- EU Candidate status for Ukraine. The EESC calls on the European Council to grant Ukraine EU Membership candidate status at its meeting on 23-24 June 2022. Ukraine's candidate status must be granted without detriment to the ongoing accession process of the Western Balkans. The EESC is in favour of putting in place a system of gradual integration steps based on the fulfilment of the acquis communitaire.
- European civil society stands in solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Civil society has reacted promptly and efficiently triggering a unique grassroots mobilisation of citizens. Humanitarian assistance has to be scaled up and should be disbursed directly supporting civil society organisations (CSOs). Specialised NGOs, together with CSOs should be genuinely involved in the programming and monitoring of EU and national humanitarian assistance.
- Giving refugees a perspective. The Committee calls for refugees to be granted the same rights as EU citizens when it comes to healthcare and access to the labour market (recognition of qualifications, access to the services of employment agencies, language courses, health and education systems), both of which are key to avoiding escalating poverty among the refugees. The social partners can through collective bargaining and ad hoc measures help integrate workers and prevent them from becoming subject to exploitation and social dumping. The Committee lays particular emphasis on the role of CSOs in the protection and re-integration of often forgotten vulnerable groups: unaccompanied minors, separated children and children from institutional care settings, persons with disabilities, Roma minorities and victims of sexual violence.
- Reconstruction. Immediate European and international financial assistance is needed to prevent the Ukrainian economy from total destruction. Financial support must be provided to support SMEs, Ukrainian farmers for the next harvest and Ukrainian civil society, including employers’ organisations and trade unions, with a view to keeping them fully operational in times of war. The reconstruction efforts must be driven by innovation. Civil society organisations need to be closely involved to make sure that rule of law reforms, the fight against corruption and the green and digital transitions can be achieved.
- The economic outfall. The war should not undermine implementation of the green transition policies in the EU. The Committee calls on Member States and EU institutions to take the necessary measures to curb excessive commodity speculation, enhance market transparency and temporarily remove all obstacles to agricultural goods' imports in order to alleviate the food price crisis. It warns that neither the NextGenerationEU fund, its Recovery and Resilience Fund component, nor the flexibility under the current 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework are sufficient to fully cover the financial needs generated by the war in Ukraine.
- The role of Civil Society. The EESC's long history and bond with Ukrainian CSOs plays an important role in keeping the channels open and enabling participation in the EU integration process. The Committee calls on the Member States to significantly step up capacity building, organisational and financial support for Ukrainian CSOs. It encourages partnerships between EU and Ukrainian youth organisations and proposes an event focusing on youth activism and its role in the future reconstruction of Ukraine. The EESC itself commits to strengthen cooperation and exchanges with Ukrainian CSOs and to continue advocating for maintaining EU solidarity and generosity vis-à-vis Ukraine. To that end, the EESC will be holding an event with Ukrainian civil society and EU civil society on 19 July in Krakow.
