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.
Speaking at the EESC Plenary on 16 March 2016, Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, outlined her consultative approach to a common EU foreign and security policy, and the key contribution of civil society to a global strategy.
In her first appearance before the EESC, High Representative Mogherini presented an overview of her work on a ‘Global Strategy for European Foreign and Security Policy’, at the request of the European Council. The High Representative must submit this “Global Strategy” to the European Council on 26 June 2016.
Key to this approach is stronger engagement with civil society, young people, and other key stakeholders, within the EU and outside. The High Representative recognised the important role of the EESC in shaping EU Foreign and Security Policy, seeing the EESC as "part of the EU foreign policy". She invited the EESC to make contributions to the process, and said that the involvement of civil society was key to resolving crises and advancing EU interests and values around the world.
She said: “I believe that a form of constant dialogue is going to be positive for all of us. The work of civil society and what it can achieve in foreign policy is natural to the process.”
The High Representative noted the strong ties that organised civil society had in the European region and throughout the rest of the world: “It is not only institutions that shape foreign policy -- it is also the contribution made by civil society and other stakeholders.”
An EU-wide asylum system
Europe’s interests and values must be achieved in a coordinated, integrated strategy, including in a genuine EU-wide asylum system. This would include a clear definition of who is entitled to it and fair distribution across Member States of those who meet the criteria.
On the migration crisis, High Representative Mogherini said: “We have the opportunity to shape common European policies and instruments to manage a crisis that is not going to disappear. Europe must manage refugee flows in a responsible way.”
She called for an “upgrade” of the EU’s common instruments and policies to deal with the crisis as national policies were not working. The High Representative added: “National immigration policies mean failing individually. Common European policies and instruments will lead us to succeed collectively.”
EESC responses to the High Representative
Speaking on behalf of Employers' Group, EESC member Jonathan Peel, welcomed the High Representative's approach to involving civil society. He called for increased cross fertilization and linkages between key EU international relations policy areas, including trade, energy and transport, for example in response to the Chinese New Silk Road initiative. He urged that the Committee's policy expertise and know-how makes it extremely well-placed to support such cross linkages, and by facilitating contacts on the ground with local civil society organisations.
Workers' Group President Gabriele Bischoff called on the High Representative to send a clear message to EU leaders that the proposed agreement with Turkey “is not acceptable”. She said: “We should not sell our souls and values on unsustainable solutions.”
Various Interests' Group President Luca Jahier called for a global, long-term approach to the migration crisis involving new, stronger alliances between Europe, the regions in the Mediterranean and Africa. He said: “War, extreme poverty and inequalities have become an ever greater threat to world stability. We need to create new alliances for progress.”
Following on from the debate on the High Representative’s presentation EESC Vice-President in charge of Communication Gonçalo Lobo Xavier delivered the EESC’s fact-finding report from 11 countries and its recommendations to Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.
Commissioner Avramopoulos noted that last year alone, well over a million people fled persecution, conflict and poverty in search of a better, safer life in Europe. The majority who reached Europe made their way across the Mediterranean and landed mostly in Greece and Italy – placing excess burden on so-called ‘transit countries’ as migrants attempt to carry on to Germany, Sweden and Austria, among others.
He welcomed the recommendations and outlined measures the Commission was taking to address the migration crisis. He said: “To deal with the situation we need to involve all levels of different stakeholders, including civil society and social partners and I really count on your experience and support to work together.”
The EESC Plenary adopted the report based on fact-finding country visits by an overwhelming majority.