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EFPA comments on EU 2020

2 Feb 2010

In presenting his programme for the new Commission, President Barroso set out his vision for where the European Union should be in 2020.

News - EFPA comments on EU 2020

He believes that the exit from the current crisis should be the point of entry into a new sustainable social market economy, a smarter, greener economy where our prosperity will result from innovation and from using resources better, and where knowledge will be the key input. To make this transformation happen, Europe needs a common agenda: the EU 2020 strategy.

This strategy should enable the EU to make a full recovery from the crisis, while speeding up the move towards a smart and green economy. EU 2020 will build on the successes obtained by the Lisbon strategy since its 2005 relaunch, which focused on growth and jobs, but will also address some of the Lisbon strategy's shortcomings. 



January 15, 2010 

The following entails a provisional comment of EFPA, the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations on the EU 2020 working document of the European Commission. EFPA represents the profession and discipline of psychology in Europe; it has member associations from 35 countries, including 26 from the European Union, with more than 250.00 associated psychologists.

General comments

In the view of EFPA the EU 2020 working document outlines a number of directions and objectives that have the potential for positive change in the EU. The thematic objectives, i.e. creating value through knowledge, empowering people in inclusive societies, and creating a competitive, connected and greener economy are in themselves well-chosen and worthwhile. EFPA specifically appreciates the intention, although not fully articulated in the document, to realize a social (rather than a liberal) market economy. We consider it as important and in line with European values to avoid or minimize the disadvantages associated with liberal market economies, such as large inequalities in income, health and quality of life, and enhanced risks of unemployment, curtailed career opportunities, and social exclusion. We agree with Commission President José Manuel Barroso that “a smart economy and a wise society based on strong European values can go together”. We believe that tapping into the European values, e.g. with regard to innovation in ecology and health care, may set free a source of motivation that will allow the EU to effectively compete with more liberal market economies in terms of smartness and greenness.

Although it is understandable that the working document, which proposes a strategy that primarily aims at steering out of the economic crisis, focuses mainly on the economic dimension of the EU. Yet, the social dimension should not be overlooked. In our work as psychologists we are continuously confronted with human and social issues that find their origin in economic processes and economy-centered policies. We can, for example point at the damaging psychological consequences of work stress and unemployment, including depression and suicide.  We feel that the EU 2020 strategy needs balanced attention to the economic and social realms. It would have to acknowledge that successful exit from the crisis is not only a matter of economic and fiscal policies. There is also a need for attention for mental health and wellbeing which are the basis for people’s resilience and innovativeness.

As psychologists, we also perceive the potential for economic growth, enhanced social integration, more responsible interaction with the environment, and greater population health and wellbeing that resides in people. We are convinced that this potential can be unleashed by removing barriers, creating suitable organizational structures, and providing appropriate opportunities and incentives. In nearly all areas mentioned in the EU2020 document – including education, innovation, worker skills, flexicurity, energy conservation, transport, manufacturing - there is psychological knowledge and competence that can help identifying specific constraints and possibilities for improvement. This is to say that in our view psychology is one of the professions that can help to deliver the new EU strategy. 

Creating value by basing growth on knowledge

Few would disagree with the idea that education in Europe must improve, from pre-school to higher education, to increase productivity, support vulnerable groups and help fight inequality and poverty. Yet, educational improvement is not easily achieved and the knowledge society does not come by itself, as the experiences with the Lisbon agenda have learned. In our view, little progress may be expected in these respects unless efforts are made to identify and take down institutional and psychological barriers that limit educational effectiveness and knowledge sharing, and to create better learning environments based on new insights (e.g. self-directed learning) from educational psychology. With regard to life-long learning we see a need for fundamental research into the methods by with such learning can be spread among to the population at large.

