The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
Ensuring the EU's open strategic autonomy in the future may well require a geopolitical focus, but its social aspects should not be neglected, says the EESC in a recent opinion on the Strategic Foresight Report 2021, which it finds lacking in this respect.
In an opinion on the European Commission's Strategic Foresight Report 2021 adopted at the March plenary, which looks at how to ensure the EU's open strategic autonomy in the coming decades, the EESC says it is convinced that strategic foresight has a role to play in EU decision-making, but it must be open and pluralistic and involve civil society organisations via the EESC.
There are quite a number of civil society organisations which are doing very interesting work around foresight. They are ideally placed to detect weak signals that may be pointing to new, emerging trends, which is what foresight is all about, says Sandra Parthie, rapporteur for the EESC opinion. "And the EESC is ideally placed to channel their insights and the results of their work into the EU foresight exercise."
Foresight is first and foremost a participatory process, and the fact that the EESC was largely involved downstream in commenting on it, rather than upstream in shaping it, robbed the report of the expertise and evidence that the EESC could have shared, says Ms Parthie. Which is why the EESC rapporteur welcomed the Joint Research Centre's early presentation and discussion of the work underway to prepare the Strategic Foresight Report 2022 in a recent meeting at the EESC. She hailed this as a welcome sign that civil society's call was being heard.
Make it more social
The social dimension is one area that the EESC would have liked to be given more prominence in the report.
It is true that the focus of the report is geopolitical, concedes the EESC, which agrees with the Commission on the four global megatrends impacting the EU's "capacity and freedom to act" (climate change and other environmental challenges; digital hyperconnectivity and technological transformations; pressure on democracy and values; shifts in the global order and demography).
The report also touches on issues affecting people in some of the ten strategic areas for action addressed in the report. But the EESC is convinced that social issues are sufficiently important to have a place of their own at the heart of the foresight exercise.
As an example, social security systems are not even mentioned in the report, while technological and economic aspects are at the fore. Given how important social security and welfare are to Europeans, the EESC urges the European Commission to use foresight tools to look into how to finance social security systems in the future.
Mind the war
The EESC also underlines that no strategic foresight exercise can fail to take into account the dramatic impact of the war in Ukraine. This is true for the 2021 and even more for the 2022 foresight report which is currently in preparation.
Obviously the geopolitical situation has changed rather dramatically and 'business as usual' is not an option any more. We cannot imagine a foresight report, which is supposed to inform policymaking in this time and age, without mentioning the implications of the war and sanctions, says Sandra Parthie. The effects of these strategic shifts – from rising energy prices through higher spending for security and defence to new migration flows and insecurity of supplies – must be much more prominent in the upcoming Strategic Foresight Report, stresses the EESC.
Strategic foresight is a discipline which helps anticipate the future by using collective intelligence in a structured and systemic way to anticipate developments and prepare for change. It explores different plausible futures that could arise, and the opportunities and challenges they could present. These scenarios are then used to make better decisions and act in the present.
Strategic foresight has become part of the Commission's core work in the current term, when a new portfolio assigned to commissioner Maroš Šefčovič in Ursula Von der Leyen's Commission. Previously used more as a background to impact assessments or on an ad hoc basis, it is now meant to play a much larger role as a starting point for decision-making, informing the Commission's work programmes and priority-setting.
The annual Strategic Foresight Report is central to all foresight work. It is based on a two-track approach, with the Joint Research Centre providing the scientific underpinning for a European Commission communication.
Each year, the Strategic Foresight Report focuses on a different topic. In 2020 it addressed the issue of resilience and in 2022 it will discuss how to twin the digital and green transitions.
The 2020 and 2021 Strategic Foresight Reports were referred to the European Economic and Social Committee in draft form. Steps are now being taken to ensure that the EESC is involved earlier on in the process so that civil society organisations can contribute their insights to the background work carried out by the JRC.