Dear Vice-President Jourová
Members of the European Parliament
Members of our Committee
And OF COURSE
Dear ECI organisers (past, current and future),
Friends and partners from civil society
Welcome to the 2023 edition of the European Citizens' Initiative Day, organised by the
European Economic and Social Committee in cooperation with our partners:
- the European Committee of the Regions,
- Democracy International,
- the European Citizen Action Service,
- the ECI Campaign, and
- Bertelsmann Stiftung.
Welcome to all of you joining us here, in the EESC – the house of organised civil society, and I am also glad to welcome all those who could not come to Brussels, but who will follow and participate in today's discussions online.
In my inaugural speech as newly-elected President only a few weeks ago, I called for us to speak up for Europe and to stand up for democracy.
Democracy that lies at the heart of the EU's identity. Democracy, an integral part of our European way of life. For a democracy to work well, the broadest possible and most active citizens participation is essential. It is a must- not a nice to have.
I am proud to say that since its birth 65 years ago, our Committee has been providing a platform for citizens and stakeholders to participate and make their voices heard in the EU decision-making process.
The Committee has thus become a pillar of participative democracy that is not only complementary to representative democracy, but a fundamental element of it.
In today's world, citizens and civil society – rightly – expect more direct involvement in democratic processes and decision-making.
The Conference on the Future of Europe has a clear outcome: to influence the EU's policy priorities and work programme. It also showed in practice the significant added value of participatory democracy. And this wish should not only be heard but also listened to.
I am firmly convinced that the EESC, as the house of organised Europe's civil society, is the best place to anticipate and raise the concerns of citizens.
Therefore, I would like to assure you that the EESC will continue to play in full its dedicated role as facilitator and guarantor of participatory democracy. As such, it will also help to further enhance the visibility and role of European citizens' initiative as a participatory tool.
The European Citizens' Initiative (ECI), which has brought us here today, is an EU flagship instrument of participatory democracy, allowing at least one million EU citizens from at least seven Member States to call on the European Commission to propose legislation.
With 12 annual ECI Day conferences, the creation of the EESC's Ad hoc Group on ECI, the publication and dissemination of thousands of copies in multiple languages of the European Democracy Passport, as well as by setting-up an interinstitutional ECI network, drafting opinions, hosting partnership events and inviting ECI organisers to its meetings and plenaries, our Committee has demonstrated its full support for this unique and innovative trans-national feature in the participatory democracy toolbox.
And we will continue to strive for even more. Since last year, the EESC has been able to adopt own-initiative opinions on successful initiatives before the Commission adopts its respective decision.
In February of this year, our Ad hoc Group on ECI drafted a Recommendation contributing to the ongoing Commission review of the way the ECI functions.
And just one month later, an official ECI Facebook group was launched by the Commission, responding to the EESC's call to strengthen the ECI's presence on social media. Currently, our ad hoc group is looking at how to further increase synergies between the EESC's work and the initiatives.
And ahead of the EU parliamentary elections in 2024, the EESC aims to organise the very first edition of its Civil Society Week, streamlining three flagship events – ECI Day, Civil Society Days and the Civil Society Prize – into a single higher-profile week-long conference.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2023 is the European Year of Skills.
Skills are needed not only in an economic context, but also in a political one to involve citizens, and in particular young people, meaningfully and successfully in participatory democracy.
And here I would like to stress that young people need to have a say on decisions that directly or indirectly affect both their present and their future. We must give young people more room to voice their opinion.
And we have to encourage and upskill them – as we have to do for other generations – to make use of this powerful, unique tool to influence policies that ultimately impact them.
Political skills thus acquire special importance in relation to an ECI.
During today's event we will therefore focus on the skills that organisers need to make their initiative a success. This includes practical tips and recommendations in the form of several "how-to" workshops.
At the same time, 2023 is the year in which the Commission is drafting its first report on the functioning of the ECI tool since the entry of the new ECI regulation into force in January 2020.
Drawing on practical experience – and here I count on all of you – today we will also discuss ways to enhance this unique tool itself to make it an easy-to-use, successful instrument with a true impact on EU policy-shaping.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before inviting Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová to address you with her opening remarks, I would like to thank you for joining the European Economic and Social Committee and its ECI Day partners today.
I wish you a rewarding experience, full of inspiration, new skills and involving ideas to "stand up for democracy and speak up for Europe!"