President Prodi declared: "Today's package strengthens economic integration in the new Europe of 25 Member States. It constitutes a comprehensive strategy to tackle the urgent need for Europe to generate more growth and employment and look to the future with ambition."
Commenting upon the Commission Recommendation, Commissioner Solbes said: "The integration of the new Member States in the EU's economic policy framework through the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines marks an important step. They have great potential for economic dynamism that will be stimulated by their effective economic integration and by the implementation of the Lisbon Agenda."
Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs stated: "By following these recommendations, Member States must show their continued commitment to more and better jobs within the European Union. The recommendations take on board the valuable work done by Wim Kok and his Employment Task Force colleagues. Now is the time to put these recommendations into practice".
BEPGs: The overall strategy is reaffirmed
The main focus of this update is on the integration of new Member States into the existing economic policy coordination framework. Although the structural challenges faced by the new Member States do not differ fundamentally from those of the present ones, they are, in some cases, more demanding. This follows from the fact that:
- unemployment is almost double that of the EU-15;
- the budget deficit amounts to some 6 per cent of GDP; and
- the income level is less than half that of current Member States.
The guidelines continue to be based around three broad themes:
Growth and stability-oriented macroeconomic policies: Including the importance of new member states achieving real and sustainable nominal convergence; sound budgetary positions; reduced current account deficits; and nominal wage increases consistent with both price stability and productivity gains.
Economic reforms to raise Europe's growth potential, with accession countries needing to: implement employment policies to support ongoing structural shifts in the composition of the jobs market; and raise productivity through enhanced competition, reduced regulatory burdens, improved R&D and better developed capital markets.
Strengthening sustainability in the areas of: economic stability, in particular to cope with the ageing population; social sustainability, with jobs playing a vital role in lifting people out of poverty; and environmental sustainability, where investment in the transport and energy sectors can play an important role.
In view of the scale of the challenges, it is clear that the new Member States face some difficult policy choices. The Broad Economic Policy Guidelines take into account the specific circumstances of the acceding countries by, for example, including in the country-specific recommendations longer adjustment periods than for existing member states.
Regarding the existing member states, the recommendations included in the BEPGs adopted by the European Council in June 2003 remain fully valid for the period up to 2005. Short updates are included for the country-notes of Germany, Greece, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom to indicate the need for a policy adjustment in the area of budgetary policies.
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Employment recommendations for 2004
The Employment recommendations provide Member States with individual guidance for the implementation of the employment guidelines, adopted in 2003. In order to maintain a stable structure, the Commission is not proposing any changes to these guidelines, but has adjusted the recommendations to take into account developments within Member States' employment policies as well as the findings of the European Employment Task Force. The 2004 employment recommendations are presented in three sections:
Four common recommendations, concentrating on the priorities for reform, namely: increasing the adaptability of workers and enterprises; attracting more people to enter and remain on the labour market; investing more and more effectively in human capital and lifelong learning; and ensuring the effective implementation of reforms through better governance.
Individual recommendations to each of the current Member States incorporate many of the specific points raised by the European Employment Task Force.
Priorities for the acceding countries to be taken into account as they prepare National Action Plans for Employment for the first time build on the priorities identified by the European Employment Task Force and the Joint Assessment Papers signed by the accession countries and the Commission.
These recommendations are one of the tools for implementing the European Employment Strategy, as they identify the most pressing areas to be addressed in each Member State. They recognise that there can be no "one-size-fits-all" solution, but instead identify individual actions that reinforce the process of mutual learning and exchange of experience that is fundamental to the European Employment Strategy.
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