At the same time, the EESC underlines that the remaining independent CSOs in Russia must not be abandoned.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
- stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and reiterates its firm condemnation of the unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine launched by the Russian Federation under the leadership of President, Vladimir Putin, and draws attention to its previous resolution on War in Ukraine and its economic, social and environmental impact adopted on 24 March 2022;
- stresses that this tragic war on European soil, which has now been going on for almost four months, has claimed a very high death toll, including civilians, and has caused massive destruction and suffering; it has increased global poverty levels and has resulted in incalculable social, economic and environmental damage and an unprecedented wave of refugees and displaced people. Calls for respect for international humanitarian law and for the proper recording, investigation and prosecution of war crimes that are being committed in Ukrainian cities and villages by the invaders;
- calls for an immediate ceasefire by all sides, reiterates the ultimate primacy of diplomacy and stresses that the search for a peace-keeping approach and negotiation should be a priority at all levels of the political debate, while demanding the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine; urges the EU to continue its assistance to Ukraine and its people, as provided since the very first day of the war; calls for detailed monitoring of the economic, social and environmental impacts of the sanctions following Russia's military aggression;
- notes that the war on the EU's eastern border goes against the history, philosophy and identity of the EU; stresses that the consequences of the war pose a threat to the EU’s values, to the freedom and rights of EU citizens and other inhabitants and to the European model of the social market economy; highlights that peace and prosperity are founding pillars of the European Union (EU) and that civil society organisations (CSOs) have played a key role over the past decades in actively promoting, contributing to and maintaining a culture of peace on the European continent;
- emphasises that the Russian Federation and its current representatives must be suspended from international bodies and organisations, starting with those aimed at maintaining peace, protecting human rights, and ensuring sustainable development and a safe environment;
On the humanitarian situation
- notes that more than 6.8 million people have fled from Ukraine since Russia started the war, making this the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II; adds that eight million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine and that around a third of the population of Ukraine have thus been forced to flee their homes;
- recognises that European countries, namely Poland, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Moldova, have been heavily impacted by the influx of Ukrainian refugees and that these countries and especially their CSOs, have reacted promptly and efficiently, triggering an unprecedented voluntary grassroot mobilisation of citizens;
- stresses that the EU funds for humanitarian assistance must be scaled up and should be disbursed, in particular, at regional and local levels, directly supporting and involving CSOs that are active in the socio-economic integration of refugees;
- urges the Member States, the EU's regions and civil society organisations to make the most effective and rapid use possible of the options for supporting Ukrainian refugees created by the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Cohesion's Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE), proposed by the European Commission on 8 March 2022, in conjunction with the revision of the REACT-EU Regulation proposed by the Commission on 23 March 2022; stresses that this support should primarily be distributed by civil society organisations, including specialised NGOs and that civil society organisations should also be directly involved in the organising and monitoring of EU and national humanitarian assistance;
- recommends repurposing savings generated in the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework and in the REACT EU instrument, while respecting the rule of law, so that they can be quickly and flexibly redirected to support refugees, and encourages setting up a separate fund for this purpose in case the funds currently available are insufficient for the reception and social and labour market integration of refugees, including for care services, housing, food, material aid, training programmes and public employment services;
- highlights that in the European response to the COVID-19 crisis, European citizens felt that the EU was protecting them and opening up prospects, notably through the creation of the SURE programme and NextGenerationEU (NGEU); underlines that neither the NGEU fund, its Recovery and Resilience Fund component, nor the flexibility under the current 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) are sufficient to fully cover the financial needs generated by the war in Ukraine; notes that in terms of scale, these instruments were not designed to meet the new challenges stemming from the Russian aggression and invasion and simultaneously maintain investments in the EU’s programmes and policies, including important priorities such as the just, green and digital transitions;
- underlines that better mapping and coordination among all stakeholders involved in humanitarian and medical assistance is urgently needed to ensure that help reaches all those suffering from war quickly and efficiently;
