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Jonathan Evans MEP: Results of the European Council in Barcelona


'Whatever brave face is put on it, the outcome of the Barcelona Summit was a disappointment. The Lisbon Process - launched with such high hopes two years ago - stalled in Stockholm last spring. Last week, European leaders achieved just enough to keep economic reform on the road, but much too little to move it decisively forward in the way that Europe urgently needs. Some time ago, Tony Blair spoke of Barcelona as being a 'make-or-break summit'. After the meeting he spoke only of 'small, solid steps'.

I was not surprised to hear the attack this afternoon on Tony Blair's approach to the summit from his own MEP, Stephen Hughes, describing Mr Blair's approach as 'neo-liberalism'. But we know that Mr Blair has no influence over the socialist instincts and votes of his Labour MEPs here.

Mr Aznar has described the Lisbon Process as irreversible, but that is not really the point. Even if Europe is not moving backwards, the failure to make real progress actually costs Europe jobs, prosperity and success.

As the Barcelona meeting approached, the Presidency's goals became more modest and more vague. Instead of full energy liberalisation, refused by France last year, in defiance of its Treaty obligations, we now read 'partial' liberalisation, sometime in the future. Instead of immediate action on the single market we read a string of deadlines tailing away over the years ahead.

Sadly, the communiqué issued last weekend is really just a wish list of deadlines. It is not a series of binding agreements in spite of the best efforts that have been made by the Spanish Government and by the Spanish Prime Minister, to whom I give due credit.

The tough bargaining on the precise terms of the non-domestic energy liberalisation, for example, or on financial services directives, or on the single European sky, still lie ahead. On each of these, Barcelona is simply an assertion of will and not yet a done deal.

At the same time, Barcelona also points Europe in the wrong direction in other ways. Its communiqué casually looks to greater government spending on a range of priorities, whereas really it is lower taxes and smaller government that are really the keys to Europe's future economic success.

The Barcelona communiqué reaffirms a European social model that is desperately in need of reform. It envisages greater harmonisation of energy taxes as the reward for what is a limited and uncertain energy liberalisation. French resistance on energy, and the interventionist tone of parts of the communiqué, highlight the continuing need to oust socialist governments right across Europe.

The liberalising instincts and hopes of Prime Ministers Aznar and Berlusconi are encouraging, but the European Union will only be able to put them into practice if those on the left who think like Mr Hughes are rejected from power in the many national elections that are taking place this year. The return of the centre-right to power in Portugal after Italy, Austria and Denmark is a hopeful sign. Unless there is real change, the hopes for Europe's economic future will be dashed.

In short, as The Financial Times put it: 'The promise to become the world's most competitive economy sounded widely ambitious in Lisbon two years ago. Without rapid practical progress it will soon seem ridiculous.'

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