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Taking stock of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth

Early in 2010, the Commission proposed the Europe 2020 strategy which was launched as the EU’s strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The aim was to improve the EU's competitiveness while maintaining its social market economy model and improving significantly its resource efficiency. When it was launched the Europe 2020 strategy was a front runner in advocating a growth model going beyond simply increasing GDP. Today many bodies promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth as a crucial element of economic development.

The Europe 2020 strategy was initiated against a background of lower growth and productivity levels than in other developed countries and a rapidly deteriorating economic and social environment, in the wake of the worst global financial crisis the EU has ever faced. It drew the lessons from the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs which was launched in 2000, renewed in 2005 and was in place until 2010. The founding document made it clear that the "short-term priority (was) a successful exit from the crisis", but that "to achieve a sustainable future", the EU needed "to tackle its structural weaknesses" and "already look beyond the short-term". The ambition was to "come out stronger from the crisis and turn the EU into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy, delivering high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion."

The strategy was conceived as a partnership between the EU and its Member States, with a set of goals focused around the priorities of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, and a dedicated delivery system. It set out five interrelated headline targets for the EU to achieve by 2020 in the areas of employment, research and development (R&D), climate change and energy, education, and the fight against poverty and social exclusion. The targets were not exhaustive but considered exemplary of the kind of dynamic change advocated in the strategy.