- stresses that monitoring measures and activities must be carried out in various areas such as respect for human rights and documenting war crimes and welcomes the establishment by the European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA);
- stresses that access to the public healthcare system should be provided to refugees from Ukraine on the same basis as to EU citizens, as well as essential sexual and reproductive health assistance, emergency contraception and abortion and obstetric care for victims of rape;
- calls on the Commission and the Member States to pay particular attention to the situation of unaccompanied minors, separated children and children from institutional care settings from Ukraine, to ensure that their immediate needs are met, that they are properly identified and tracked and that data is shared between Member States with the aim of reuniting them with their families or later re-integrating them into Ukrainian society, while guaranteeing their protection from abuse or trafficking;
- highlights the appalling situation of persons with disabilities who are attempting to leave the war zones in Ukraine, or who are facing considerable challenges as refugees in host countries; insists that all refugees should be treated equally, irrespective of their ethnic background, nationality, or disabilities; for the latter, they should receive full assistance with establishing independent lives and should not be forced into institutions in host countries;
- stresses that participation in the labour market has a pivotal role in integration and in reducing levels of poverty; warns that refugees coming from Ukraine are at risk of becoming the least protected, of receiving the lowest pay, of working below their qualifications and of being the most vulnerable groups in the labour market, without social protection or the freedom of association and workers’ rights; in this regard, stresses the need to adequately address cases of unequal working conditions and ensure that workers enjoy the same rights as EU citizens and that they are not subject to exploitation and social dumping; calls for designing medium and long-term strategies for those Ukrainians who wish to stay in their host country, in order to fully integrate them into EU labour markets;
- underlines the critical role the social partners can play through collective bargaining and ad hoc measures and agreements to facilitate the integration of workers coming from Ukraine into the EU labour market; points out that employment agencies should support refugees with their full range of services, including counselling, preparation of applicant profiles, placement activities and offering support tools and calls on Member States to establish or support services matching refugees with potential employers;
- stresses that an essential prerequisite for the integration of refugees from Ukraine into the labour market of the host countries and the avoidance of precarious employment conditions is the recognition of qualifications, and insists on establishing efficient rules and guidelines for a swift but high-quality recognition of qualifications, access to language courses and access to education and vocational training for youth fleeing Ukraine;
- stresses that all necessary steps must be taken to ensure that adults and children seeking refuge in the EU can continue their educational path and underlines that special attention must be paid at school level not only to overcoming linguistic barriers, but also to treating trauma symptoms, which could have long-term negative consequences;
- stresses that refugees from Ukraine must be granted the same access to social security systems and to social services as EU citizens;
On Ukraine’s reconstruction and EU perspective
- welcomes the establishment of an international ‘Ukraine reconstruction platform', as provided for in the Commission's communication on "Ukraine Relief and Reconstruction" and the leading role taken by the EU in mobilising international assistance to Ukraine;
- calls on the European Union to provide emergency funding for SMEs in Ukraine, which should go first towards preserving these SMEs and then helping them to grow. The prevention of the total destruction of the economy in Ukraine must be another key goal of the EU’s efforts in Ukraine;
- emphasises that the reconstruction of Ukraine that will take place after the war is a one-off situation that should lead to the development of a stronger civil society, and of a new economy, based on the latest green and digital technologies, and also driven by innovation;
- insists, however, that the emphasis placed on rule of law reforms, the fight against corruption and green and digital transition cannot be achieved without the genuine involvement of civil society and calls for CSOs to be closely involved in reconstruction efforts, including planning and implementing the 'Rebuild Ukraine' mechanism, since they are best placed to express the needs of Ukrainian citizens and to assist with follow-up on the reconstruction efforts and alignment with EU legislation;
- highlights that the conflict and its consequences should not undermine the green transition policies in the EU but rather accelerate their implementation
- urges the Council and Parliament to consider using gas storage facilities in neighbouring third countries, which will bring added value in terms of providing security of supply, especially in Ukraine;
- draws attention to the global food-price crisis exacerbated by the Ukrainian war and calls on Member States and EU institutions to take the necessary steps to curb excessive commodity speculation and to enhance market transparency;
