EUROPE – The European Commission’s outgoing internal market and taxation commissioner Frits Bolkestein says only EU member states – and not Brussels - can reform Europe’s pension systems.

Bolkestein, who is to be succeeded by Ireland’s Charlie McCreevy and Latvia’s Ingrida Udre, referred to the so-called Lisbon Strategy for growth in the union.

He said: “Success or failure of the Lisbon Strategy, however, does not depend on what happens – or not as the case may be – in Brussels. It depends, first and foremost, on what reforms Member States themselves undertake.”

“Only Member States can reform their labour market policies to get more people from welfare into work. Only Member States can strengthen their health and pension systems.”

“Europe can help the Member States, but it cannot undertake these reforms for them.”

He made the remarks in a speech in Stockholm, which has been posted to the EU website.

“The main challenge facing Europe is the need to raise its economic growth potential and to become more competitive.” He said a “strong competitive economy” was “the best guarantee to maintain our quality of life in the face of an ageing population”.

He said the Lisbon agenda has become “some kind of a bandwagon”. “When you have 30 or more priorities, it means nothing is a priority. So the first thing to do is to go ‘back to basics’.”

“We need a ‘road map’ setting out what needs to be done, at both EU and national level. We must say where we want to go and then get there. But this means no dithering or wobbling. It also means that the Parliament, the Council and the Commission have to set a limited number of priorities and stick to them.”