Enlargement Candidate Members' Initiative

Call to EU Candidate Countries' Civil Society
Call to EU Candidate Countries' Civil Society

Candidate Countries' Civil Society to join the EESC's work

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) launched a call for expressions of interest, inviting representatives of employers' organisations, trade unions and civil society organisations from EU candidate countries[1] to participate in the EESC's pilot project and become "enlargement candidate members" (ECMs). This initiative made the EESC the first EU institution to offer the candidate countries a specific opportunity for involvement and participation. The initiative is designed as a one-year pilot project for 2024 and will be evaluated in December 2024.

What is the EESC?

The EESC is an integral part of the EU: it was set up in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome to advise EU decision-makers and ensure that civil society organisations and networks across the continent have a say in Europe's development. The EESC is a unique forum for consultation, dialogue and consensus between representatives from all sectors of organised civil society. These organisations often act as intermediaries between decision-makers and the public, offering an avenue for people to play an active role in bringing about change or to support specific causes for the common good. The EESC's aim is to help ensure that EU policymaking and legislation is more democratic and more effective and genuinely reflects the needs of EU citizens. A significant number of EU initiatives for legislation must be submitted to the EESC for a mandatory opinion before their adoption.

Based in Brussels, the EESC is made up of 329 members from all 27 EU Member States. The members come from all social and professional backgrounds and have a vast range of knowledge and experience. They represent employers' associations, industry, chambers of commerce, associations of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), trade unions, consumers, farmers, liberal professions, disability campaigners, academia, women's rights groups, environmentalists, cooperatives, youth organisations, human rights organisations etc. In total, the EESC brings together around 250 organisations and networks at national level, representing millions of EU citizens. The EESC is made up of three groups: the Employers' Group, the Workers' Group and the Civil Society Organisations' Group.

What is the role of "enlargement candidate members" (ECMs)?

"Enlargement candidate member" is an honorary title, which shows support and consideration for representatives of civil society in the EU candidate countries, without conferring on them the status of EESC member. Therefore, the concept of ECMs is distinct from membership of the EESC as defined in Articles 300 to 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFUE).

The ECMs:

  • would participate in the entire drafting process of selected EESC opinions: from study groups (where they would be able to provide input into, understand, analyse and comment on the proposals) to section meetings and plenary sessions, which conclude the EESC's process of developing an opinion;
  • would provide input into the drafting process of a number of selected EESC opinions (legislative, exploratory or own-initiative opinions) on topics where their participation is especially relevant such as important legislative opinions related to enlargement, opinions on issues of pan-European and global importance, and flagship EESC opinions of a general nature;
  • would not be members of the Committee and would not form part of the assembly;
  • would not represent the Committee and would not be authorised to speak on its behalf;
  • may not be given the role of president of a study group or of rapporteur/co-rapporteur;
  • would not vote on opinions in section meetings or plenary sessions or be able to table amendments.

The ECMs would also participate in a dedicated enlargement plenary, which would have the objective of taking stock of the implementation of the initiative but would at the same time be an opportunity to perform a "civil society health check of human rights and democracy" in the enlargement countries and assess the conditions for civil society in the candidate countries.

What was the selection process for becoming an "enlargement candidate member" (ECM)?

The EESC reviewed and selected candidates for ECMs. The objective was to create a pool of potential ECMs. The organisations, and the candidate(s) proposed by the organisation, were selected against the criteria set out below. The procedure for selecting ECMs differed for countries having bilateral bodies stemming from EU association agreements[2] and countries with whom there is no such body. The existing bodies serve as part of the pool of ECMs for each candidate country. Other civil society organisations were added to the pool through this procedure.

In the selection process, in order to create a pool of civil society organisations per country, the following was taken into account:

  • participation of the specific organisation in national civil and social dialogue;
  • participation in national or international networks;
  • adherence of the organisation to the EU values enshrined in Article 2 TEU;
  • the need for a gender balance and the presence of representatives of youth organisations;
  • preference will be given to people who speak at least one of the official languages of the EU.

The EESC made sure to achieve a balanced and diverse pool of ECMs, representing three groups and different segments of civil society.

What are the next steps?

  • April/May 2024: Start of ECMs work on selected opinions
  • September 2024: EESC Plenary on enlargement
  • December 2024:  Assessment of the project

List of selected organisations to be included in the pool of ECMs.

[1] Albania (ALB), Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Georgia (GEO), Moldova (MDA), Montenegro (MNE), North Macedonia (MKD), Serbia (SRB), Türkiye (TUR) and Ukraine (UKR).

[2] EU-Montenegro Joint Consultative Committee (JCC), EU-Serbia JCC, EU-Türkiye JCC, EU-Ukraine Civil Society Platform (CSP), EU-Moldova CSP.