ECONOMY

Europe’s business leaders want action on Lisbon plan

UNICE, the representative of the European business community, said yesterday it was counting on Greece, the current holder of the EU presidency, to push the Lisbon Strategy even as war clouds looming over Iraq threaten to derail economic growth. «Time is running out. It’s now that decisions need to be taken. We count on [Greek] Prime Minister Costas Simitis to push the ideas and agenda of the Lisbon Strategy forward,» said Philippe de Buck, UNICE secretary-general. At the Lisbon summit in 2000, European leaders agreed to take steps to make the EU the world’s most dynamic and competitive economy by 2010, mainly by embracing the Internet era. De Buck said progress in this direction needed to be made by March, when the EU holds its spring summit. Businesses around Europe have hailed the Lisbon Strategy as the right route to enhance the region’s competitiveness and dynamism but complained that governments have yet to deliver three years after the agreement. They said action needs to be taken now, especially as Europe is stuck in a trough with global uncertainties dampening consumer confidence and forcing businesses to put investments on hold. UNICE sees economic growth in Europe remaining below 1 percent this year. The European Central Bank has forecast average annual growth of 1.5 percent. The region is estimated to have expanded by an anemic 0.8 percent in 2002. De Buck said promoting entrepreneurship and competitiveness and opening up key markets would enhance Europe’s competitiveness. The Greek presidency plans to promote policies aimed at boosting entrepreneurship, helping small and medium-sized enterprises and strengthening R&D in technology, said Simitis. He expressed concern over the fallout from a US-led war against Iraq, noting that the economy was already feeling the heat from the tension. «A prospective war in Iraq is already making its impact felt. Stock markets are on a decline, investments are not being carried out at the usual pace, which is logical as businesses want greater clarity on the situation,» Simitis said. The Athens stock market posted a 1.31 percent drop yesterday while markets around the world steadied after falls at the beginning of the week. Oil prices, in the meantime, held above $30 on worries of a disruption to Middle East supplies in the event of a war in Iraq. Simitis also reiterated his stand that European leaders should forge a common position in responding to the Iraq crisis. EU members underscored their different perceptions on Monday through their contrasting reactions to the Blix report, with the UK accusing the Iraqis of putting on a «charade» while other countries stressed the need for more time to be given to the UN weapons inspectors.