The organisation of the annual ECI Day - which I hope will remain a landmark in years to come with more and more partners on board - is also clear proof of our commitment to initiate dialogue on this tool. Last year's event was only a small seminar to celebrate the launch of the ECI process, but it attracted many people.
We have also supported the ECI process by hosting technical working groups on the online signature collection software, bringing together IT experts and ECI organisers to see what can be improved on (participants will hear about the ongoing work during the afternoon's panel).
This afternoon we would like to make an assessment of the work we have done together and I would like us to have an open and honest debate about the way forward for this group to function in the best way possible. Thank you very much for the four contributions we received to our questionnaire. We wanted to survey all members before this meeting, but I believe this format, this space and time is also a good opportunity to assess and talk about the future prospects. It is also my last meeting as co-chair of the EESC Liaison Group.
This is the fourth edition of the Civil Society Day, so this initiative is rather young however with a solid ground. And let me tell you why. The Civil Society Day is the living proof of a partnership which is dear to me and to many of us in the EESC, a partnership between the EESC and European civil society expert networks in the form of what we call the Liaison Group. It is in the Liaison Group meetings last year that the civil society alliance for the European Year of Citizens was conceived and took form. This alliance is our partner for this conference and its members, European networks and national networks are here with us today.
The European Economic and Social Committee is pleased to invite you to a comprehensive exhibition designed by Deyrolle pour l'Avenir,celebrating the European Year of Citizens and exploring the meaning and implications of citizenship.
The European Year of Citizens in 2013 is an unparalleled opportunity for the European
Economic and Social Committee (EESC) to underline the direct role of Europe’s 500 million citizens in building unity and prosperity, fostering integration and nurturing social solidarity.
The EESC believes that there is much more to European citizenship, and that a political system such as the EU must cultivate and strengthen the political, social and cultural dimensions of the Union. If we want people to feel truly connected to Europe, we need to develop their ability to exercise political power ("power" in the sense of participation in governance). We can develop that ability by providing knowledge about the political system and using mechanisms that allow for participation from the bottom up.
It has never been so important as it is now to put citizens and European citizenship at the heart of the EU agenda. And indeed, as the title of this conference says, we must make the most of the European Year of Citizens.
Citizenship has been central to the development of the EU project; it is the very essence of our democracy; it is linked to the idea that the European Union works when we enjoy certain rights and when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.
We were all happy when the European Commission designated 2013 as the European Year of Citizens. Citizens play a central role in Europe’s future and integration. What could be more appropriate and timely to dedicate a European Year to them?