Auteur: Honor Mahony
BRUSSELS - The economic crisis has knocked the EU's longterm strategic targets off track with planned poverty-reduction and employment goals unlikely to be met by 2020.
"Without adequate policy measures to rapidly reverse this escalating poverty trend, the EU risks moving away from the Europe 2020 headline target on poverty," said a Eurostat report, published Tuesday (29 October) on the Union's end-of-decade economic goals.
It notes that the EU is about 24 million people off its target of reducing the numbers at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 20 million compared to 2008 levels.
With monetary poverty (16.5 percent of the EU population or 83.5 million people) the most widespread form of poverty the report says that it will take more than "simply raising the average income" to reverse the trend.
More profound changes such as better social protection will also be needed.
Meanwhile, reaching the 75 percent employment target will require "considerable effort."
In 2012, the EU was 6.5 percentage points off the goal, meaning an extra 17.6 million people will have to have jobs by 2020.
The report underlines the unlikelihood that the target will be reached by pointing out that both this year and in 2014 only "marginal increases" are expected in employments levels.
Money spent on research and development, seen as key to boosting economic recovery, is also set to fall short of political wishes.
The headline goal is 3 percent of GDP but by 2020, Eurostat analysts expect the EU to miss its 3 percent target by 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent, representing €24 to €35 billion.
The prognosis is mixed on the education targets of reducing school drop-out rates to less than 10 percent and increasing the share of 30-34 year olds having completed tertiary education to at least 40 percent.
While the latter target should be "easily" surpassed, an additional two million people - when compared to 2011 - will have to be kept in education to meet the drop-out reduction.
Climate targets on track
The new on climate change targets was more upbeat, but still this was due to a positive fall out from the economic crisis rather than profound policy measures.
Lower energy consumption in the transport and building sectors helped to reduce the EU's greenhouse gas emissions - the target is a 20 percent drop in emissions over 1990 levels.
But the drop in energy demand was "at least in part a result of the continued economic depression and of mild winter temperatures."
The report notes that there has not necessarily been a "thorough change in how the EU produces and consumes energy" indicating that with economic recovery will come higher emissions.
The EU's 2020 goals were the successor to the Lisbon Strategy of the last decade, a set of economic goals that, for their failure, ended up being an embarrassment to the EU.
The EU is keen to avoid a second decade of missed targets.
This time round, the goals have being integrated into the newly-formed European Semester. This has the European Commission overseeing the economic programme of member states to make sure they are on track with the goals.
Presenting the report, Eurostat's director general Walter Radermacher refused to comment on whether the EU could make good on all its goals in the seven remaining years.
"I can show gaps and then it is for the politicians to start to discuss how to solve and how to close the gaps."