European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was warmly welcomed to the EESC Plenary by Georges Dassis, President of the EESC, who underlined the strong support of the Committee and its members to Commission President Juncker and emphasized the need for the European Union to be close to its citizens, for citizens and for more solidarity in Europe.
President Juncker led a debate on the state of the European Union with EESC Members on the occasion of his second visit to the plenary session.
"Europe is not doing well. However, we too often concentrate only on the bad news. Indeed, unemployment is too high in Europe, but since 2010 the European Union has created 8 million jobs", he declared, highlighting the resistance and flexibility of the Stability Pact to the economic crisis. He then touched on the geopolitical issues and the migration crisis, calling on the Member States to take their share of the burden currently held by Italy, Greece and Malta. "I admire Italy because it saves thousands of lives every day. We must welcome in our territories people who flee war, crimes and persecution." President Juncker also announced the creation of a European Solidarity Corps, composed of 100 000 young Europeans, to be ready by 2020, who would volunteer their help in crisis situations.
Following President Juncker's address, Markus Beyrer, Director-General of BusinessEurope, Luca Visentini, General Secretary of ETUC, and Conny Reuter, co-chair of the Liaison Group with European civil society organisations and networks, were given the floor (see statements on EbS).
Luca Jahier, President of the Various Interests' Group, thanked the Commission President for his determination and for his vision for the future in the State of the Union speech at the European Parliament. "At the next European summit, we would like to see Member States cooperating rather than dividing. Yesterday was the International Day of Peace, and this reminds us that Europe has really worked hard for its peace. But now if we collectively do not help people fleeing war, Europe will lose its soul. It is a shame that Member States are not shouldering their responsibilities."
Jacek Krawczyk, President of the Employers' Group, highlighted that for the economic crisis in Europe "business is part of the solution and business wants to be part of the solution". "It is time to rebuild entrepreneurship in Europe, because it is not for government to provide jobs, it is for enterprises. Europe needs to become less risk-adverse, more innovative, and more entrepreneurial. We need freedom to operate for businesses." Mr. Krawczyk concluded by stressing that "adaptability" is of the utmost importance in the business sector and highlighted "the need for European policies to focus on the issues that really matter to citizens in order to create a sense of belonging to the EU. This is our collective responsibility."
Gabriele Bischoff, President of the Workers' Group, shared President Juncker's analysis about "Europe's existential crisis and its lack of solidarity, unity and a sense of common purpose". She underlined the importance of finding a consensus within civil society, and called for joint actions as "words are not enough". On the Pillar of Social Rights, Mrs. Bischoff said that, although it is still surrounded by uncertainty, "this is a very good initiative to regain trust, citizens' trust. But we have to get out of the Brussels bubble, and that is why the EESC has started a series of debates in all Member States. This is the kind of positive project that will enable us to regain workers' and citizens' support and we must have the strength to influence the future of work."