Austria's Christa Schweng has become the 33rd president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the fifth woman to head the EU body representing organised civil society since its establishment in 1958. The two new vice-presidents elected to join her at the helm of the EESC are Giulia Barbucci (Italy) for budget and Cillian Lohan (Ireland) for communication.
The EESC appointed its new leadership on 28 October, on the second day of its three-day inaugural plenary session. This marks the beginning of the EESC's 2020-2025 term of office, with over 40% of its 329 members being new. Due to strict COVID-19 restrictions, the entire inaugural session is being held online with the exception of its opening session, which was held remotely but chaired in person by the EESC's oldest member, Raymond Coumont, from the empty hemicycle in the European Parliament.
Following her appointment, Ms Schweng said:
This term of office will be marked by COVID-19 and, sadly, by times of uncertainty and economic and social hardship, in which businesses struggle to survive and workers lose their jobs. In the current context, more than ever, we need to join forces, develop a vision for a new, post-COVID-19 Europe and do our utmost to ensure that our Committee provides a powerful contribution to Europe's recovery and future resilience. This will go hand in hand with rebuilding a more united, effective and highly regarded EESC.
For this reason, the motto of Ms Schweng's new presidency is
United for the future of Europe.
The new president vowed to act immediately to restore the EESC's reputation and rebuild trust in the institution after it recently reiterated its firm commitment to fighting harassment in the workplace.
We need a Committee that is united and meets the highest ethical standards, a Committee with an excellent image, Ms Schweng said, adding that the EESC's Code of Conduct for Members and the Rules of Procedure will be reinforced at the start of her term of office.
Since the EESC presidency changes halfway through the term of office, the tenure of the new Bureau headed by Ms Schweng, who takes over from her predecessor Luca Jahier, will last two and a half years, until March 2023.
The president's programme will be based on the following priorities, which are in line with her vision of a post-COVID-19 Europe that enables its citizens to thrive and live in an open and value-based society: a Europe that is prospering economically; a Europe that is socially inclusive; and a Europe that is environmentally sustainable.
The fourth priority is making sure the EESC plays a vital role in the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is an important initiative that should give Europeans a sense of ownership of their EU by enabling them to debate major EU topics, with the goal of improving the way the EU works.
The president's programme argues that sustainable development should become a mindset and a basis for a competitive economy, with nobody being left behind. The digital and green transitions should be mainstreamed into every policy area.
The elected vice-president for budget, Ms Barbucci, said:
It is our responsibility to show European citizens that the EU and its unique social model can help find a way out of the crisis. In this delicate time, the EESC has a key role to play. We are the voice of organised civil society and social partners in Europe. Every day we work hard to promote democracy and develop a more participatory EU.
The new vice-president in charge of communication, Mr Lohan, said:
EESC outputs are the result of our tireless work to produce valuable unique perspectives that, critically, have the support of different groups of organised civil society. Our work needs to reach the EU institutions loudly and clearly. And we will reach out in the other direction too – to our home networks, in an iterative process that will help us to design those solutions that will deliver for everybody, and to lead by example, putting active participation back into participatory democracy.
The president will present the programme during her speech, which will be delivered remotely at the inaugural plenary session on 29 October. It can be followed here.
- Christa Schweng (AT): EESC president, president of the EESC's Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship from 2018 to 2020, Employers' Group – president's webpage
- Giulia Barbucci (IT): vice-president of the EESC, member of the Commission for Financial and Budgetary Affairs, Workers' Group – vice-president's webpage (budget)
- Cillian Lohan (IE): vice-president of the EESC, spokesperson for the Consumers and Environment Category, Diversity Europe Group – vice-president's webpage (communication)
- The president and the two vice-presidents are elected by a simple majority during the inaugural assembly session. They are chosen from each of the EESC's three groups (Employers' Group, Workers' Group and Diversity Europe Group) in rotation, for two-and-a-half-year terms. This means that they are elected twice during each EESC term of office – at the beginning and at mid-term. The president is responsible for the orderly conduct of the Committee's business, and represents the EESC in its relations with other institutions and bodies. The two vice-presidents – elected from among the members of the two groups to which the president does not belong – are responsible for communication and the budget respectively.
- The EESC is made up of 329 members from its 27 Member States. They are nominated by their national governments and appointed by the Council of the European Union for a period of five years. They then work independently in the interests of all EU citizens. These members are not politicians but employers, trade unionists and representatives of various sectors of society, such as farming, consumer and environmental organisations, the social economy, SMEs, professionals, and associations representing persons with disabilities, the voluntary sector, gender equality, youth, academia, and so on. The EESC's new term of office – its 16th since it was set up in 1958 – will run from October 2020 to September 2025.