The future of Europe was high on the agenda of the EESC March plenary, which hosted a debate with Patrick Bernasconi, president of the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council. Luca Jahier, president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), reaffirmed that civil society had a vital role to play in the European project.
We must join forces for the future of Europe and we need to mobilise civil society at all levels, in view of the European elections. They demand, more than ever, our vigilance and commitment. Pointing out that cooperation between all institutions was key, Mr Jahier reiterated the unflinching support of European civil society for the European project, its values and its results.
He stressed that a global strategy at European level was needed, one that covered the 2030 Agenda for a sustainable Europe and focused on the digital revolution and youth.
The sustainable agenda must implement a balanced strategy, capable of integrating the challenges of competitiveness, environmental protection and social inclusion. In addition, we then need to prepare a real digital transformation that will allow European companies to remain engines of innovation and creativity. Finally, young people have to be involved in the European debate and its decision-making process, he specified.
As far as the function of the economic and social committees was concerned, Mr Jahier emphasised the need to innovate and move with the times, because citizens wanted to be able to participate more and make their contribution:
We are the houses of civil society, of Europe at work and we must make sure that we remain relevant, avoiding the risk of turning the committees into a museum or a cemetery, he said.
Referring to the consultation of French organised civil society at the Palais d'Iéna on 18 May 2017, he indicated that the results were very convincing and this important feedback was included in the EESC resolution on the Commission's White Paper on the future of Europe: "The debate on the future of Europe will end at the informal summit in Sibiu on 9 May, where Heads of State and Government will have to give a political answer," he concluded.
Mr Bernasconi was on the same page, echoing the words of the EESC president and pointing out that the committees must serve as an intermediary between society and political power:
We are factors of balance and wisdom, we are actors on the ground and we make consensus possible through dialogue. We act as platforms and we organise consultations, but we have to modernise these instruments for dialogue.
Highlighting his vision of the role of civil society on the eve of the European elections, he maintained that it was essential to regain lost ground and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder:
We need civil society, we must work all together towards consensus and agreement and draw on best practices. Deficiencies have to be corrected and communication needs to be improved. We must be closer to the citizens. But let's not forget the major assets that we have as a united Europe.
With reference to the upcoming constitutional reform in France, Mr Bernasconi underlined that the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council would work to strike a better balance between representative and participatory democracy and thus become the third assembly of the Republic, "the chamber of the future".
Our advice will be to make sure there is more involvement of civil society in the activities of the French Parliament, to make links and to promote better understanding. We will be at the forefront in designing a modern structure and approach for public consultations, he declared.
Citizens are asking to take part, it's important to listen to their views. A rEUnaissance can really happen, but we have to share this ambition.