The various sections of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) have joined forces to highlight that the EU's future sustainability requires people's participation and appropriate funding.
A truly sustainable EU will only be possible in future if the whole of society supports and participates in the process and if the right funds are available to allow a just and fair transition. At a debate held in Brussels on 5 March 2020, EESC members stressed that the new Green Deal – the von der Leyen Commission's political declaration on a sustainable Europe by 2050 – needed to be backed and owned by all EU citizens and to match its ambitions with the right financing.
Pierre Jean Coulon, chair of the meeting and president of the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN) which organised the event, said:
We need to bear in mind that it is not by snapping our fingers that we will make all these changes. We need the political will to make the transition happen and we need to focus on the social aspects and financing. Giving the example of the sometimes cumbersome recharging stations for electric vehicles, he pointed out that there were still many challenges ahead and that it was therefore important to be realistic and reasonable.
The president of each EESC section took the floor to emphasise the importance of working together on a crosscutting topic like this, in order to break down silos and seek to improve coordination.
In a written message, Lucie Studničná, president of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI), said she considered the Green Deal initiative to be a huge opportunity for Europeans, while also entailing a large number of potential risks and threats. She said that its implementation through a sectoral approach was extremely important and could hopefully give birth to a new European sustainable industrial pillar. She went on to draw attention to wood, forestry, textiles, construction, steel, chemicals, cement, maritime, electronics and plastics as the priority sectors where industries and workers would face the greatest challenges.
The social dimension of the Green Deal was the focus of the message from Christa Schweng, president of the Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship (SOC). Referring to the Just Transition Fund and to the principle that nobody should be left behind, she made it clear that this mechanism was designed to support change in the regions that were most dependent on fossil fuels or carbon-intensive processes, steering investments and providing support for workers who needed reskilling. She also explained that those Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a social dimension were mirrored in the European Pillar of Social Rights and were already integrated into the European Semester process.
Dilyana Slavova, president of the External Relations (REX) Section, mentioned the impact on trade and relations with third countries, agreeing that the Green Deal was a horizontal tool even for these important topics. More specifically, she said that, in order to make it a success, we needed to share and expand it externally, as broadly and efficiently as possible – in particular to involve our neighbours in the Western Balkans.
Referring to artificial intelligence and the digital market among other areas, Ariane Rodert, president of the Section for Single Market, Production and Consumption (INT), pointed out that the Green Deal was the overarching umbrella for the Committee's future work and that the good cooperation already fostered within the sections would allow it to have an even more meaningful impact. In this respect, she praised the new ways of working, which created synergies by gathering all stakeholders together.
This was echoed by Stefano Palmieri, president of the Section for Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion (ECO). He highlighted the important advisory role played by the Committee, stressing that its strength was the civil society organisations it represented and that the stronger the content of EESC opinions was, the stronger their impact would be.
Peter Schmidt, president of the Sustainable Development Observatory (SDO), was on the same page, highlighting that the EESC needed to advise the Commission in a strategic way if it was to continue to play its role as a key partner in the EU decision-making process. He also stressed that it was essential to include the voice of young people and that, if the Green Deal did not become a social deal, EU citizens would not back it.
The important role played by civil society was also underlined by Brikena Xhomaqi, co-chair of the Liaison Group, who pointed out that sustainable development was not just about the environment, but also required a democratic transition, involving a truly fair and just process that left nobody behind. She said that change could not come if the public were not on board, and that civil society organisations were consistently on the frontline making sure that citizens' voices were heard in the political arena.
The fight against climate change and the protection of biodiversity were high on the agenda for Maurizio Reale, president of the Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment (NAT), who stressed the need for European funds to be made available. He also maintained that the Green Deal was important for both citizens and businesses, but that they all needed to make a commitment, as the responsibility to provide sustainable responses lay with the whole of society.
Against this backdrop, Mr Coulon concluded by emphasising the importance for our future of the choices being made today, underscoring that the involvement of European people was fundamental, in both the private and public spheres.
Achieving sustainability in our lives requires not only that we follow the guidelines proposed by the European Commission, but also that we, as individuals and communities, strongly believe in and implement these decisions in our daily lives. We need to change our habits; we are all in this together.