The EESC believes that ensuring equal access to energy and the security of energy supply at affordable cost must be an absolute priority for the European Union (EU) and its Member States. It calls for the establishment of a broad and ambitious political coalition to analyse and address energy poverty from a holistic approach with the objective of bringing it to a minimum level by 2030 and eliminating it altogether in the long term. The actions of the coalition should be further developed in an EU Strategy against energy poverty. The EESC urges the EU to promote a common approach to energy poverty that will allow for a tangible and shared understanding of energy poverty and the collection of statistical data, taking into account Member States' differences and particularities.
The EESC takes note of the Fourth Report on the State of the Energy Union (SEU), supports the objectives of the Energy Union and welcomes the emphasis on the engagement and mobilisation of EU society to take full ownership of the Energy Union.
The Commission recently published a Communication on a Renewed Partnership with the ACP Group of countries. ACP-EU relations are currently governed by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that will expire in 2020, therefore the Commission has published recommendations on what the future structure should be. Last year the EESC already drafted a general opinion on the post-Cotonou framework; this new opinion will have to answer specifically to the Commission's communication.
The EESC is a strong advocate of a fair, well-administered and sustainable development policy at EU level. It is also very committed to the cause of greater tax justice. In recent years, questions have been raised as to whether the international tax policies of the Member States, in particular the concluding of certain types of double taxation agreements, are consistent with EU development policy objectives.
The 2030 Agenda, the new global framework for sustainable development agreed by the UN in 2015, needs to be reflected in EU's development policy, the major orientations of which are set out in the 2005 European Consensus on Development ("the Consensus").
To this end, the Commission issued Communication COM(2016) 740, "Proposal for a New European Consensus on Development: Our World, Our Dignity, Our Future" in November 2016. Interinstitutional negotiations are expected to result in its endorsement in the form of a Joint Statement by the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission, in May 2017.
The EESC advocates the creation of an integrated European fund to combat poverty and social exclusion, based on the experiences of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) and the European Social Fund (ESF). The current use of the ESF and the FEAD in the Member States should be monitored more effectively and the process should involve civil society organisations. Member States should make greater use of global grants and regranting, and treat in-kind contributions on an equal footing with financial contributions. A greater share of the resources allocated to operational programmes should be earmarked for projects with smaller budgets. The EESC is ready to develop – in cooperation with CSOs – a consultation platform to ensure better coordination of ESF and FEAD interventions and to enable discussion on the basic principles of a future integrated EU fund.
The EESC adopted this opinion after in-depth work carried out during the four meetings of the study group. The opinion also reflects the national debates with civil society organisations carried out in all Member States between 2 September and 2 November 2016. These discussions were coordinated by three members of the EESC ('trios') from the country concerned, often in cooperation with the European Commission (15 debates) or the national economic and social council (7 debates). Participants came from a wide range of employers' and trade union organisations and other civil society organisations, as well as, to a lesser extent, from the academic world. A total of 116 EESC members and nearly 1,800 representatives of civil society organisations participated in the 28 debates. The conclusions/recommendations of the national debates have been grouped in the opinion, while the reports on the national debates will be published separately.
The nature of work and employment relationships is developing rapidly. The impact on the labour market and standards, economy, tax and social security systems and the living wage need to be assessed and grey areas in rights and protections addressed. The challenge is to encourage innovation and deliver positive outcomes for a sustainable and competitive social market economy. The EESC considers it a priority to develop social welfare models adapted to cover more flexible forms of employment. This should be given consideration in the development of the EU Pillar of Social Rights.