The president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Christa Schweng kicked off the Committee's official activities relating to the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) with a live question and answer debate. #CoFoE - Bringing the European project back to citizens took place on Thursday 10 June and set out organised civil society's views and expectations regarding the Conference. It also highlighted the importance of engaging with people outside the Brussels bubble and brainstormed in preparation for the coming citizens' consultations.
EESC president Christa Schweng opened the event and said that the Committee will conduct outreach initiatives in all Member States so as to guarantee fair representativeness:
We will involve employers, workers and the whole of organised civil society and convey their points of view to the Conference on the Future of Europe. She also referred to the recently adopted EESC resolution on the new narrative for Europe.
Let's make Europe a truly great place to be and prosper, a guardian of shared fundamental values, a global promoter of sustainability, open and fair trade and multilateralism, a haven for a unique economic and social model and a driver of sustainable prosperity. We must and will take this opportunity to bring the European project back to its core owners: its people.
Commission vice-president Dubravka Šuica participated in the event and said that
Politics has changed in the European Union. For the first time ever, the Conference brings citizens into the heart of policy-making in the European Union. Through the Conference, citizens and civil society can together claim ownership of their future European Union.
Ms Šuica gave an overview of the Conference's main tools:
- A multilingual digital platform, which is the entry point for civil society organisations and members of the public;
- European citizen panels composed of randomly selected individuals, representing the diversity of the EU;
- Conference plenaries, where members of the public will be joined by regional, national and European representatives and civil society. Eighteen representatives of both the EESC and the Committee of the Regions, along with eight representatives of the social partners and civil society, will be present.
The Conference plans to have its conclusions ready by the spring of 2022 and the EU institutions will reflect on what Europeans have been saying.
The EESC's resolution on the Conference reflects your strong commitment to ensuring that it delivers for citizens. I appreciate how important the governance of the Conference is for you and your explicit reference to defining the scope and purpose of citizen and civil society engagement, concluded Dubravka Šuica.
The EESC's work on a new narrative for Europe was led by the three group presidents: Stefano Mallia of the Employers Group, Oliver Röpke of the Workers Group and Séamus Boland of the Diversity Europe Group.
Sustainable economic recovery, skills and innovation are priorities for the Employers Group, as Stefano Mallia pointed out when that panel opened.
The Conference on the Future of Europe offers us the unique opportunity to engage in a constructive discussion and to rally around a common vision, just as previous generations did. That still holds true today as we consider our future and as we move from coal and steel to a carbon-free and digital economy. If we want the EU to deliver prosperity and enhance the well-being of our societies, we need to look back and start with our foundations. Mr Mallia also stressed the need to lose no time in finalising the Single Market and embark on the twin green and digital transitions.
Oliver Röpke focused on sustainable social recovery, job creation and the just transition:
The Conference should propose a new vision that puts Social Europe at the heart of reconstruction. Respect for the rights of workers and trade unions, social dialogue, stronger collective bargaining and democracy at work are fundamental components of this vision and the basis for a fair recovery. The guarantee of decent living and working conditions for all, redistribution and upward convergence, good quality job creation and enhanced investments in social protection should be at the forefront of discussions paving the way for a sustainable future.
Séamus Boland advocated for sustainable, inclusive and participative societies:
Everyone has a role to play and is impacted by the objective of European sustainability. I firmly believe that we need to build resilient, equal and sustainable communities and societies with civil society in the driving seat. It will require a very inclusive approach and this inclusiveness must span all EU policy areas. Crucially, we must be very careful not to repeat our past mistakes, but must work with civil society to find the right solutions for our common future.
Cillian Lohan, EESC vice-president responsible for communication, rounded up the discussion by saying that the EESC consultations on the Conference on the Future of Europe will reach every corner of Europe and be as wide-reaching as possible.