The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
Over a million migrants and asylum-seekers have arrived in the 28 EU Members States in 2015, many of which are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. What are the policies and measures implemented at European level to integrate them into the labour market? What is working and where are the gaps? Those were the questions tackled at the EESC Labour Market Observatory's debate entitled "Integrating refugees into the labour market: turning the crisis into an opportunity".
"Experience shows that the integration of refugees is beneficial to society, and civil society clearly plays a key role in facilitating that", said Krzysztof Pater, Vice-President of the EESC Labour Market Observatory in his opening speech. In response, MEP Claude Rolin provocatively asked: "Do we really want to integrate the refugees? I can see that too little is done to actually help the refugees to find jobs. Therefore, our fellow citizens fear that refugees keep on living on benefits, while also threatening their own jobs. We need to work to provide jobs for all."
Faced with a massive arrival of refugees and largely unprepared, EU Member States legislation, as well as integration support, varies from country to country, according to Klára Fóti, Eurofound representative. Geertrui Lanneau, IOM specialist, underlined the importance of investing in education and training, as big share of the migrant population is still very young and needs qualifications first. MEP Jean Lambert called for the "need to avoid refugees' brain waste by implementing integration strategies, notably by recognizing the even informal qualifications possessed by refugees."
Christa Schweng, EESC Member, declared that "a truly European migration system" was needed and that "integration policies should be developed specifically for women refugees, to help raise family income and avoid concentration in ghettos." She underlined the need to focus on entrepreneurship and self-employment as an important vector in the integration process of refugees in the labour market.
Discussing the factors which facilitate the employment of refugees, as employees or entrepreneurs, the LMO seminar showcased good examples from Austria, Belgium and Sweden.
Margit Kreuzhuber, Commissioner for Migration and Integration from the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, explained the specific model of apprenticeships used to integrate refugees in the labour market in Austria and to match the gaps between skills and needs in the work place. She also added that the apprenticeships facilitated cultural adaptation and understanding of Austrian culture in a progressive manner.
Marina Nilsson, Leader of "Fast track to integration", presented the initiative of the Swedish Hotel & Restaurant Workers' Union (HRF) and the Swedish employers' Association Visita. The programme trains refugees as kitchen chefs, offerings a fast track accreditation system to gain qualifications through 'in kitchen' assessment using Arabic and English languages.
Finally, Julie Bodson, Manager of the social enterprise "Duo for a job", presented the Belgian intergenerational project of mentoring for refugees by volunteers aged 50 and over to help them find work or become entrepreneurs. Experienced people are matched with young refugees for 6 months, to help them write their CV, select job adverts and prepare for interviews. With a 75% success rate, 97% of the mentors come back to assist other refugee job seekers and 93% of the mentees are satisfied.