Ask the President

EESC President

Luca Jahier, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, believes Europe is ready for a new Renaissance. His vision for a rEUnaissance is based on three priorities: sustainable development, peace and reconciliation, and culture. He would like to hear from you. He is ready to answer your questions! Once we have recorded the responses from the President, they will be published online. In the run-up to the European elections, he will also host a number of special Ask the President chats and will reply to your questions live. Now’s your chance to have your question and discuss timely European issues affecting you, your community, your region, your country and OUR EUROPE with President Jahier. Click and Ask!

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Questions answered by the President

Quo Vadis Europa?

It was Jean Monnet who said: People accept change when they are faced with necessity and only recognise necessity when a crisis is upon them. Europe today is facing a multidimensional crisis linked to the many transformations of the 21st century: economic, ecological and energy, social, democratic and participatory, and geopolitical.

The paradox is that in the last 70 years, despite economic ups and downs (the oil crisis of the 1970s and the extremely serious and long-lasting crisis of 2007), it has generated economic growth and prosperity. Yet people have lost sight of this and are lured by populistic movements into a different direction. There can be no doubt that the main cause is the patchiness of the increasingly tentative economic growth. Some regions are getting richer, whilst others are getting poorer; some parts of society are getting richer, whilst others lag further behind. It is this growing imbalance and in particular the perception of it that are undermining social cohesion, and this needs to be corrected immediately.

There is in fact already a solution to this problem. The European Union has a strategy which, if embraced decisively by the EU itself and its Member States, would enable it to embark on a virtuous economic, social, environmental and institutional course.

The 2030 Agenda and its 17 objectives, first adopted at the UN in 2015 and then by the EU, is in sober truth a strategy that would enable Europe to continue to focus on economic growth, maintaining and consolidating its competitive edge and focusing on the virtuous education-research-innovation triangle, but doing so with a view to protecting the environment.

The relevance and effectiveness of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 goals have been highlighted by the tables showing which countries are closest to achieving these objectives. The countries that are best on track to meet the Agenda 2030 objectives are those that have achieved remarkable economic performances. In other words, GDP is not the only indicator of well-being and the Agenda 2030 country ranking demonstrates this.

The current problem is that the populists do not even need to propose alternative solutions: they just have to say that the current situation is a disaster to gain followers. In order to defeat this malaise, we need to initiate and forge a new positive narrative about Europe and revive civic engagement for a sustainable European future. I am more and more convinced that Europe today needs a new Renaissance – a rEUnaissance.

The Renaissance was a powerful and far-reaching humanistic revolution, which re-established the real dimension of culture in its relationship with science, the art of government and the organisation of economic and social life and founded the modern transformation of Europe. To know more read here

What will be the extend of repercussions of Brexit on the life of ordinary people and may the Brexit create a sequence for exit of the other European members?

The situation of the UK withdrawing from the European Union is a completely new one in the history of the EU and sketching out consequences is guesswork. However, we can assume that the impact of the withdrawal will be less heavy on the EU27 than for the United Kingdom. The impact would be dispersed in the EU and, thus, relatively small with the EU having a critical mass, which a single country simply does not have. The EU Member States are stronger together than on their own. One country alone is less resistant to shocks than an integrated economy of 27 countries. However, some EU countries might be more exposed than others, as for instance Ireland being the UK's closest economic partner, or other EU countries geographically close to the UK such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France.

Possible consequences for people's everyday life in the UK might be, for example, disruptions in production and supply chains affecting work and jobs, but also transport and distribution creating bottlenecks and shortages (e.g. in supermarkets). Companies closely linked to continental markets (e.g. car manufacturers and banks) might consider delocalising to Europe. Leaving the EU's Customs Union means price rises due to customs fees. The discussion around the Irish border is potentially reminiscent of the troubled times in Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement, which the EU helped bring about 20 years ago. Approximately 2 million UK citizens live on the continent and many are applying for the citizenship of their country of residence, as they might no longer benefit from the EU's freedom of movement. Such consequences resulting from leaving the EU may put other countries off this idea.

Our Committee follows the Brexit developments closely and we are thinking about the best solutions for close cooperation of our Committee with British organised civil society.

Where would you like to see the European Union in the coming years?

It is the European Union that has maintained peace for decades and it is – to a large extent - also the European Union that helped free 11 Member States from the shackles of communism in a relatively short time and become full members of this Union.

I am not sugar-coating the reality here – it is clear that much remains to be done – but for me, born in 1962 and growing up in the shadow of the Iron Curtain, it is a remarkable achievement  that Europe has been able to overcome this unhealthy separation and I think that we have to do our utmost to preserve this united Europe.

In my view, Europe needs a new renaissance – what I called in my speech a rEUnaissance -in the sense of a revival. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, but we have to open the windows and allow fresh air in, and get Europe up and running again.

How do you see the role of the EESC in the context of the other European institutions?

Since the very beginning, the EESC has taken a stand on all the key EU proposals and has delivered timely opinions to fulfill its consultative task. But, I would like to insist that the EESC does not "only" react to the Commission's proposals. We also draw the attention of the other institutions on issues we strongly believe that the EU should act upon

For this, we have two tools : our own initiative opinion – which we it with good political judgment – and the exploratory opinions, when the Commission, the Council or the European Parliament ask us to adopt opinions.

For the future, I see the EESC working even more closely with the Commission and the Parliament to strengthen synergies and deliver better targeted responses for a digital and low-carbon economy.

The EESC and the Commission are working together since the very beginning of the European project and we have a solid cooperation, cemented both by the and the protocols of cooperation signed by the Commission and the Committee.

Mr Jahier, you have just been elected President of the EESC. What are your plans for the EESC?

The EESC will remain first and foremost what it is, a bridge between civil society and EU decision-makers. It will continue to give people in Europe and organised civil society a voice to influence and impact legislation.

The role of the Committee is clearly defined in the Treaty. However, in times of increasing illiberalism, intolerance, loss of trust in politics and threats to fundamental rights and the rule of law – caused to a degree by some political leaders themselves a strong voice from civil society is today more important than ever.

I am honoured to take the reins of the EESC as it gets ready to celebrate its 60th anniversary. In 1958, our far-sighted founding fathers realised that such a large community could not function nor hold the democratic legitimacy without the proper involvement of civil society--employers, employees, farmers and consumers and many others working to solve challenges on a daily basis.

With our 350 members, I stand ready to improve the EESC’s role in reinstilling unity, dynamism and to make sure it strongly impacts on the future of Europe.

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