EESC - European Economic and Social Committee
- Georges DASSIS
- Luis PLANAS PUCHADES
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a European Union consultative body, set up in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. It is made up of representatives of organisations active in various areas of economic and social life in EU member states, including business, trade unions, farmers, the professions, consumers and the voluntary sector, all known collectively as 'the organised civil society'. The Committee’s main task is to advise the EU’s three major institutions: the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, through delivering formal opinions on the European Commission’s legislative proposals and on EU policy in general.
Thus, the Committee ensures the active support and participation of organised civil society all over the EU to European governance and decision-making. Its strength lies in its members, who bring together a vast range of interests, knowledge and competences drawn from their diverse areas of work. The essential contribution of EESC members to the EU policy-making process comes from being constantly in touch with grassroots, with those who will be most affected by EU regulation.
The Committee also plays a significant role in informing civil society organisations of the impact of the EU on their areas of activity, and in providing channels to raise their views and interests with the EU institutions.
The EESC's role was successively reinforced by the Single European Act (1986), the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) - which enabled the Committee to be consulted by the European Parliament, the Treaty of Nice (2001) – which emphasized the identity of the Committee, that "shall consist of representatives of organisations of employers, of the employed, and of other parties representative of civil society, notably in socioeconomic, civic, professional and cultural areas", and the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), that makes dialogue with civil society mandatory, extends mandatory consultations into new areas, like sport, energy and research, strenghtens EESC links with the Parliament and introduces the European Citizens' Initiative.
Committed to the building of Europe, the EESC contributes to strengthening the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of the European Union by enabling civil society organisations from the Member States to express their views at European level. It fulfils three key missions:
- helping to ensure that European policies and legislation fit better with economic, social and civic circumstances on the ground, by assisting the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission, making use of EESC members' experience and representativeness, dialogue and efforts to secure consensus serving the general interest;
- promoting the development of a more participatory European Union which is more in touch with popular opinion, by acting as an institutional forum representing, informing, expressing the views of and securing dialogue with organised civil society;
- promoting the values on which European integration is founded and advancing, in Europe and across the world, the cause of democracy and participatory democracy, as well as the role of civil society organisations.
The 344 EESC members are drawn from the whole range of civil society organisations across the 27 EU Member States. The number of seats that each country has on the Committee is laid down in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and varies according to the size of population, although it is not directly proportional. Germany, France, Italy and the UK have the largest representations, with 24 members each. Malta, with the smallest population, has 5 seats. Breakdown by country
The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Article 300) states that the Committee "shall consist of representatives of organisations of employers, of the employed, and of other parties representative of civil society, notably in socioeconomic, civic, professional and cultural areas "
Members are nominated by national governments, after broad consultation with all the relevant civil society organisations to ensure that nominees have the full support of the people they represent, and appointed, in a personal capacity, by the Council of the EU for a renewable 5-year term of office. Once the Council confirms the appointments, members become independent of national administrations and are free to work on behalf of the organisations and people they represent.
Following the organisation they represent, EESC members belong to one of three groups: Employers (Group I), Workers (Group II) and Various Interests (Group III). Their task is to give opinions setting out the Committee's views on EU issues to the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. They also keep their home organisations directly briefed on legislative projects being prepared at European level.
Every two-and-a-half years the Committee elects a President and two Vice-presidents chosen from each of the three groups in rotation. The President is responsible for ensuring that the Committee's work is carried out effectively. From the two Vice-presidents, one is responsible for communication policy, the other for budgetary matters.
On the same occasion, the plenary assembly of the Committee also elects a Bureau made up of 39 members, including the presidents of the three groups and six sections and one member from each Member State. The bureau's main task is to organise and coordinate the work of the EESC's various bodies and to lay down policy guidelines for this work.
The Committee's members belong to three groups:
- Employers (Group I),
- Workers (Group II) and
- Various Interests (Group III)
and six sections, for:
- Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion,
- Single Market, Production and Consumption,
- Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society,
- Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship,
- Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment,
- External Relations.
A Consultative Commission on Industrial Change and four Observatories - for the Single Market, the Sustainable Development, the Labour Market and the Lisbon Strategy - has been also set up to work in these areas.
The full Committee meets in plenary sessions nine times a year. It adopts opinions by simple majority (the largest proportion of those voting), before forwarding them to the Council of the EU, the European Commission and the Parliament.
The members, organised in groups, sections and observatories are assisted in their work by the Secretariat of the EESC, managed by the Secretary-General, who works with two deputy Secretaries-General and five directorates.
The EESC maintains regular links with regional and national economic and social councils throughout the European Union, through exchanges of information, joint discussions on specific issues, and joint conferences. Constant links are also maintained with economic and social interest groups in a number of non-member countries and groups of countries. For this purpose, joint consultative and follow-up committees, contact groups and round tables have been set up with countries in the European Economic Area, Turkey, ACP, India, Latin America, Eastern Neighbourhood, West Balkans, Euromed, China, Croatia, FYROM, Brasil, Japan. Furthermore, delegations have been set up to follow up relations with other countries and regions such as the Mercosur and Chile.
The EU institutions can request the EESC to give opinions on specific legislative proposals and policy communications, in particular in the areas required by the EU Treaties - mandatory opinions.
