Luca Jahier, EESC President: Governments and politicians must listen to the voices of European citizens30 November 2018 | 09:48 | Focus News Agency
Focus: Mr. Jahier, last year the EESC held meetings and discussions with the civil society in all member states on the White Paper on the future of Europe and took a stand on the matter. What are the expectations of the European organised civil society about the EU’s development from now on?
Luca Jahier: As the only body representing the voice of organised civil society at European level, the EESC last year adopted an exploratory opinion on the Future of Europe following a request by the European Commission. The EESC opted for an original consultation method, launching EU-wide consultations and debates on the topic, with “Going local” activities happening simultaneously in 27 member states. This method responds to the need of better engaging civil society in each member state rather than their representatives in Brussels while guaranteeing balanced representation among the different components of European civil society.
We concluded that our citizens are mainly interested in issues like job creation, preservation of the social fabric, immigration, environment and security. European society and citizens ask for a credible, legitimate, and resilient EU. For more than a decade the EU has been challenged by political, economic, and social shocks fostering a gloomy attitude and uncertainty among citizens. The EU needs overall strategies to promote the well-being of its citizens, robust and sustainable investments, creativity and entrepreneurship, and strategies to address the widening gap between rich and poor, poverty and wealth inequality.
European Union should be able to deliver fully-fledged equal opportunities for all. This can only be achieved by a common commitment on the part of the European institutions and a wide range of stakeholders, including social partners and civil society organisations, both at national and EU level. Ultimately the legitimacy of EU decisions depends on the quality of the democratic process.
The path ahead can be successful only if it is inspired by the same visionary force of the founding fathers, which was later reflected in any major step forward. One issue is clear: whatever the Future of Europe will be, it will have to be citizens-driven. This means that the institutional architecture of the EU after 2019, the mechanisms for gathering and delivering citizens’ input to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission have to be strengthened.
With the beginning of my Presidency and on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of our Committee, I have launched a programme for a genuine Renaissance which I call rEUnaissance. I believe that many Europeans have lost their common story, their sense of belonging to the idea of Europe. But I also believe that we are at a moment of crisis that can lead to a rebirth.
This rebirth can only be driven by bold, new and creative ideas, by putting education, culture, creativity, solidarity and intercultural dialogue at the core of the EU project. This is the challenge: how to legislate, how to make the best use of existing Lisbon Treaty provisions and how to build up a new institutional make-up that somehow puts these values at the core of the EU, by promoting and protecting them.
Focus: Mr. Jahier, 60 years have elapsed since the European Economic and Social Committee was set up. What are the greatest achievements of the EESC for that period? What new goals does the Committee have?
Luca Jahier: The 60th anniversary of the Committee was a moment to pause, to look back and take stock of achievements, which will drive our future. The EESC has much to be proud of. The EESC was behind the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers in 1989, which then became part of European legislation. Our long-term work in the field of migration and refugees resulted in the establishment of the European Migration Forum, which has been one of the most appreciated platforms of permanent dialogue between civil society and the institutions. The EESC’s ACP-EU dialogue has been a flagship of our institution. We have also successfully accompanied the enlargement process with structured preparatory dialogues with civil society representatives of candidate countries. We are now doing the same in the Western Balkans. We were among those leading the successful call for integrating sustainability elements in trade agreements. We are now involved in several Domestic Advisory Bodies. We pioneered new ideas on the financial transaction tax, social economy and social enterprises, food waste, planned obsolescence, industrial transformation and artificial intelligence, new models of functional, cooperative and circular economy, latter leading to the recent creation of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, a unique instrument for structured dialogue in the EU. Finally, last year we were, together with the national European Social Committees (ESC), a leading partner in the debate with all 28 member states on the European Pillar of Social Rights.
The EESC’s largest institutional achievement in the past 20 years has been the full recognition of the constitutional role of civil dialogue and participatory democracy, with Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty, something unique in the world. These are only a few remarkable examples of the EESC’s work.
Concerning the implementation of Article 11, we are taking our role in very seriously, and constantly striving to have larger structured dialogues, as through:
-the Civil Society Liaison Group;
-EESC support to the European Citizens Initiative;
-national debates on the Future of Europe in 28 European countries, around the five scenarios proposed by President Juncker;
-and very recently, through EESC active cooperation within the “Citizens’ consultations” initiative proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Our achievements are the foundation for the future of a strong EESC – and thus a strong EU. Using the unique strength we have through our direct links with the organised civil society throughout Europe, we will work for a sustainable future.
For the years to come, the EESC will have an active role in the debate to reinforce a Union of Values, we will continue to advocate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda and the European Pillar of Social Rights, working actively on the European Semester through our European Semester Group. We will also have a very proactive stance on the challenges and a potential on tackling artificial intelligence.
Next year is crucial. It is of utmost importance that governments and politicians listen to the voices of European citizens as we prepare for a new institutional cycle. Several strategic issues need action from us: the negotiations on the EU budget after 2020, Brexit and of course the European elections of May 2019.
We are also preparing a more active communication on the European elections with the other EU institutions. The EESC can certainly contribute to ensuring that citizens have a clearer idea of the work of the EU while also encouraging people to go to vote. To get closer to citizens, we are “going local” and we are organising country visits with the civil society in the member states, including NGOs, private sectors and many other actors to foster a debate on the future of Europe with positive messages for the future. We want to be close to the people, and using tools like the web, social media, but also schools and universities. It is of utmost importance to listen to the voices of European citizens when we prepare for the European elections.
At the same time, Europe needs more feelings and emotions. This is why culture is at the core of the current Presidency mandate. We need to mobilise the creative minds of Europe to develop a new narrative for Europe. In order to adapt to our changing realities, we need to drive a new European narrative through culture and education, driving artistic creation, intercultural mobility and exchange, and enhancing a sense of belonging and purpose. We need to provide all citizens with more understanding of our heritage, and look constructively and without fear in a common direction.
Focus: Also, it has been 15 years since the Economic and Social Council of Bulgaria was established. What is your cooperation with the ESC and what do you think about its work?
Luca Jahier: The EESC and the Economic and Social Council of Bulgaria have been working together on many issues throughout these 15 years.
There are many more examples of this excellent cooperation: the former Europe 2020 Steering Committee, but also its strong involvement in the network of the national Economic and Social Councils (ESCs) and the EESC’s annual meetings.
Committee representatives have taken part in several anniversary celebrations of the Bulgarian ESC, notably in 2008 and 2013. For the latter, all former and current EESC presidents, since the ESC’s establishment, were invited and attended the event.
The Bulgarian ESC actively participates in the EESC’s activities, e.g. in the annual meeting of presidents and secretaries-general of the national ESCs. In June and November 2009 the Bulgarian ESC hosted those meetings in Sofia (the topic treated was: “Activating the European Labour Market: Policy Platform on Anti-crisis Measures”).
All current 11 (out of 12) Bulgarian EESC members are also members of the Bulgarian Economic and Social Council.
EESC is now concentrating on the European Semester, through our European Semester Group. We will definitely need to cooperate as closely as possible with the national level and the national stakeholders to demonstrate, once more, the quality of our common input.
The work of the EESC would not be possible without reliable partners such as the ESC of the Republic of Bulgaria.
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