Launched by the European Commission in March 2010, the Europe 2020 Strategy is the overarching policy
initiative which brings together all areas of EU competence and
activity in order to prepare the EU economy for the next decade. It
identifies three mutually reinforcing priorities:
- Smart growth - through the development of
knowledge, innovation, and education.
- Sustainable growth - based on a greener, more
resource efficient and more competitive economy.
- Inclusive growth - aiming to raise labour
market participation, fight poverty, and strengthen social and
Successor to the Lisbon Strategy
The Europe 2020 strategy follows on from the Lisbon
Strategy (2000-2010) that set out to create "'the most
competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy' in the world. It
also aims to address some of its predecessor's shortcomings.
Progress towards the three priorities (smart, sustainable, and
inclusive growth) is to be measured against five headline EU-level
targets, which Member States have been asked to translate into
- 75% of the population aged 20-64 should be employed.
- 3% of the EU's GDP should be invested in R&D.
- The '20/20/20' climate/energy targets should be met.
- The share of early school leavers should be under 10% and at
least 40% of the population aged 30-34 should have completed
tertiary or equivalent education.
- 20 million fewer people on the verge of poverty.
Central Role for Education and Research
By identifying human capital development as fundamental to smart,
sustainable, and inclusive growth, the Europe 2020 strategy places
education and research at the centre of Europe's future economic
well-being. Consequently, it opens up a wealth of opportunities for
higher education institutions (HEIs), who have a key role in
providing teaching, undertaking research and innovation, producing
employable graduates, and developing new ideas for a changing
In order to meet the five headline targets, the Commission has
proposed a Europe 2020 agenda consisting of seven flagship initiatives. Implementing these
initiatives is a shared priority, and action will be required at
all levels, by EU-level organisations, member states, and local and
regional authorities. Those initiatives with a clear link to higher
Union - launched on 6 October 2010, this aims to improve
conditions and access to finance for research and innovation so as
to ensure that innovative ideas can be turned into products and
services that create growth and jobs. It also seeks to re-focus
R&D so that it becomes more relevant to today's world, and
centres on major challenges such as climate change, energy
efficiency, health policy, and demographic change.
- Youth on
the Move - launched on 15 September 2010, this is the
first EU-level strategy to embrace both education and employment.
It aims to enhance the quality and international attractiveness of
Europe's higher education system and to promote student and young
professional mobility, as a means to prepare young people for
today's job market.
- An Agenda for New Skills and Jobs - launched in
November 2010, this aims to bring together both work and education
into one integrated lifelong learning process so as to improve
employment and the sustainability of social models. It intends to
do this by bringing businesses, employers, education and training
closer together, so as to better match skills with the needs of the
labour market. Regarding higher education, the Commission aims to
widen access to education and to develop, with the help of
businesses, outcome-based qualifications.
The other four flagship initiatives
The European Council adopted and welcomed the Europe 2020 strategy
on 17 June 2010, stating that it would "help Europe recover from
the crisis and come out stronger, both internally and at the
international level by boosting competitiveness, productivity,
growth potential, social cohesion and economic convergence" (European Council Conclusions, 17 June
The UK and Europe 2020
The UK has acknowledged that the Europe 2020 strategy has "some
worthwhile objectives", since a strong and successful Europe is in
Britain's national interest. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister, David
Cameron, has emphasised that the strategy should not interfere with
national competencies (European Council Press Conference, 17 June
2010). It should be noted, however, that education is a Member
State competence, and thus soft law and the method of coordination
dominate decision-making at the EU level.
Modernisation of Higher Education Agenda
Closely associated with the Europe 2020 strategy is the
Commission's 'modernisation of higher education agenda' ,
reflecting the need to improve the quality and efficiency of higher
education and training. This agenda was set out by the Commission
in the strategic framework for European co-operation in
education and training (ET 2020), adopted by the Council in May
2009. The main areas for reform of European HEIs identified in the
agenda include curricula, governance and funding.
The Commission published a new agenda for modernisation of Europe's higher
education systems in September 2011 which asserts that the
potential of European higher education institutions to fulfil their
role in society and contribute to Europe's prosperity remains
underexploited and sets out a series of measures to counter this,
- putting higher education at the centre of innovation, job
creation and employability,
- increasing student mobility and
- improving links between HEIs, research and business.
For more information on EU institutions and decision-making