Civil Society Days deliver timely discussion on shared prosperity in Europe and beyond

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The Civil Society Days 2022 brought together citizens, civil society organisations and European institutions to debate and address the challenge of ensuring shared prosperity. This major challenge has never been more crucial for Europe as the impacts from the Russia-Ukraine war emerge and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt, speakers emphasised.

The Civil Society Days 2022 took place at the EESC on 15-17 March under the overarching topic: “The EU as a driver of shared prosperity – civil society for an economy that works for people and the planet" and saw the participation of some 400 people, with speakers from EU institutions, national governments and some of the most prominent civil society networks in Europe taking the floor.

Discussions in plenary sessions and seven thematic workshops focused on how EU civil society can help build a thriving economy that leaves no one behind in the new context shaped by COVID -19 and the war in Ukraine, against the backdrop of the twin green and digital transitions.

The debate we are having today could not have been more timely, said Christa Schweng, President of the EESC, who opened the conference.  While the EU is still grappling with the pandemic, it has had to deal with a crisis of a very different nature – a war on its doorstep.

We must ensure that our future is prosperous, inclusive, sustainable and value based. The EU founding narrative of peace, security, and prosperity has never been more relevant than now,” she added. “One of our biggest challenges to achieving this objective remains ensuring a balanced recovery throughout the EU while establishing a path towards a resilient and sustainable future.

Skills for a democratic future

Margaritis Schinas, Vice president of the European Commission for promoting our European way of life, stressed two effects of the war in Ukraine that were key for civil society: the emergence for the first time of a Europe-wide public opinion together an unprecedented European unity and solidarity with Ukrainian civil society facing the Russian invasion.

On the central topic of shared prosperity, he emphasised that access to training and lifelong learning must play an integral role in building a Europe of shared prosperity. This will become even more crucial as millions of Ukrainian refugees join the EU job market and the education system.

We need a skills revolution that is massive and democratic, he said. Upskilling and reskilling should be basic human rights available to all, regardless of age or social status. This is necessary to achieve competitiveness and shared prosperity and to democratise our society and economy.

During the discussion that followed, conference participants made it clear that these opportunities need to be accessible for young and old alike and in both rural and urban communities. The unemployed need to be included in such opportunities, along with retraining those with a current job.

Reflecting on the challenges ahead and how the EU can best serve the people fleeing Ukraine, those at the conference reiterated that Europe must act using the lessons learnt from previous conflicts such as the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015-2016 and the Bosnian conflict of the nineties.

Participants also agreed that the social economy must be a second major pillar in Europe’s approach to sharing its prosperity fairly. Social economy enterprises can better support the inclusion of women, young people and vulnerable workers, and civil society plays a huge role in the sector, which according data quoted by Mr Schinas represents 10 % of paid employment in some EU countries.

Dubravka Šuica, Vice president of the European Commission responsible for Democracy and Demography, joined participants in voicing solidarity.

Current events in Ukraine remind us that we can never take our democracy for granted,” she said. “We have to work on it together, every day, at all levels. We need the rich contribution and participation of citizens, with our civil society partners. Issues concerning the social market economy and the green transition are also reflected in the recommendations made by citizens in the Conference on the Future of Europe.

New visions of prosperity

Seven workshops took place during the conference, generating the following conclusions:

  • We need a skills revolution ensuring access to life-long learning for all. Preferential channels like civil society organisations and education providers should be used to reach those most in need.
  • We need to rethink how we measure progress, considering the environment and society.
  • Volunteering has a high potential as a driver of value creation leading to shared prosperity.
  • To achieve meaningful participation, civic spaces must be protected.
  • We need an EU strategy that supports and scales up existing solutions developed by social actors.
  • The social economy is a key player in strengthening Europe's Green Social Market Economy.
  • Access to social protection systems is a key element for fairer societies and fundamental for a productive, healthy and active workforce.

‘Peace’, ‘security’ and ‘equity’ were the primary words participants chose to best describe shared prosperity in a poll during the event.

Brikena Xhomaqi, Liaison Group co-chair, closed the conference by saying: Shared prosperity is very much linked to democratic societies. We should build a learning society. If we wait again for a crisis – a pandemic or for this war to get worse – we will fail our citizens.

The Civil Society Days are held in cooperation with the Liaison Group, a platform bringing together the EESC and civil society networks organised at European level. The latter’s contribution alongside that of the national civil society organisations represented in the EESC helps ensure that the EESC’s work reflects all of Europe's organised civil society.