As EU leaders gather in Brussels this week to declare for the seventh year that they will take the painful steps needed to boost jobs and growth, here is the blunt message from one well-informed critic: "Our leaders have to realise that the best social programme is a healthy economy. They must change the rules of the game.
If they don't they will go into the history books as the ones who destroyed the social Europe we were all so proud of." The speaker is Ann Mettler, a German-born economist who, like many Brussels insiders and business leaders, has grown weary of what she sees as the EU's broken promises over liberal economic reform. Ms Mettler is a co-founder of the Lisbon Council, whose purpose is to advance the goals of the EU's Lisbon Agenda, named after the EU summit hosted by Portugal in 2000. Then the leaders proclaimed a truly ambitious goal, to make Europe the world's most competitive economy by 2010. But last year, after years of puny growth and stubbornly high unemployment, the leaders scrapped that goal. This week they will pin their hopes on more modest ones, like cutting red tape for business start-ups and spending more on scientific research.