In their plenary session debate with European Commission First Vice-President Timmermans, the EESC Members called for a new impetus and more solidarity, as stated in the EESC contribution to the European Commission's 2017 Work Programme.
Taking account of the Brexit vote and of the questioning on the European project in public perception in several Member States, the EESC considers that the European Commission must work to restore a spirit of solidarity and responsibility, and regain public support. Concretely, 2017 should be devoted to strengthening the economic and social cohesion of the EU and reinforcing the EU's global role and citizens' ownership of the EU.
EESC President Georges Dassis highlighted that: "Our contribution to the Commission Work Programme is clear: we have constantly advocated for a more inclusive European Union and today we repeat our call to you. Social economy and solidarity must be the line of horizon for the EU steer in 2017. We must fight against inequalities, against poverty; this is the only way to convince our citizens to adhere to the European project."
Vice-President Timmermans acknowledged: "Inequalities are at the source of the current discontent and frustrations of the people in Europe. The biggest challenge we are facing is to improve socio-economic conditions for all Europeans, and as an immediate action for 2017, we will focus on the pillar of social rights, the digital single market and the energy union. As inequalities cannot be dealt with only by Member States, the EU is in the frontline to tackle them. In the same time, Europe needs to remain the guardian of democracy and the Rule of Law. Democracy means confrontation and consensus, with the respect of the ones who think differently, the respect of minorities. Nowadays, we are witnessing a change in the perception of disagreement: basically, the ones who think differently, so called “the enemy”, are to be destroyed according to some. This is not democracy and this is not the essence of the European project: we will fight this with all strength.”
First Vice-President concluded: “What you debate today is of utmost importance for this action led at EU level. I can guarantee you that we’ll involve you, as representatives of the organised civil society, closely in the work ahead.”
As stated in its contribution to the 2017 Work Programme, the EESC has pleaded for the strengthening of the economic and social cohesion of the EU. This should go through a fiscal stimulus to support innovation and growth in key sectors such as energy, transport and digitalisation among others. The EESC has called the Commission to make sure that the European Semester reaches the EU 2020 targets in terms of fight against poverty and inequality. The completion of the Single Market, both for workers' mobility and the Economic and Monetary Union, should be of prime concern. The Energy Union must ensure the security of supplies and diversification of energy sources in a fully-integrated energy market, while the climate policy requests urgent implementation of the Paris Agreement involving citizens and civil society at large. The plight of refugees must give birth to a common asylum system with safe humanitarian corridors.
The role of the EU as a global player needs strengthening, in promoting peace and stabilisation in conflict areas. A strong common foreign policy requests Europe to coordinate internally in order to adequately address conflicts in neighbouring countries, carry a strong development policy that includes the UN Agenda 2030's Sustainable Development Goals, international police cooperation and effective external borders control. The conclusion of bilateral trade agreements must encompass a fair balance of interests of all parties and aim to the highest social and environmental standards. The EESC stressed the importance to boost the export of EU's climate technologies and solutions globally.
Citizens' ownership of the EU is of utmost importance for the future of the European project. The EESC calls on to the European Commission to reaffirm European values, the importance of a solidarity-based and inclusive democracy. Compliance with the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights must meet no obstacle. The EESC reminds that building a systematic dialogue with civil society organisations and strengthening social dialogue are key to achieving EU's objectives.
Note to the editor
- European Economic and Social Committee contribution to the European Commission’s 2017 Work Programme, July 2016 –EN, FR, DE, SK
The EESC contribution to the EC Work Programme is foreseen in the Protocol on cooperation between the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee, signed in 2012. Under point 1 "Institutional and administrative relations": "In the first semester of each year, the Committee will make known its key political priorities regarding the Commission's work programme for the following year."