This exploratory opinion was drawn up at the request of the European Commission in the framework of the mid-term evaluation of the LIFE programme over the 2014-2020 period. It reiterates the support of the European civil society in favour of an independent budget line dedicated to the environment and looks at possible options for improving LIFE after 2020.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) endorses the priorities set out in the European Commission's 2017 Annual Growth Survey.
The European Semester is seen as a good instrument for further progress in policies and reform, leading to recovery and employment. The AGS 2017 outlines the most pressing economic and social priorities, accompanied by specific recommendations, however the EESC takes very seriously the negative aspects of the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact and Country-Specific Recommendations applied at national level to set the euro area fiscal stance.
The EESC welcomes, in principle, the missions set out in the 2017 growth survey, as well as the distribution of tasks between the Commission and the Member States. It repeats its proposal – made previously, in its analysis of the 2016 growth survey – to supplement the European Semester. As well as increasing investment, structural reforms and strengthening macroeconomic balance, the main objectives should also include progress to be made in terms of "beyond GDP" indicators (social, environmental and sustainability targets).
The EESC appreciates the European Commission's effort to apply an economic policy that focuses on supporting the strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth of the euro area as well as a balanced mix of monetary, fiscal and structural instruments in order to achieve this, including a positive fiscal stance.
The EESC advocates the creation of an integrated European fund to combat poverty and social exclusion, based on the experiences of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) and the European Social Fund (ESF). The current use of the ESF and the FEAD in the Member States should be monitored more effectively and the process should involve civil society organisations. Member States should make greater use of global grants and regranting, and treat in-kind contributions on an equal footing with financial contributions. A greater share of the resources allocated to operational programmes should be earmarked for projects with smaller budgets. The EESC is ready to develop – in cooperation with CSOs – a consultation platform to ensure better coordination of ESF and FEAD interventions and to enable discussion on the basic principles of a future integrated EU fund.
The EESC is pleased that the Maltese Presidency has chosen "High quality education for all" as an priority theme. However, the EESC fears that the value of this initiative could be lost when austerity measures still apply to many of our societies, hindering them to fully benefit from high quality education. Europe should not forget the essential role played by high quality education for all in building up a European society committed to upholding fundamental rights and values.
The EESC endorses the European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility (the strategy), including its aims and methods, and its holistic approach, which provides coherence between transport and other policy areas. It would have liked this approach to be further developed in terms of the links between the strategy and the communication on the upgrading of the internal market. This also applies with regard to the prospects of the digital economy and the development of a sharing economy and a circular economy. It underscores the potential effects of these developments on transport patterns, and draws attention to their social implications.