- stresses that measures must be taken now to support Ukrainian farmers for the next harvest; furthermore, calls for the immediate temporary removal of all obstacles, both administrative and physical, to the movement of agricultural goods with a view to rapidly increasing the volume of imports to the internal EU market, and to other parts of the world such as Africa, in sectors where Ukraine can still export; calls for the urgent reopening of Ukrainian ports and for the area to be de-mined under the auspices of the UN to allow the export of agricultural produce such as corn, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, soya beans and honey;
- calls on the European Council to grant Ukraine EU Membership candidate status at its meeting in June 2022;
- supports Ukraine's accession to the EU, based on merit and in line with agreed standards for accession to the EU; without detriment to the ongoing accession process of the Western Balkans, calls for cohesion policy and its financial instruments to be adapted accordingly in the coming years in order to meet the challenges of the country's post-war reconstruction; calls for a thorough analysis of the economic and social potential of integrating Ukraine into the Single Market;
- the EU, while maintaining standards for membership, can put in place gradual steps in the achievement of the acquis communitaire; underlines that, in the face of any military aggression, unity between EU Member States must remain a rule as regards enlargement policy; encourages exploring other ways for non-EU members to join Europe's economic, social and security architecture; points out, however, that such partnerships or associations should not be seen as an alternative to EU membership;
On support for civil society organisations
- highlights the role of the European Economic and Social Committee in liaising with Ukrainian CSOs and keeping channels with them open thanks to its long history of bilateral contacts between the EU and Ukrainian civil society; in this regard, underlines the achievements of well-established mechanisms, in particular the EU-Ukraine civil society platform and EU and Ukrainian domestic advisory groups, set up under the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement; calls on the EU to support the participation of Ukrainian CSOs in EU CSO networks;
- underlines the need to launch the capacity-building process for Ukrainian CSOs to enable their participation in the process of EU integration and to enable them to shape and monitor this process;
- stresses the need to enhance support for Ukrainian civil society, including employers’ organisations and trade unions, through dedicated EU funds, with a view to keeping them fully operational in times of war; warns against attempts to use the war to justify actions aimed at reducing the level of workers' rights protection and social protection, which will exacerbate the negative economic and social consequences of the war;
- highlights the role played by those European CSOs, that are active in seeking peace-keeping solutions and dealing with the various impacts of the Ukrainian crisis from the social, humanitarian, economic and political points of view; and stresses the importance of providing comprehensive support and assistance for them through EU-funded programmes specifically designed for this purpose;
- pays tribute to the contribution made by CSOs from EU Member States in providing support for Ukrainian refugees, which goes beyond the help provided by relevant public authorities and calls on the Member States to significantly step up their organisational and financial support for these organisations, including from EU funds;
- recommends including youth fleeing Ukraine in EU university exchange programmes and highlights the importance of mobilising Europe's young people, who support European values, and of strengthening their capacity; encourages partnerships between EU and Ukrainian National Youth Councils, as well as exchanges between EU and young people from Ukraine and youth organisations; cooperation could include organising an event focusing on youth activism and its role in the future reconstruction of Ukraine;
- calls for support to food banks playing a crucial role in overcoming the challenges and obstacles of delivering food donations as food aid has become critical to supporting the emergency needs of the Ukrainian population and refugees from Ukraine;
- emphasises the need to continue international support for CSOs from Ukraine and other countries, which are fighting for environmental protection and acknowledges that the conflict will have serious environmental impact;
- underlines the need to enhance support for independent quality media and fact-checkers, including in the EU’s neighbourhood, as they are crucial in strengthening resilience against propaganda and disinformation; calls on the EU to implement a more forceful counter-propaganda campaign, particularly in third countries in Africa and Asia, in order to counteract the disinformation war;
- is deeply concerned about the situation of independent civil society in Russia, as well as of media and journalists providing alternative sources of information to Russian citizens in order to fight Russian propaganda; calls for EU support for those CSOs and individuals who want to continue their activities in Russia and for humanitarian visas for the civil society activists willing to leave the country; points out that a number of Russian organisations are helping Ukrainians displaced in Russia to reach the EU or the western parts of Ukraine and that these organisations need specific support to obtain visas for Ukrainian refugees willing to leave Russia;
- commits to strengthen cooperation and exchanges with Ukrainian CSOs, to continue advocating for maintaining EU solidarity and generosity vis-à-vis Ukraine and is ready to provide its expertise on consolidating social and civil dialogue to the EU and Ukrainian authorities. With that aim, the EESC will be holding an event with Ukrainian civil society and EU civil society on 19 July in Kraków.
Brussels, 16 June 2022
The rapporteurs for the European Economic and Social Committee