The institutions can also request, upstream of the legislative process, an exploratory opinion in an area of particular importance to organised civil society, to inform the process of framing EU policies and planning their implementation.
The Committee can also decide to draw up an own-initiative opinion on any topic related to the EU or its policies which it considers important. It often uses these to draw attention to issues which have not yet been taken up by the institutions.
Although the Committee’s opinions are adopted by the EESC as a whole, the preparatory work is undertaken in the six specialist sections covering most of the EU’s fields of activity, the four Observatories or the specialised Consultative Committee on Industrial Change (CCMI), established in key fields of interest, to stimulate debate amongst civil society organisations and with EU institutions, and better assess the impact of policies on stakeholders - those parts of society most affected by such policies.
The sections, together with the Observatories and the CCMI, are composed of members with specific interests and experience. Section opinions are drafted by working groups made of between 3 and 18 members, including a rapporteur. Rapporteurs may call on outside experts for advice (a maximum of four outside experts, one appointed by the rapporteur and one by each of the three groups), and make contact with other institutions and with stakeholders to maximise the impact of the opinion.
The Committee produces some 200 opinions a year (of which approximately 15% are issued on its own-initiative). As an example, in 2009 the EESC issued 215, of which 17% were own-initiative opinions and 11% - exploratory opinions. All the opinions are forwarded to the Community's decision-making bodies and then published in the Official Journal of the European Communities.
Information Letter - February 2017 The upcoming EESC Plenary Session on 22-23 February, 2017 will deal with the adoption of several important opinions.
Please let me highlight two exploratory opinions in the field of education and skills that were produced at the request of the Maltese Presidency.
Information Letter - December 2016 It is my pleasure to invite you to the next EESC Plenary Session. On 15th December we will greet Mr Frans TIMMERMANS, First Vice-President of the European Commission who will present the European Commission's 2017 work programme entitled "Delivering a Europe that protects, empowers and defends". The EESC adopted its contribution at the Plenary Session of 14 July 2016. Several of the EESC recommendations and proposals have been taken on board by the Commission, including for instance the need for a clear definition of the European Pillar of Social Rights, the implementation of the New Skills Agenda for Europe as well as the Youth Employment Package.
October 2016 During our 520th Plenary Session we will have the pleasure of welcoming Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation and debating on Horizon 2020 in conjunction with the adoption of one of our exploratory opinions, titled 'Mid-term evaluation of Horizon 2020'. ls Agenda for Europe as well as the Youth Employment Package.
Information Letter - January 2017 First of all, I wish you a happy New Year full of success and peace!
The Presidency of the Council of the European Union starting in January 2017 will be the first time for the Republic of Malta. For that reason the European Economic and Social Committee Plenary Session will feature a presentation on the priorities of the Maltese Presidency on 25 January by Dr Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary for the EU Presidency 2017 and EU Funds. At a time when European Union cohesion is being put to the test it falls to Malta to play an important part in contributing to unity rather than dividing or making unilateral decisions. I am convinced that Malta is capable of successfully ushering in a new era for Europe. I am particularly pleased to see that the Maltese Presidency priorities include proposals made by our Committee.
September 2016 A few days after his address on the state of the Union in front of the European Parliament, we will at our turn welcome the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in our first plenary session after the summer break.
Information Letter - July 2016 On 13 July the EESC Plenary Session will feature a presentation on the priorities of the Slovak Presidency by Ivan Korčok, ministre délégué for the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU. I believe that Slovakia, who takes up the presidency of the Council for the first time in the history of the EU, has a great opportunity to use its potential to get results and to present its goals for a common Europe. One of the priorities of the EESC during the Slovak presidency is to! continue to focus on the European social model, placing special emphasis on the elaboration of a European pillar of social rights.
- 24/05/2016 Information Letter - May 2016 On 25 May 2016 the 517th Plenary Session of the EESC will host a debate on the future of ACP-EU relations, in conjunction with the adoption of opinion REX/455 with the participation of Joseph Chilengi, President of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC) and Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.
The core role of trade and investment in meeting and implementing the SDGs
The 2030 UN Agenda, or the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, will be one of the top global priorities over the next 15 years, yet it received very little mention in the Commission Communication "Trade for all". Trade is specifically mentioned with regard to nine SDGs (but only once in the MDGs). UNCTAD estimate that, to meet the 17 goals and the 169 targets, at least an extra US$2.5 trillion a year will need to be found - effectively from the private sector. This opinion would seek to look into this further and aim to evaluate how much of that will need to come through trade and investment.
Also, in the current climate, in which free trade agreement negotiations are being called into question and civil society representatives have lost confidence in these agreements, it is time to reflect upon the extent to which social and environmental aspects are being incorporated into free trade agreements and how this might change in the future. A critical evaluation is needed not only of the progress that has already been made, but particularly of the limitations of the chapters on sustainable development that are in the existing agreements. Likewise, proposals aimed at incorporating genuine social and environmental clauses as an integral and binding part of the agreement should be formulated with the aim of mobilising support for a new generation of free trade agreements among large swathes of civil society. Progressive trade agreements should ensure support for the implementation of SDGs.
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The European Economic and Social Committee represents organized civil society in Europe. It provides a unique channel for the active involvement of civil society in the EU policy and law making process. Based on real-life expertise, the Committee members have adopted thousands of opinions which help improve the lives of ordinary EU citizens.