Friday, July 21, 2006

The regional dimension to the Lisbon Process

Prof. Andrew Scott
University of Edinburgh, School of Law

Old College
Edinburgh EH10 4HX
United Kingdom
andrew.scott@ed.ac.uk


The regional dimension to the Lisbon Process.

The central argument developed in the presentation is that the governance of the Lisbon Strategy lacks a structured "regional dimension", and that this omission is a major weakness of the entire process. The resulting weakness is twofold. First, as a matter of achieving the substantive Lisbon objectives within the economic pillar, the absence of a structured regional dimension risks excluding from the strategy a range of sub-state governments, administrations and economic stakeholders responsible for devising and delivering those economic policies 'locally' which will shape the overall rate of growth of output and employment across the EU. Socio-economic development actually occurs at the local level, yet there is no EU-wide discussion on the best-practice approach to including local economic players within the Lisbon process generally, or the OMC governance arrangement specifically. Instead, the LS is essentially a "top-down" strategy. Second, the absence of a formal role nationally for local economic governments and related stakeholders to be involved in the Lisbon process risks weakening the legitimacy of the venture. The principle of subsidiarity asserts that decisions should be taken as closely to the citizen as possible. This principle is designed not only to ensure that policies are shaped according to differing local circumstances, but also to maximise the involvement of 'local' stakeholders in the setting the objectives and designing the delivery of economic policies. The OMC process which governs the LS makes little or no mention to this principle.

This presentation focuses solely on the economic, or "competitiveness" strand of the Lisbon process. We ignore the social inclusion and environmental strands, although certainly the arguments developed here can be extended to include these other two pillars of the LS. Our critique is presented in two parts. In the first part we consider the implementation of the LS in terms of the substantive economic reforms which it intends to achieve in order to promote the Lisbon objectives. In particular, we examine the role that local economic actors have in the economic development process upon which success in a number of the Lisbon targets depends. In the second section we briefly consider the 'legitimacy' dimension to the LS, and once again focus on the role of regional authorities in legitimating the sometimes problematic economic policy measures that are required if the LS is to succeed.

To date the Lisbon process has been dominated by national governments to the relative exclusion of regional authorities. Arguably this leads to two defects in the process: the first is a failure to successfully achieve a degree of policy learning or policy transfer at the level of national governments who largely remain unwilling to alter national policies in pursuit of a common (or coordinated) EU policy approach; the second defect is the presumption that Member State governments are themselves able to deliver on many of the policy reforms that are required to achieve the economic objectives of the Lisbon strategy. Within many domestic policy arrangements across the EU, competence for a range of the substantive economic policy instruments in question reside at the sub-state level and not the national level. The risk at present is that the potential role for regions independently to contribute to achieving the Lisbon objectives will remain untapped. For example, in a recent joint letter to Commissioner Verhuegen, three Ministers of the UK Government noted that "(T)he Lisbon objectives must primarily be delivered through national actions and structural economic reforms." While one could interpret "national actions" to embrace the development of a specific and distinct regional dimension inputting to the Lisbon Strategy, our view is that such a dimension has to be explicitly acknowledged and be an integral part of such "national actions" through inclusion in the revised National Action Plans.

It is clear from many documents that the European Commission is determined to mainstream the Lisbon agenda throughout its economic, social and environmental policies. This is a significant step towards improving the prospects that the ultimate targets of the exercise will be achieved. However, in itself EU policies only play a relatively small part in delivering growth and employment. The burden of responsibility remains with national governments. However, national governments remain unconvincing participants in delivering the strategy. The OMC system is failing, and the proliferation of national targets is threatening to worsen an already confusing picture. While injecting a strong regional element to the Lisbon process cannot remedy all the defects in the current procedures, it can alleviate some. In particular, we suggest (a) sub-state authorities have to be closely involved in national Lisbon programmes as not only have they better knowledge of local economic circumstances, in many instances they are the competent authority with regard to particular Lisbon-related policies: (b) both theory and evidence supports the contention that sub-state authorities are more likely to “learn” from one another through established inter-regional networks, most of which involve policy transfer in relation to economic development: (c) sub-state authorities and their associated parliaments and assemblies offer crucial conduits through which the policy reforms and measures required to deliver Lisbon targets can best be legitimated, and so raise the likelihood that these will be realised: and (d) social-economic development occurs at the level of regions rather than nation states, and sub-state authorities are better placed than national governments to bring into the Lisbon process the various economic and social partners who are the key stakeholders in the Lisbon process and therefore to offer greater prospect of its ultimate success.

In conclusion, the arguments developed in the presentation point to the importance of energizing the regional debate over the Lisbon strategy. Undoubtedly there are regions who are already heavily involved in the Lisbon process, and successfully so. It is vital that best-practice lessons are learned from those regions, both in terms of the structures through which their involvement takes place and with regard to the substantive policy measures that these authorities are implementing.

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