Once pan-EU targets have been agreed and national targets defined, it is time for implementation. The new structure of the European Semester maps out a binding timetable for the monitoring of economic, employment, and fiscal policies in Europe. The European Semester is designed to run in parallel with the Europe 2020 process, the Stability and Growth Pact, and the new mechanism for monitoring macroeconomic imbalances. The annual cycle of the European Semester, which coincides with the first half of the calendar year, is as follows:
- Each autumn (usually in November), the European Commission presents its Annual Growth Survey for the following year, laying out the key challenges the EU faces in terms of its economic, employment, and fiscal policies, and mapping out the recommended routes for action. In recent years, the focus has been squarely on implementing the measures agreed to stabilise the situation in the eurozone – mostly by means of boosting growth.
- Each year in April, the Member States submit their Stability and Convergence Programmes (which focus on fiscal developments) as well as their National Reform Programmes (which set out the country's national structural reform agenda) to the European Commission.
- Based on its review of these programmes, the European Commission makes country-specific recommendations as to how each Member State can address the specific challenges it faces.
- The European Semester ends with the approval of the country-specific recommendations by the heads of state and government at the European Council in summer.
Under the Treaty, the Member States are to draw up National Reform Programmes in which they demonstrate how much progress they have made towards achieving the EU 2020 objectives and what further action they are taking in this direction. The National Reform Programmes state the Member State's progress in terms of implementing
- the guidelines for growth and jobs (part of the Europe 2020 Strategy),
- the country-specific recommendations issued by the European Commission (usually published in July of the previous year),
- the country's Action Programme for the Euro Plus Pact, (published in the preceding year's National Reform Programme), and
- the recommendations set out in the latest Annual Growth Survey published by the European Commission.
The Action Programmes for the Euro Plus Pact are particularly important for the National Reform Programmes. The Euro Plus Pact, a Franco-German initiative that was adopted by the European heads of state and government, is designed to help its signatories achieve higher levels of competitiveness. Competitiveness is a key prerequisite for job creation and faster and more long-lasting growth, which will enable all the Member States to bring down their public deficits to sustainable levels. Every year, the heads of state and government of the Euro Plus Pact come together to agree on a host of specific measures to be taken in the interest of achieving the objectives of the pact. The German Euro Plus Pact Action Programme is always set out in the National Reform Programme for the current year. The Europe 2020 Strategy is to be reviewed in 2014. It is important that it should remain focused on delivering sustainable growth and employment.