Dear Brikena, dear Piotr, dear distinguished speakers and participants on- and offline,
On behalf of the European Economic and Social Committee, I would like to welcome you all to this session, bringing our Civil Society Days to a successful conclusion. The EESC, as the house of the European organized civil society, wished, with this conference, to showcase the crucial work carried out by Civil Society Organisations, be they represented in the EESC or in the Liaison Group.
Let me therefore start with a warm thank you to the Civil Society Organisations that are members of the EESC Liaison Group. Many of them have dedicated much time and energy to organise the workshops and lead the high-level debates. I also wish to thank our EESC members, the sections, observatories and bodies and their respective secretariats that have cooperated to make this event once again a constructive forum for civil dialogue.
The commitment of all of you – organisers and participants - your questions, your suggestions and your challenging criticism will help to make Europe - our economies and societies - more resilient for the future. They will contribute to better manage the transition towards a more prosperous, inclusive, green and digital Europe.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further strengthened the case for a switch to a sustainable and resilient economic model, in which the active engagement of organised civil society is indispensable.
The 7 workshops you have attended during these 3 days addressed many of the main challenges we are facing. Civil Society Organisations play a pivotal role in our ability to cope with them. They are also key players when it comes to promoting and boosting the just transition, when economies shift to sustainable production, while promoting sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation.
To allow everybody to benefit from the changes brought by the twin transitions, these need to be accompanied by effective upskilling and reskilling opportunities to make sure that everyone is included. Education for all ages, lifelong learning and training, must include new skills. Social and citizenship competences and green skills are just some I would like to mention. They are both crucial for economic sustainability. During our opening session on Tuesday, Vice-President Schinas put it in a nutshell: We need a Skills Revolution. For young and old.
The economy we are striving for must be supported by all generations of sustainable entrepreneurship. To make this happen, we also need to upgrade education and skills development for young entrepreneurs, improve access to finance, facilitate technology exchanges and innovation. Sustainable enterprises have a paramount role to play, as they uphold and foster economic viability and social equity while striving for economic prosperity.
In this vein, the EESC also calls for the promotion of the social economy as a key player in the economic landscape: for its values and democratic principles, for its entrepreneurial diversity, and for its role in enhancing active citizenship.
The green and digital transitions must also protect and promote the EU's values and principles. They are the foundation on which the narrative of the European Union is based: a project of peace, security, prosperity and democracy. It is a narrative we have taken for granted over decades of peaceful living within the European Union. Since 24 February 2022, we have seen this narrative at risk. The unimaginable has become reality. Putin's war against Ukraine has changed everything. At the same time, it has brought the very essence of the European project back to life. In the greatest crisis and threat that Europe has faced since the Second World War, the European consciousness is reawakening, the European raison d’être shows, once again, its strength and power.
Last week, the European Heads of State and Government met in Versailles to deliberate on how to deal with what they termed "a tectonic shift in European history". They discussed how our Union can live up to its responsibilities in this new reality, protect our citizens, our values, our democracies. In other words, on how to protect our European model.
As EESC we firmly believe that we must step up our efforts to help the people of Ukraine. We must provide immediate support for people who fled the country, both upon arrival and as they integrate into European society. The role of organised civil society is, once again, pivotal here, as these organisations are active on the ground to provide assistance to Ukrainians and will continue to help when they will need to integrate education, training and labour markets.
This support is being in great part ensured by non-organised volunteers across Europe. Already during the two years of Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed millions of organised and non-organised volunteers strongly and efficiently mitigate the effects of the crisis. Through their work, they have demonstrated that volunteering has both a significant social but also an economic added value which needs to be better measured. It is an important driver for an inclusive growth which fosters solidarity and contributes to the creation of social and human capital.
This is why the EESC has recently called for a European Year of Volunteers in 2025: this could be a concrete way to pay tribute to the millions of engaged volunteers who invest their time and energy day after day for the common good, in a true spirit of solidarity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the past couple of years, we have clearly seen that a thriving civil society offers creative and innovative solutions to common challenges. I firmly believe that a competitive, sustainable, democratic and pluralistic Europe needs a strong civil society. And a strong, a resilient, civil society needs an open, secure and safe environment to operate effectively, to participate in democratic life without restrictions and to contribute to the vision of a shared prosperity, to an economy that works for people and the planet.
A strong civil society needs a vibrant civic space! Particularly since the outbreak of the pandemic, many concerns about a shrinking space for civil society in Europe have been raised. The Conference on the Future of Europe is a historic opportunity to relaunch European integration and to develop participatory democracy. We must now make sure that all the recommendations and proposals that will emerge loud and clear from the EU citizens and civil society organisations, will properly be implemented.
We must ensure transparency and accountability. That is why the EESC recommends the creation of an online dashboard. Such a dashboard would allow citizens to follow up their requests, to check if measures have been adopted, and with which timeline.
In our view, this is absolutely crucial to make this conference a success. If the EU fails to show that it takes citizens' proposals and concerns seriously, disappointment will soon follow. The consequence would be disastrous. After all, this pan-European Conference has been launched to bridge the gap between citizens and decision-makers. Its mission is an invitation to citizens to participate in EU decision making, to co-shape their future.
I am proud to say that with the Civil Society Days, the EESC offers an annual, if not unique, opportunity for civil society, be it organised or not, to make its voice heard, to express its concerns and to suggest and discuss solutions. I am very much looking forward to the outcomes and recommendations from the 7 workshops. Let me reassure you that the EESC will take them on board as much as possible, both in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe as in its own upcoming work.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear Piotr and Brikena,
I have to conclude my statement with an apology. I planned to be with you during the entire closing session – and actually that is why I came in person. Unfortunately, I have to accommodate a last-minute change in my schedule and will have to leave now. To make sure that EESC will be properly informed and represented, I have invited Brikena, who co-chairs the EESC Liaison Group together with me, to report on the outcomes in the EESC Bureau meeting next week.
Thank you for your attention. I wish you fruitful closing discussions.