Denmark and the Netherlands are leading on the employment front, with Poland and Greece trailing the rest of the pack
Two independent studies suggest the EU is getting closer to its job and growth targets although productivity and spending on research remain problematic, with Denmark and the Netherlands praised as "heroes" and Poland and Greece as "villains" of the EU's reform efforts.
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"The European economy is better prepared for global competition than it was in 2000," argues the 2007 Lisbon scoreboard published by the London-based Centre for European Reform.
The report analyses the EU's progress towards the economic goals listed by the bloc's leaders in 2000 in Lisbon including targets on growth, employment, research and development, as well as social and environmental protection.
As with last year, it praises the Nordic countries - especially Denmark - for the highest employment rates, the most successful high-tech industries and best social protection.
In terms of combining high productivity levels with good job numbers, the Netherlands features along with Denmark as the best performer, while the progress of the biggest EU member states - France, Germany and Italy - is "noticeable but slow."
On the other hand, the Mediterranean countries plus the 2004 newcomers are presented as the EU's laggards, with Poland and Greece criticised for unimpressive performance - just like last year.
MIND THE EDUCATIONA separate study by Allianz, the German financial services group, and the Lisbon Council, a Brussels-based think-tank, is also upbeat about the EU's overall scores - particularly as last year Europe experienced the strongest economic growth levels since the boom year of 2000.
Its authors suggest a rise in labour productivity - provided by both structural reforms carried out in member states and a positive economic cycle - has contributed to the EU's economic expansion.
Still, they suggest "governments should take advantage of the current good economy to push ahead with reform, because the framework conditions will probably not be better for years."
The main concerns stem from predictions about European demographics suggesting that between 2010 and 2020 a decline in potential growth is expected.
"To avoid a possible trade-off between productivity gains and employment growth, greater technical progress and more innovation are absolutely essential," argues the Allianz report.
Concerning education, Belgium scores best among the west European countries, with almost 40 percent of the country's workforce boasting a tertiary or higher degree, while Italy and Austria score poorly, indicating less innovation potential and labour quality.
"Education and research alone are not enough for a knowledge-based economy," argue the authors, suggesting that investment on R&D relative to GDP "has not budged since 2000."