Brussels, 24 January 2024


H.E. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

H.E. Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament

H.E. Willem van de Voorde, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the EU

Joint open letter from the EESC’s Civil Society Organisations’ Group and Civil Society Europe: European Institutions must recognise, involve and support Civil Society as part of a structured Civil Dialogue

Dear Ms von der Leyen,

Dear Ms Metsola,

Dear Mr van de Voorde,

The signatories to this letter call on the European Institutions to take real measures to implement the Treaty provisions for an open, transparent and regular dialogue with civil society in all policy areas. The signatories call on the EU Institutions to: 1) initiate an inter-institutional agreement on civil dialogue, 2) establish within each institution leadership positions in charge of relations with civil society and 3) encourage and promote greater cooperation between civic and social actors.

As part of the EU democratic principles enshrined in the Treaties, Article 11 of the Treaty on European Union calls for EU Institutions to maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society. However, in spite of these legal provisions, civil dialogue remains patchy and unstructured across EU Institutions. Civil dialogue has too often been organised on a purely ad-hoc basis and it has been highly variable in terms of quantity and quality, depending on the policy area, the European Institution or Member State.

The value of civil dialogue was once again brought to policy-makers' attention, when it was recognised by the Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which comprised members of the public, representatives of the EU Institutions and advisory bodies, elected representatives at national, regional and local levels and organised civil society. The final report of the Conference, issued in May 2022, urged for "…reforming the way the European Union works by better involving social partners and organised civil society. Strengthening the existing structures in order to better reflect the needs and expectations of EU citizens in the decision-making process…" (proposal 39, in the chapter on European democracy). You will also recall proposal 36, the objective of which is to "increase citizens' participation and youth involvement", amongst other things by "strengthening cooperation between EU legislators and civil society organisations to utilise the link between decision-makers and citizens which civil society organisations constitute".

The signatories to this letter hereby urge that these recommendations be followed up with an ambitious approach. They are strongly convinced that fully harnessing the potential of involving civil society organisations (CSOs) in policy-shaping will require a more structured approach at EU level. [1]

Therefore, they jointly call on the European institutions to:

  1. Initiate an inter-institutional agreement on civil dialogue[2], providing structure, regularity, transparency and inclusiveness for civil dialogue in EU and national policy-making as part of the full implementation of article 11 (1) and (2)[3] of the Treaty of the European Union[4].
  1. Within this framework, establish the post of "Civil Society Coordinator" in each Directorate‑General of the European Commission, similar to the proposed "Social Dialogue Coordinators". Furthermore, EU Institutions should establish leadership positions in charge of relations with civil society. A European Commission Vice-President should take on the task of dialogue with civil society and the role of the European Parliament Vice-President in charge of contacts with civil society should be strengthened. The Council Secretariat and, at national level, European Parliament and Commission Offices should also establish a regular dialogue with civil society. Introducing direct channels for CSOs to engage in the EU policy-making process can lead to more targeted and effective policies in all fields and socio-economic issues.
  1. The signatories fully respect the prerogatives of the social partners in social dialogue, tripartite negotiations and collective bargaining. At the same time, civil society stakeholders have extensive knowledge, expertise and networks in communities and societies, therefore the signatories believe that civil society actors when appropriate, should have their voices heard. After all, effective and responsible civil society organisations can cooperate with governments, employers' and workers' organisations in promoting rights at work, encouraging job creation, implementing the ecological and digital transition and strengthening social protection.

The European Institutions have all the necessary tools at their disposal to commit to and make considerable progress on these proposals ahead of the European elections in 2024. A first step in this direction could be a European Commission Communication on strengthening civil dialogue at EU level and a Proposal for a Recommendation on promoting civil dialogue in the Member States, similar to the initiative on Strengthening social dialogue[5] and as a follow up of the Annual Report on the implementation of the Charter on Fundamental Rights[6]. This would also be in line with the call for a Civil Society Strategy[7].

The signatories to this letter stand ready to work in partnership with the Institutions in order to define the key building blocks and requirements to put these proposals into practice.

Yours sincerely,

European networks

National organisations

Members of the EESC's Civil Society Organisations' Group

Annex: Detailed list of signatories

[1]            The call for signatures for this letter was open between September and November 2023.

[2]            As called for by the EESC (SOC/672) and civil society organisations (cf. Civil Society 2024 EU Elections Manifesto – For better civic space and civil dialogue).

[3]            Treaty of the European Union TEU, Art. 11.

[4]            The EESC has repeatedly called for the implementation of art. 11 TEU, Cf.: the EESC's resolution United for Democracy, adopted by the EESC plenary in March 2023; the conclusions and recommendations of the EESC's Civil Society Organisations' Group conference Civil society organisations defending and strengthening European democracy on 30 March 2023; EESC opinions SOC/605, SOC/639, and SOC/672.

[5]            "Commission sets out concrete actions for greater involvement of social partners at national and EU level",

[6]            European Commission annual Report on the implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights: A thriving civic space for upholding fundamental rights in the EU.

[7]            EESC SOC/672 and the Final Report of the COFOE (proposal 36 (8.)).


Open Letter and Annex: Detailed list of signatories