The annual meeting of the EESC and the EU's national Economic and Social Councils stressed the importance of participatory democracy in making the EU stronger and future‑proof and called for real change as a result of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Participatory democracy is key to making the EU more resilient and civil society organisations must remain mobilised in order to contribute to a better future for Europe. At the annual meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the EU's national Economic and Social Councils (ESCs), held in Paris on 22‑23 November 2021, the message was unmistakable: the EU must listen and act upon the proposals drawn up by European and national organised civil society in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
During the debate hosted by the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council, the presidents and secretaries-general of the EESC and the national ESCs set out such messages, expressing their full support for a positive and ambitious outcome to the Conference on the Future of Europe, delivering tangible results to make the European Union more future-proof and bring it closer to its citizens.
Referring to the recovery efforts and to emerging stronger and more resilient after the crisis, EESC president Christa Schweng noted:
strengthening participatory democracy, listening to social partners and other civil society organisations, is the only way to successfully meet today's and tomorrow's challenges and to adapt to the current highly dynamic environment.
In the same vein, Thierry Beaudet, president of the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council, said:
after a Europe of States, then a Europe of institutions and treaties, we are convinced that a third major period must begin: a Europe of civil society actors, which places at its heart those with field expertise and proximity to citizens, for a vibrant European democracy at all levels.
Organised civil society at the heart of a vibrant Europe
More specifically, the EESC and the national ESCs think that the recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to move forward and improve our societies, with a view to creating a stronger EU that promotes upward convergence and better cohesion and solidarity. Europe must have a vision and this must combine sustainable prosperity, social justice, inclusion and a just green and digital transition, while promoting respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law.
At this crucial time, civil society organisations are key players and it is vital to involve them in concrete ways in the implementation and evaluation of national recovery and resilience plans. Likewise, the EESC and the national ESCs are keen to actively participate in designing, formulating and implementing reforms to ensure that policies meet citizens' needs and expectations and contribute to creating a wider sense of ownership.
As the homes of organised civil society, they have specific expertise and are unique and permanent forums for civil dialogue, where solutions are put forward based on consensus between different stakeholders.
In order to build an even stronger civil society network, a new initiative was adopted during the meeting. Inspired by the Erasmus programme, this project aims to enhance the exchanges and cooperation between the EESC and the national ESCs through mobility.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is a tremendous opportunity
The Conference on the Future of Europe is a historic opportunity to relaunch European integration and to develop participatory democracy. It must place Europeans firmly at its centre, ensuring that EU citizens and civil society organisations participate in the debates and in achieving concrete, visible and measurable results.
In line with a bottom-up approach characterised by transparency and accountability, the EESC and the national ESCs recommend developing an online dashboard, where citizens can follow up their requests and check if measures have been adopted and with what timeline. If ideas are not matched by action, then a reason must be provided.
Capitalising on their membership and networks, the EESC and the national ESCs are the organisations best placed to connect with citizens and highlight their proposals to the Conference's governing bodies.
For more information about the conclusions of the annual meeting, please consult the EESC website.