postal services and the transport and energy sectors.

Modernization of Competition Rules

The EEA EFTA States welcome the proposals for new procedural and enforcement rules under Articles 81 and 82 of the EC Treaty.

Reduction of State Aid

The EEA EFTA States fully support further reduction of overall levels of state aid throughout the EEA. In addition to reductions, state aid should be increasingly redirected away from sector specific and ad hoc aid towards horizontal objectives. The primary objective of this type of aid is to address key issues such as research and development, environmental protection and aid to SMEs. Its positive effect in addressing market failures is thought to outweigh its distortive effects on competition. Increasing transparency should also be applied to the process of granting state aid and state aid control.

Food Safety

The EEA EFTA States would like to underline the importance of food safety issues related to the functioning of the internal market. The movement of safe and wholesome food is an essential aspect of the internal market and can contribute significantly to the health and well being of citizens, and to their social and economic interests. Food safety should therefore be followed up with clear political goals and indicators. The EEA EFTA States would like to stress the need to actively follow up the individual initiatives in the Food Safety Action Plan.

Forthcoming agencies to improve the functioning of the Internal Market

EU agencies in the food, maritime and aviation sectors are vital to the good functioning of the Internal Market. These bodies will deal with acquis integrated into the EEA Agreement. The EEA EFTA States expect that their participation in the agencies will take place within the framework of the EEA Agreement.

Problem Solving in the Internal Market

Effective problem solving for citizens and businesses that experience problems resulting from misapplication of Internal Market rules by public administrations is essential for the proper functioning of the Internal Market. The EFTA States endorse the new approach presented in COM(2001) 702 on the so-called SOLVIT network, and the principles for the use of the SOLVIT network set forward in the Commission Recommendation of 7 December 2001.

The EEA EFTA States fully endorse efforts toward further reduction of transposition deficits.

 

II. European Knowledge Area

Research

The EEA EFTA States welcome the new design for the Framework Programme on Research and Technological Development. However, they recommend that some continuity be maintained regarding the existing instruments. This would minimize transition problems for the research community and contribute to a more flexible programme, thereby also reflecting the differences in project and network set-ups.

The EEA EFTA States would like to underline the importance of strategies designed to realise the potential of information and communication technologies (ICT) in developing the knowledge area in the European economy. Despite recent setbacks in the IT industry, ICT can for many years ahead be one of the major driving forces in the development of competitive new industries, innovative education systems and efficient public services. We therefore hope that the EU would continue to develop a coherent strategy for realising the potential of ICT in the context of the Barcelona policy decisions. This could be a natural follow-up of the eEurope 2002 strategy. The EEA EFTA States are very interested in participating in the implementation of such a strategy within the EEA.

Education and training

The EEA EFTA States fully agree with the prominence the EU gives to lifelong learning, supported with efforts to promote greater comparability of qualifications and mutual trust, peer reviews and cooperation between qualification authorities. In order to enhance mobility throughout the EEA, the EEA EFTA States hope for continued emphasis on mutual recognition of qualifications and competences. The EEA EFTA States would like to emphasise the need for strong basic skills for all citizens. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, securing strong basic skills is the basis for adaptability and change in the workforce. Updating and improving education and training systems must therefore be a continuous effort. The EEA EFTA States have noted with great interest the ongoing work in the Community on establishing a detailed programme on the follow-up of the objectives of education and training systems. The EEA EFTA States are prepared to contribute to the development of this work.

 

III. Environment

The EEA EFTA States acknowledge the need to make economic growth compatible with sustainable development, encompassing economic, social and ecological factors. The Environmental Dimension should become an integral part of all socio-economic activities, in line with the Conclusions of the Göteborg Summit. The Stockholm European Council decided that the EU sustainable development strategy should complete and build on this political commitment by including an environmental dimension. This recognises that in the long term, economic growth, social cohesion and environmental protection must go hand in hand.

The EEA EFTA States strongly support the development of a Framework Directive on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading. The opinion of the EEA EFTA States is, however, that the Commission proposal is too narrow in scope. There is a need to include more sectors and other greenhouse gases than CO2 into to the scheme in order to make it a cost effective instrument for overall reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases.

 

IV. Increasing labour market participation

The EEA EFTA States believe that clear political goals and cooperation based on exchanges of best practice at European level are helpful tools in order to increase labour supply, create flexible labour markets and to avoid resurgence of unemployment. The EEA EFTA States strongly support efforts to create more and better jobs, and to increase the mobility of European citizens. The EEA EFTA States further give high priority to the identification of emerging bottlenecks in the labour market and exchange of information on how bottlenecks can be dissolved.

The EEA EFTA States endorse the idea of active labour market reforms. The dual challenges presented by an ageing labour force and significant labour shortages in the EEA EFTA States make such initiatives most important.

Furthermore, tackling barriers such as language and skills deficits, which prevent geographic and occupational mobility, is also of great importance to the EEA EFTA countries.

 

V. Modernising social protection systems

The EEA EFTA States share common objectives and concerns with the EU Member States as regards the future of the social protection systems, the sustainability of pensions and the need to strengthen social integration.

 

Conclusion

In the points above the EEA EFTA States have raised specific interests for ensuring the continued viability of the Lisbon Strategy goal. Furthermore, the EEA EFTA States have agreed to assess how they can link up to the open method of coordination in areas of common interest. The EEA EFTA States believe they can bring a valuable contribution to the exchange of information and best practices in areas of common interest under the Lisbon Strategy. The EEA EFTA States believe that their future inclusion in the statistics of the structural indicators supporting the Synthesis Reports could provide a valuable reference for all Member States of the EEA, as can be seen in the annex to this report.

The EEA EFTA States are pleased to present these comments to the Barcelona Summit and look forward to further cooperation with the Council on the development of the Lisbon Strategy.