As for the European Knowledge Area we would like to suggest that the focus should not merely be on the knowledge infrastructure, but also on European content. Being aware of how European history has shaped its current values, attitudes and ideas, we believe that typically European knowledge content, e.g. regarding principles of education, work and health, are worth articulating and utilizing especially when it comes to realizing a democratic and inclusive society in which quality of life, health and shared responsibility are as much emphasized as economic prosperity. Such European knowledge content may foster European identity and contribute to long-lasting competition with more liberal economies.

In connection with the digital economy we would like to point at the need to develop and explore alternative forms of business organizations. For instance, collaborative networks of small self-owned firms, existing next to large stock-owned companies, might combine the potential for creativity and innovativeness with high quality of work and greater knowledge sharing. As networks they might show resilience not common in to many larger organizations. Here lays a unique possibility to rely on expertise in work and organizational psychology.

Empowering people in inclusive societies

We agree that the crisis has "changed the game" and that new forms of work are needed. From the psychological perspective we would argue that this is as much a matter of finding new principles of organizing as of developing new skills in people. Here are psychological limits to empowerment and worker commitment in large corporations, especially when driven by stock market dynamics that are unrelated to production and market performance. In this connection it is worth considering the needs, attitudes and preferences of younger employees (generation Y).

Achieving flexicurity is undoubtedly a most important policy objective, but it should be acknowledged that it has many psychological facets relating to individuals’ trajectories through education (knowledge and skills), work organization (motivation, career perspectives), and community (work-care roles) as well as to properties of the institutions involved. Although there is a great deal of knowledge in psychology about these facets, the notion of flexicurity should be further clarified. We see also a need for research aiming to identify the conditions under which flexicurity can be achieved. Such research should include, but not be limited to life-long learning, a topic on which educational psychologists are currently working.

There is of course much to say about the topics of migration, poverty and exclusion mentioned in connection with this policy objective. We would at this point just mention the necessity to avoid a purely economic view and address the need for support structures that cover social, organizational and health aspects. Moreover, there are serious problems – often turning into psychological and mental health issues – associated with the integration of migrants and people from various social categories that should be identified and confronted up-front.

Creating a competitive, connected and greener economy

As for creating a greener and at the same time competitive economy we would like to point to the issue mentioned earlier, that an appeal on and further articulation of environmental attitudes, rooting in deeper values, may release a motivational force that can support Europe’s competitive achievements and give it a temporal lead in comparison with societies where environmental attitudes are more lax an instrumental. Such an appeal may be part of efforts to further promote environmental awareness which will also stimulate the demand for green products and services within the European Union.

As for transport we would want to draw attention to the human factor which was and is of critical importance in overall system reliability and safety. Human factors (which relies on e.g. traffic psychology and aviation psychology)  should in our  view be part of any R&D effort in the respective fields of transportation.

Industrial policies should, from our point of view, not only consider support for industries that provide working people with incomes that allow them to purchase wellbeing in a market of good and services, but also those that are known to directly provide work of high quality, which contributes to well-being in a more direct way. In other words, we emphasize the importance of directly promoting a high quality of life through work.


In conclusion of these comments we would like to emphasize that Europe’s psychologists as organized in EFPA are ready to provide further comments and information in elaborating and/or implementing the EU2020 agenda wherever possible. We feel particularly responsible for making sure that the knowledge and competence of the psychological discipline and profession are taken into consideration as to enhance the human and social side of the EU 2020 agenda.

A final remark concerns our hope that the efforts of the European Union to strengthen the internal market and to promote cross-border activities in health care and other services will not lessen, and that at the same time protection of patients and consumers will continue to be pursued. For psychologists, who are increasingly mobile and active across national border, these are important issues. EFPA has, by launching the ‘EuroPsy European Certificate in Psychology’ and the ‘EuroPsy European Certificate of Specialized Expertise in Psychotherapy’ made steps to facilitate the recognition of psychologists’ qualifications across Europe and to contribute to the protection of patients and consumers.

Prof.dr. Robert A. Roe

President of EFPA

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