The EESC welcomes the new EU Forest Strategy. Against the backdrop of growing demands on and threats to forests, as well as many EU sectoral policies and associated rules affecting forestry and forests, the new strategy is sorely needed. The EESC therefore urges both the Commission and the Member States to ensure that the strategy is effectively and efficiently implemented.
The EESC has frequently noted the importance of broadband access and acknowledges the progress made in increasing its share in the EU.
But the Committee is deeply worried about the persisting digital divide between EU citizens. This gap is not closing for reasons relating to factors including education, age, the high price of IT, the fact that most information is in English, and differences between rural, urban and island regions.
The digital society must not be an additional cause for exclusion. The EESC particularly wants to see EU-wide measures to ensure that people with disabilities have access and enjoy equal conditions in relation to new technologies.
The EESC stresses that occupational pension schemes, created as a result of decisions by the social partners, can play a very important role in ensuring that employees have additional pension provision. The EESC disagrees with the approach to IORPs purely as financial market institutions, which fails to acknowledge their important social function. A one-size-fits-all approach is not the right way of achieving the Commission's objectives given the numerous differences between pension schemes in Member States.
The EESC welcomes the Commission communication and emphasises the growth potential of crowdfunding in the EU as an alternative source of funding. It also emphasises the dependence of SMEs on bank loans, a situation that will persist despite the existence of alternative sources which are not always easy to access. Therefore Crowdfunding should be explicitly recognised in the laws of the Member States as a new form of patronage.
The EESC expresses its firm support for the structural reform of the banking system. It considers the Commission's proposal for a regulation to be a valid and effective response aimed at separating commercial banking activities from investment activities.
The EESC supports and encourages a broad agreement to boost the economy and restore trust in the financial institutions, and calls on the Commission to promote a European Social Pact for Sustainable Finance.
Nevertheless, the EESC believes that the Commission should give greater attention to investors and employees, who have hitherto received little attention in the reform.
Besides, the EESC recommends that oversight activities be carried out in close cooperation and coordination between the EBA and the national authorities, which are well-acquainted with the markets and which will play a key role in managing the new reformed European finance.
The exploratory opinion is being drawn up at the request of the Greek Presidency of the European Union. Immigration-related issues remain a key challenge for the European Union and its Member States with a comprehensive and common strategy at EU level remaining elusive, in spite of the continued pressures that are being felt on the EU's borders.
This own-initiative opinion will draw upon the first-hand experiences of the non-state actors (civil society, business and trade unions) engaged in the accession negotiations between Croatia and the EU over the period 2005-11, as well as experiences of EESC members who have been engaged in the work of Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs) with accession countries over the past seven years (Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey and Montenegro) as well as the Western Balkans Follow-up Committee.