Two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which organised civil society has been playing a key role in coping with the countless pandemic-related challenges at all levels, around 400 citizens from Europe attended the 2022 Civil Society Days conference to address, together with European organisations and institutions, the challenges of sustainable prosperity for Europe and to propose timely solutions in light of the crucial political situation that the EU is experiencing. Against this backdrop, the following recommendations were put forward in the seven workshops, each of which focused on a different key topic in an effort to ensure sustainable prosperity in Europe:
Upskilling opportunities for all
- Engineers can transform a world with sustainability challenges. Competences are necessary for engineers to be able to overcome these challenges effectively. We need to train active engineers urgently. GreenComp (sustainability competence framework) is the beacon to guide the upskilling and reskilling of engineers through proper Continuing Professional Development (FEANI).
- As training providers, we recommend focusing more on the recognition of the skills and abilities of third country nationals, and to enriching our societies by better using their full potentials (EVBB).
- Individuals should have full ownership of their education rights in the skills revolution, ensuring universal, yet tailored access to LLL for all. This includes making use of preferential channels like civil society organisations and education providers to reach out to those most in need, and to support a Europe with shared prosperity (LLL Platform).
Intergenerational dialogue between European Union entrepreneurs
- The crucial importance of intergenerational, international, intercultural, multidisciplinary, and cross-sector dialogue and collaboration to co-create a better future for the EU and the rest of the world. The extraordinary added value derived from networks, platforms, connections, and exchanges between individuals and groups, including all segments of the population and fully embracing a greater diversity of backgrounds and beliefs within our organisations. The vital importance of effective and mutually beneficial public-private-social collaboration, leveraging the resources and capabilities of all sectors and empowering citizens to become a part of the solution for our common challenges with the right incentives, and aligning interests.
- We agreed on the opportunity and shared responsibility of all actors to accelerate the transition towards a completely circular economy, with purpose-driven, environmentally responsible organisations that do well by doing good, integrating impact and growth focused on sustainable development under the umbrella of the United Nations SDGs. We need to redefine the way we measure progress, including Key Performance Indicators that not only track GDP but also take into consideration the effects of human activity in the environment and biodiversity, physical and mental wellbeing, access to education, resilience or human rights. A holistic vision of ever-changing and growingly complex ecosystems is the only lens through which we can proactively drive the inevitable systemic transformation, technological, political, and societal disruption in the right direction to help us face the present and future converging health, climate, security, supply, and economic crises. We ought to seek a deep understanding of the current state of the world and the environment, the speed of change, the integration of new technologies, new trends, risks, challenges, and opportunities, and optimise the allocation and leverage of the available human, financial and technical resources at our disposal in order to maximize positive impact. Both the public and the private sectors must act decisively to ensure that we create prosperity for all, improving and expanding access to health, education, and economic development opportunities while doing everything we can to improve the state of the planet, leaving no one behind.
- People and the planet must be at the centre of all our decisions. Companies and governments must put humans at the centre, empowering and incentivising everyone to be a part of the solution for our common problems. We need further citizen and employee engagement and ambitious upskilling, mental health, career development, networking, and collaborative social impact programmes to thrive in the new world; to enhance people's lives and achieve greater results, improve our organisations, reinforce our values, strengthen our societies, and ultimately, make the world a better place in a practical, scalable and measurable way.
Volunteers for prosperity
- The European Commission should take action to declare 2025 the European Year of Volunteers. This would be a way of paying tribute to the millions of volunteers who have demonstrated their significant social role, especially in recent months, and provide inspiration for the EU to expand and create new programmes addressing volunteers of all ages, including in the framework of family volunteering and in intergenerational mentoring programmes. Volunteering is an essential component for European democracy and an expression of European Values. The active engagement of citizens both in practical actions, and in policy development leading to systemic change, is crucial.
- The contribution of volunteers should be embraced as a key part of the cross-sector and cross-field “team effort”, and as a trusted partner for social cohesion and shared prosperity. Volunteering creates amazing human networks, but must be seen as complementary and never replace the responsibility of service provision by public authorities. As highlighted in the European Volunteering Capital competition, good cross-sector collaboration at local level for communities of all sizes and situations has high potential as a driver of value creation, leading to shared prosperity that is crucial for sustainable development, as well as for disaster preparedness and risk reduction. Volunteering is an important part of community resilience. It is crucial for volunteering to be an integral part of community planning for crisis prevention and response. Volunteering in crisis situations needs special attention, planning and organisation.
- We need to develop volunteering policy on an EU level. Currently, there is a volunteering policy, but it is mainly for youth rather than for all generations. Volunteering is not free of charge; we need a much more proactive standpoint regarding the important impact of volunteering on shared prosperity in society by policymakers at all levels, from local to European. Transparent and democratically distributed state funding to democratic and inclusive volunteering initiatives with clear and transparent procedures, is essential for quality volunteering that responds to long term challenges in social cohesion, safety, security and prosperity for all.
Enabling environment for civil society: the case for meaningful participation
- We stand with those suffering as a result of the war in Ukraine, and we as European civil society, including philanthropy, want to help address needs in this context, as well as in the context of building a sustainable economy and future that works for the people and the planet.
