Meet our members | Antje GERSTEIN: Permanent citizens councils would be the perfect platform for youth to engage and be more vocal

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Antje GERSTEIN, member of the NAT section of the EESC

Antje GERSTEIN has been a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) from the Employers' Group (Group I) since 2000. She is the managing director for European Policy/Sustainability at the German Retail Federation (HDE). Currently a member of the NAT and INT sections, she is also involved in the EESC activities fostering the role of young people in climate and sustainability-related decision-making.

What drives you to be an active and engaged EESC and NAT Section member? How do you link it to your work (and your life) back home?

Representing the German retail sector in my professional life, I do have a strong interest in the policymaking that is happening in the NAT Section. Retail is the last and most visible link in a highly complex supply chain including wholesalers, manufacturers, processors and primary producers such as farmers. To meet consumers' needs and continuously changing demand, retailers' competitive positions also depend on sustainable supply chains.

I consider it a fantastic opportunity to be able to engage in dialogue with representatives of organised civil society and work towards a mutual understanding of how to tackle the challenges we face regarding the transition to a net-zero European Union. I believe this is what makes the EESC a real asset: specialised networks and expert cooperation among representative groups of our societies.

The challenges are multifaceted: we advocate a green deal that entails a social deal. We aim for sustainable consumption and have to make sure that we supply consumers with the goods they demand, at prices they are willing and – above all – able to pay and which provide value for money across the entire range of products.

As a member of the EESC ad hoc group on the Conference on the Future of Europe, what is your take on the outcome of the conference?

After a bumpy start with a lot of frictional loss due to procedures, we managed to deliver a final report that is quite substantial. We were pleased that we achieved a clear commitment to competitiveness, which is at the heart of prosperity and wellbeing in Europe, by giving special attention to a "competitiveness check" and to SMEs as the backbone of our economy.

In my view, we should now make full use of the possibilities the Lisbon Treaty already provides before embarking on a new Convention for a Treaty change that might further rock the EU, which is already facing the consequences of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Citizen engagement was impressive, skilful and promising for the future. It clearly demonstrated that Europe is in people's hearts. I truly hope that politicians will be able to make use of this broad support for the next European elections in 2024.

If some kind of permanent citizens' councils are established, these would be the perfect platform for young people to engage and be more vocal. But generally, my biggest wish would be: please start to equip schools with European knowledge and skills.

You are also involved in the EESC activities fostering the role of young people in climate and sustainability-related decision-making, notably through the organisation of dedicated Youth Roundtables. In your view, what are the essential components to ensure that the views of young people are more structurally considered by the EU institutions?

From what I have seen so far, young people are already very much making sure they are heard. Let's see what kind of follow-up we get to the Conference on the Future of Europe. If some kind of permanent citizens' councils are established, these would be the perfect platform for young people to engage and be more vocal.

But generally, my biggest wish would be: please start to equip schools with European knowledge and skills. I have seen it with my own kids: they had been taught practically nothing about the European Union during their school career. We should engage much more with schools, teachers and students and provide upskilling on European policymaking.