Day of the Liberal Professions 2023 – Fostering skills and delivering the Green Deal

Prof. Ralf Niebergall and Rudolf Kolbe

On 2 May 2023, the Liberal Professions Category of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held the 7th edition of the Day of the Liberal Professions in Brussels. This annual event brings together key players from Europe's liberal professions, as well as key policymakers from the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Member States. This year's event was entitled Fostering skills and delivering the Green Deal.

The event was opened by a video statement by Marina Elvira Calderone, Italian Minister for Labour and Social Policies, who noted that professions could help to drive the turbulent period of change being witnessed today. Professionals, governments and the public needed to work together to create inclusive and sustainable growth. In a subsequent video message, Othmar Karas, First Vice-President of the European Parliament, echoed these words by saying that, in these challenging times, the liberal professions were a vital anchor stabilising our economy. Independent, autonomous and unbiased, they provided highly skilled services across the board, for a fair price.

The keynote speech was delivered by Prof. Ralf Niebergall, Vice-President of the Federal Chamber of German Architects. Prof. Niebergall spoke about the ways in which liberal professions could help tackle the climate challenge. The professions were characterised by a combination of a generalist perspective and highly specialised expertise. Thanks to these characteristics, they were well placed to provide innovative solutions, such as more sustainable building concepts.

The first panel discussion focused on Fit for 55, the EU's target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. Milena Angelova, EESC member and rapporteur of EESC opinion INT/979 –  SMEs, social economy enterprises, crafts and liberal professions fit for 55, shared the main recommendations of this opinion. According to her, liberal professionals were drivers of innovation, and a cradle of modern responsibility, thanks to their direct, daily customer contact. Ber Oomen, CEO of the European Specialist Nurses Organisation, spoke about how Fit for 55 was pushing the health sector to innovate for the sake of our well-being. Just as health was a game-changer in the European environment, the environment was a game-changer for health, triggering a new culture in health, for professionals and for the inclusion of skills and behaviour.

The second panel focused on the New European Bauhaus. Daniel Fügenschuh, President of the Austrian Chamber of Architects and Engineers, described how the New European Bauhaus was a creative and interdisciplinary initiative that connected the European Green Deal to our living spaces and experiences. The New European Bauhaus initiative called on all of us to imagine and build together a sustainable and inclusive future that was beautiful for our eyes, minds and souls. Ruth Schagemann, President of the Architects' Council of Europe, set out the architects' perspective on the New European Bauhaus and explained the key role that architects could play in reaching our climate targets by making our homes and offices more sustainable. Susanne Rudenstam, Managing Director at Swedish Wood, gave a concrete example of these fascinating new building techniques. Sweden was a pioneer and world leader when it comes to building with wood, and the rest of the EU had a lot to learn from this revolution of innovative building techniques.

The third panel focused on the European Year of Skills. Friedemann Schmidt, President of the German Association of Liberal Professions, spoke about how training and lifelong learning secured a skilled workforce. Liberal professionals were particularly close to people. Quality services were therefore their core value, and these need to be fostered, which was why training was crucial. Gaetano Stella, President of CEPLIS, addressed the challenges that the constantly changing working environment was bringing to the workforce. Thanks to their skills and capacity to constantly renew themselves, liberal professionals represented a real impetus for the green and digital transitions from which other sectors stood to benefit. Sarah Sherlock, Vice-President of the Council of European Geodetic Surveyors (CLGE), set out CLGE's First Step Programme, which was a concrete example of how organisations could help workers to upgrade their skills throughout their career.

The event's final panel focused on transition tools. Martin Špolc, Head of the Unit for Sustainable Finance at the European Commission's Directorate‑General for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, spoke about the EU Taxonomy Compass and the future of EU taxonomy. By passing the Green Deal in 2019, the EU had set the course for more sustainable investment, for example in areas like renewable energy, biodiversity and the circular economy. To achieve our climate goals, the Green Deal included an investment plan of EUR 1 trillion over the next ten years. Despite this huge investment, the EU also depended on the support of the private sector to achieve the Paris climate agreement. The EU taxonomy aimed to reorient capital flows, with a focus on sustainable investment. Finally, Ilkka Penttinen Fouto, Project and Policy Officer at Eurocadres, focused on training as a tool for transition. He made a plea for a universal right to paid training during working hours. The European Pillar of Social Rights specifically mentioned that everyone had the right to life-long learning in order to maintain and acquire skills enabling them to participate fully in society.