- Civil society, including philanthropy space, is challenged globally as well as in Europe, and we welcome existing efforts at EU level – for example in the Social Economy Action Plan and proposals made at the level of the European Parliament (LIBE and JURI Committee proposals).
- In addition, we recommend for EU policy makers to establish coherent (internal and external) European Union civil society strategies, including policies based on:
- better recognition of the sector and civil dialogue;
- enabling legal frameworks and creation of a European level playing field;
- access to public funding and overcoming barriers to cross-border philanthropy;
- monitoring and protection mechanisms at EU level, in case national laws and policy are in conflict with EU law/fundamental rights.
Building a democratic economy for a just transition
- A just transition is only possible if our economies are deeply transformed and reoriented towards social and environmental goals. To reach this objective, EU institutions must ensure meaningful participation of stakeholders in decisions on the European Semester, the European Green Deal, the reform of the EU fiscal framework, the Social Economy Action Plan (SEAP) and other processes, starting with effective social and civil dialogue and using various forms of citizens’ engagement and participatory democracy.
- Trade unions, social economy actors, social movements and climate and environmental organisations have developed important initiatives to tackle the ongoing climate and social crises. We need an EU strategy that supports and scales up existing solutions, such as energy communities, broad just transition alliances and social economy solutions. In the specific case of social economy solutions, catalysed by cooperatives, mutuals, associations, foundations and social enterprises, SEAP and its initiatives offer the opportunity for scaling- up. If today the social economy represents 6.3% of total jobs in the EU, it has the potential to account for 10% of all EU jobs by 2030. It is not about growing for the sake of growing, it is about replicating social and environmental innovations, empowering citizens and producing shared prosperity and wellbeing for local communities.
- To reach climate neutrality and ensure that nobody is left behind, we must build alliances among a variety of stakeholders and across sectors. We call on all actors in the transition to gather in coalitions, to exchange and cooperate in order to ensure a more democratic transformation of our economies. Let’s engage to boost a bottom-up, historic transformation of our economies and societies, a transformation to reach climate neutrality, but also to increase wellbeing, inclusion, and cohesion, and to build an economy that works for people and the planet.
Green Social Market Economy for the Future of Europe
- Europe and the world are again experiencing turbulent times. Again a senseless war is happening at the heart of Europe, an aggression that we deplore, while calling for a rapid cease fire and peace in Ukraine. In these complex times, our present collective decisions will have a fundamental impact on our future. In these dark times, we should underline the positive reply of Europe’s civil society, including philanthropy, which is showing solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
- The social market economy is an essential component of our identity, of who we are as Europeans, and of our EU project as a catalyser of economic and social progress. Today we should strengthen our social market economy, while continuing to play a leading role in the green transition, to achieve the EU’s objective of building an economy that works for people and the planet. We therefore call for a strengthened Green Social Market for a Future of shared prosperity. Our action as Europeans should be holistic and ambitious, ensuring the convergence of key EU policy initiatives and the Social Pillar Action Plan, the Green Deal, the Next Generation EU or the Social Economy Action Plan, among others, and making sure that EU citizens can be the owners of their future by actively participating in the implementation of these flagship initiatives. At the same time, the European Union must be provided with sufficient resources and competences to address environmental and social issues in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. This may need a Treaty change to grant the Union autonomous fiscal powers and spending capacities.
- The social economy is a key player in strengthening Europe’s Green Social Market Economy, with 2.8 million social economy enterprises and organisations – such as cooperatives, mutuals, associations, foundations and social enterprises – placing their activities at the service of people, providing collective solutions to collective challenges, such as the creation of quality jobs for all (including for the most vulnerable), the provision of universal social services, the energy transition, the fight against inequalities etc. Social Economy Action should be a key pillar of Europe’s strategy to strengthen a Green Social Market Economy. Today, the social economy represents 6.3% of all EU jobs; with adequate support it should represent at least 10% of all jobs by 2030.
The Future of Social Protection and the European Welfare State: minimum income schemes and access to quality social services
- Civil society organisations, social service providers and people affected by policies need to be involved in all stages of policy making and in all discussions on future reforms of welfare states and social protection systems: we know the stories, lived experiences and needs of people and give a voice to those traditionally underrepresented in decision-making.
- More needs to be done to guarantee a decent life for all: people in employment need to earn a decent wage and have fair working conditions. People outside the labour market need to be able to rely on minimum income schemes that (1) allow them to live a life free of poverty and exclusion, (2) are accessible to all and (3) enable and empower people’s participation in society. The rights to minimum wages and income should also be backed up by EU legislation.
- Social services need to be affordable & accessible for all: in order to be mutually reinforcing, social services and social protection schemes need to (1) be adequately funded from collective sources of income, (2) guarantee and promote a rights-based approach, (3) be centred around the needs of individuals, (4) support empowerment, autonomy, and independence of the users, (5) support service integration
- and (6) follow an active inclusion approach. There also is a strong need to improve the recognition of those working in services and the resilience of social service providers.