Reconstruction after the pandemic must be an opportunity to rebuild Europe on a new foundation of democratic participation. It would be a huge mistake if the fate and future of so many were to be decided by so few, the EESC 2021 Civil Society Days heard.

The EESC Civil Society Days, entitled "A Sustainable Recovery for the Future of Europe's Citizens'', took place on 1-5 March, offering  five days of interactive online debates involving over 1 400 people, with viewers connecting from as far afield as Africa, Asia, and North and South America.

Speakers saw a silver lining in the pandemic since, despite forcing the Conference on the Future of Europe to be deferred, it had brought to the fore civil society organisations as the mainstay of governments struggling to cope with a massive crisis. What better proof was needed, they asked, that civil society deserved a seat at the table that will decide on the future of Europe?

"I am happy that the Commission attaches such importance to citizens' involvement in the Conference on the Future of Europe" said EESC president, Christa Schweng. "You can count on the Committee to make a substantial contribution to the debates by involving workers, employers and organised civil society, and by being multipliers and ambassadors, bringing the debate into our members' organisations."

Reflecting the leading role played by young people's organisations in the workshops, Brikena Xhomaqi, co-chair of the Liaison Group which co-organised the event, closed the proceedings saying: "I invite everyone to make intergenerational solidarity our currency for sustainable recovery for the future of Europe."

The conclusions of the eight workshops traced a path to a better future for Europe's citizens, stressing the need, among other things, to:

  • strengthen intermediary organisations (civil society organisations, parties, trade unions, etc.), boost civic and digital education and create decision-making citizens' assemblies;
  • raise awareness of the social economy as a viable business model for sustainable recovery that goes beyond profit and helps tackle inequalities and climate change, with funds set aside in the Recovery Plan and NextGenerationEU;
  • invest in culture and education to build a more resilient and sustainable future for Europe. Investing in hard infrastructure in not enough: people must be placed at the centre of the recovery;
  • depoliticise and better explore the option of universal basic income and job guarantee schemes as a feasible solution beneficial for people and for the planet; 
  • give young people the chance to meaningfully participate and stay engaged right across Europe, and to have their voices heard not only on issues specific to youth, but in a variety of policy areas;
  • ensure that the European Green Deal contributes more effectively to eradicating poverty, injustice and gender inequality;
  • accelerate building renovation in Europe by raising awareness of the challenges and opportunities it presents and mobilising civil society groups such as representatives of building owners and architects to achieve the goals of the Renovation Wave in Europe;
  • closely involve civil society organisations in the implementation of the national recovery plans, reversing the trend set in the preparation phase where their participation was limited. The value of volunteering must be understood by policymakers not just in terms of the output of hours invested, but as an expression of European values and a change-making example to others about the society based on solidarity, inclusion and democratic principles that we want Europe to be.

The full conclusions of the Civil Society Days are available here. (dm)