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.
The Economic and Social Committee calls for new EU-ACP partnership that puts civil society in the driving seat
During its Plenary session today, the EESC put forward recommendations on how EU trade, aid and development mechanisms should be reshaped to be more effective in dealing with current and future challenges in relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. These recommendations will influence the new framework that will replace the current Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA), signed by 79 ACP countries and the EU and due to expire in February 2020.
Despite some successes, issues such as extreme poverty, gender inequality and environmental degradation persist across the regions concerned. At the same time, new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015, aim to mobilise all actors and be universally applicable.
In order to effectively implement the SDGs and deliver better outcomes to both ACP and EU citizens, the EESC wants a new framework recognising the importance of political dialogue in fostering civil society participation in the whole development process. The EESC believes that the role of civil society should also extend to monitoring and assessing the impact of the implementation of the future agreement, and to undertake this role civil society should receive the necessary financial support.
Ahead of the vote on the relevant opinion, the EESC held a debate with Joseph Chilengi, President of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC) and Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.
Mr. Chilengi welcomed the EESC opinion, urging for change: "We are at a crossroads – the EU and the ACP group should decide whether they should conduct business as usual or either terminate or rejuvenate their partnership. There are signs that the ACP group is not a priority for the EU, and the partnership between the two rests on weak political foundations and long-standing decisional impasses".
Mr Mimica stated: "The Cotonou agreement is the EU’s strongest example of turning political will into a concrete framework. It is now time that we work together to find the best model for the future of our relationship and should shift the paradigm from a negotiation to dialogue. In drafting our joint development policy, we should refer to the Sustainable Development Goals. We aim to link these goals to the EU consensus for development by the end of this year".
"Future partnership must embody the 'partnership of equals', which recognises the universality of challenges across EU and ACP countries: income inequality, youth unemployment, climate change and more. In joint cooperation and as equals, EU and ACP partners can strive to solve development challenges in both the EU and ACP states," said Brenda King, EESC rapporteur on the opinion on the future of EU relations with ACP countries. The 'partnership of equals' approach will enable relations with the ACP countries to be based on a coherent and integrated EU external policy, transcending the donor-recipient relationship.
Blueprint for a future partnership
The recommendations for the new ACP partnership are, first, to be in line with the SDGs, which include 169 targets that aim to end poverty and hunger; to ensure access to affordable and sustainable energy; to build resilient infrastructure; to combat climate change, and to promote equal access to justice for all. The EESC believes the SDGs provide a framework for achieving joint objectives that have global reach.
Secondly, development funding should be used to build capacity for better use of domestic resources. According to the OECD, every US$1 of overseas development assistance spent on building tax administration capacity has the potential to generate thousands of dollars in incremental tax revenues. ACP countries should also be supported in their industrialisation and in the processing of their raw materials and commodities for local, regional and international markets.
Further, future cooperation must address the serious shortage of skilled workers in fast-growing sectors, one of the reasons why ACP countries export raw materials that are then processed elsewhere. These countries also need their own experts in order to tackle developmental challenges, including climate change.
Finally, the EESC strongly recommends that EU development aid should fall under the same legal framework as the community budget, and be subject to democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament.