EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Lessons from history


Regarding ‘‘Wise men’ chief admits EU failure on growth agenda’:

Felipe González, a former Spanish prime minister and chairman of a reflection group on the future of Europe, stated that the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs had failed.

That is right as regards the initial objective. But we must learn from history.

In 1961, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, first-secretary of the Communist Party of the then-Soviet Union, announced the objective of surpassing the United States in per capita production within twenty years. Thirty years later, the Soviet Union dissolved itself. The paradigm failed and objective was missed.

Also in 1961, John F. Kennedy, president of the USA, announced the goal of landing a man on the Moon: “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important […] and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The objective was achieved when men landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, almost six years after JFK’s death. The paradigm shift was successful in mobilising society, research and the economy. The eventual success of the undertaking was secondary. Kennedy said it best himself: “We choose [to] do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

In 2000, political leaders of the European Union (EU) adopted the Lisbon Strategic Goal for the next decade to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by the year 2010. Five years later, the strategy was re-focused; the initial objectives remain on the distant horizon. Nevertheless, it has started a process that can hopefully only be beneficial for the entire EU and possibly beyond.

Obviously, the statement of González does not tell the full story. It is observable that the Lisbon process has become more important than the initial objectives. Another lesson for history. If history has taught us anything, it is that humanity needs long-term vision, not short-term political opportunism.

Political determination certainly demands respect. But high-flying declarations are not enough. Unrealistic and over-ambitious objectives are misleading and result in public loss of confidence in the political establishment when the time comes to redeem the promises.

It has become good Latin to pick-up from time-to-time opportune catchwords with limited meaning for the laymen, like “most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy”, or “GDP as measure for economic- and social advancement”, or “percentage of GDP spent on research as a measure for competitiveness, or clean, green investment”.

Political leaders can be short-sighted and opportunist, and thus make mistakes. In the absence of discerning debate with public and societal involvement, buzzwords get their own life and remain hanging in the political arena and its gravitational pools. At least until a new buzzword emerges.

In this process the wisdom of democracy: (‘demos’ viz. people and ‘kratos’ viz. rule) appears by hook or by crook to have sunk into oblivion and forgotten that people first of all need food and a place to live in a clean environment. Certainly not buzzwords…

Gilbert Fayl

European Academy of Sciences and Arts

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