Panos Carvounis, January 2022
The EESC is an insufficiently known body. What is its composition and role?
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome, is one of the two advisory bodies of the European Union (EU). Composed of representatives of various European economic and social groups and categories, such as employers, workers, producers, farmers, liberal professions and civil society organisations, the EESC assists the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission in the decision-making and legislative process, in an advisory capacity. The members of the EESC are appointed by the Council on the proposal of the national governments and after consulting the European Commission, for a term of five years. Since the Treaty of Nice in 2002, the maximum number of EESC members has been set at 350. With the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the 24 British members of the EESC also left. In the new mandate starting on 21 September 2020, the total number of members is 329. Over time, the EU Treaties have increased the number of areas in which consultation of the EESC is required for the adoption of the legislation; However, EU institutions often seek the Committee’s opinion beyond these mandatory areas, and even before legislation is proposed, in order to assess the views of civil society on a specific topic. It is important to note that the EESC has acquired the right to give its opinion on any EU-related matter and that the Committee’s own-initiative opinions and information reports currently represent around 15-20% of the opinions that he adopts every year. In addition to the advisory role assigned by the Treaties, the Committee has set itself the task of helping to communicate the European Union to citizens, strengthening participatory democracy and providing a forum for civil dialogue between the EU institutions. and civil society.
What are the relations with the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers?
The EESC fulfills the advisory role entrusted to it by the EU Treaties by issuing opinions. Opinions fall into two broad categories: those requested by another EU institution and those adopted on its own initiative. Opinions drafted in response to a referral from the Commission, the Council or the European Parliament can further be classified as mandatory, i.e. the Treaties provide for the obligation to consult the EESC in the legislative process, or optional , when the European Union Committee is sought for advice, but there is no such obligation in the treaties. The first category has developed since 1958, with 14 EU policy areas currently requiring mandatory consultation of the EESC.
The EU is often criticized for liberalism to the detriment of social rights. What influence does the EESC have for this to change?
The Committee has always been very united and very firm in its mission, to make the voice of citizens heard: the voice of businesses, workers and other organizations of civil society. In all its aspects, the EESC has become the voice of organized civil society in Europe. The active participation of civil society in the decision-making process of the Union is a key to the success of the European project because it reinforces its legitimacy and improves the effectiveness of its action. This organized civil society represents sometimes very different interests, and balancing these different opinions within the EESC itself is something that can only be achieved by seeking consensus. This is the role and mission of the Committee. We bring together sets of interests and priorities, and somehow we come together to design solutions that are achievable opportunities. It is this power that gives weight to our opinions. In addition, we do not limit ourselves to giving opinions, it is also a question of reconnecting with stakeholders, by facilitating their access structures to decision-making. Our results must reach the EU institutions loud and clear. And we will also reach out the other way – to our national networks, in an iterative process that helps us design these workable solutions on the ground. For example, every year since 2006, we have organized the Civil Society Prize to reward concrete initiatives carried out by civil society organizations at all levels (European, national, regional and local), when these initiatives contribute significantly to the promotion of European identity and integration. By awarding this prize, the Committee wishes to promote awareness of the importance of the contribution that individuals and organizations from civil society can make to the creation of a European identity and citizenship, common values on which European construction is based.
What role does it play in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe?
The future we want for Europe is one where civil society is at the heart of the European Union consolidation process. The EESC sees the Conference on the Future of Europe as the vehicle through which we can bring about lasting change in the EU, including greater and more meaningful participation of citizens and organized civil society in the European public sphere . Civil society organizations are crucial in identifying solutions to today’s challenges! The EESC has repeatedly called on the EU and national authorities to recognize the crucial role of organized civil society, in building trust, shaping public opinion and as a positive agent of change . It is also imperative that the EU supports the central role played by civil society organizations in promoting and defending European values, democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law, against the rise of illiberalism, populism and “shrinking civic space”. The EESC therefore makes a solid contribution to this process, with its experience and expertise in engaging with citizens from across society in all EU Member States.