Dear President Paidas,
Dear Members of the Parliament,
Dear Vice-President Schinas,
Dear esteemed speakers and participants,
I would like to warmly thank you for your invitation to this very important and timely event.
I also take this opportunity to highlight and thank the colleagues from the Greek Economic and Social Council for the very solid and long-standing cooperation with the EESC. We are regularly working together on different issues and occasions, like for example in the context of the European Semester. I would also like to thank you for your strong commitment in the network of the national ESCs and the EESC, particularly during their annual meetings.
Finally, let me congratulate the Greek Economic and Social Council for your very committed and successful work during the crisis, which has strengthened the role of your Economic and Social Council, as I understood.
It is a great pleasure and an honour for me to speak in front of you for this public consultation on the Future of Europe.
I am sure that the outcome of this event will be a cornerstone in Greece's contributions to the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Greece, and Athens in particular, has been the cradle of democracy in the Western world, so what better than being here in Athens, over 2000 years later, to discuss a democratic model for an European Union fit for the 21st century?
The question we are facing is simple, and yet very complicated: what do we think of the European Union and what do we want for the future of our Union, 40 years after Greece joined what was then called the European communities.
We need to learn the lessons from the past; this will allow us to improve and take forward the Union which keeps us together. The question of democracy and the involvement of organised civil society is an important point in this exercise.
In these 40 years, so many things have happened, from the financial crisis in 2007-2008 to the Brexit referendum in 2016, from the migration crisis in 2015 to the COVID-19 pandemic. We faced many difficult times; along the way the EU lost some of the trust that is needed for the good functioning of our democracy. We now have to earn this trust back.
We all wish to achieve a resilient, strong, competitive prosperous, green, digital and social Europe. There are many challenges on the way.
We have seen the importance of this even very recently, with resistance to vaccination all around the continent being present in people and in places where trust, especially in institutions, becomes weaker.
At the EESC, we believe that shaping a successful future of the European Union calls for all of us to join forces at all levels and to work together.
We will need to be efficient and able to take decisive actions. Maintaining a good level of communication and transparency towards citizens is a pre-requisite.
The world is becoming more connected, integrated and complex. It is also increasingly more exposed to the effects of climate change, and we know we are going to face a long period of uncertainty where cohesion will become a necessary element for success.
The European Union showed an unprecedented level of solidarity with the adoption of the NextGenerationEU, the recovery plan worth 800 billion euro. The EESC has strongly supported its adoption and the idea that these funds will be used to emerge stronger from the pandemic, transform our economies and societies, and design a Europe that works for everyone.
Now of course the key priority will be to make sure that the funds will be invested as quickly and as efficiently as possible in all Member States.
The EESC is monitoring the implementation of the national plans linked to the Recovery and Resilience Facility – the main component of NextGenerationEU. We saw that, when these national plans were adopted, there was a clear lack of involvement of organised civil society in most Member States, though this is obligatory. The EESC has reiterated its call for a much more concrete involvement of civil society in the implementation and evaluation of reforms linked to the national plans. This is clearly an opportunity that cannot be missed! Listening to civil society improves policies, and makes them match the actual needs of employers, workers and civil society at large. This is bringing national and EU policies closer to citizens.
Indeed, today many European citizens see the EU as far away from their lives: they do not understand how it works, and they do not speak its jargon.
They also do not simply want to be the passive objective of institutional communication; they want to be involved in ways the can feel active participants.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is the opportunity to remedy to these issues and give an active role to all citizens.
At the European Economic and Social Committee, we believe that the Conference will only be a success if we manage to involve and get the EU closer to its citizens and make them rediscover an emotional link with the EU.
The European project was a gift of peace in a continent battered by centuries of wars.
This is not enough anymore, we need a new shared narrative, a narrative which does not only look at the past as a reason to stay together, but also and foremost to the future.
At the EESC, we tried to put together that narrative, we tried to imagine that future and we portrayed it in our recent Resolution on a new narrative for the EU.
We want our Europe to be
• a guardian of shared fundamental values,
• a global promoter of sustainability, open and fair trade and multilateralism,
• a haven for a unique economic and social model based on fair competition and solidarity in an area without internal borders,
• a driver of sustainable prosperity.
Civil society organisations and national Economic and Social Councils like yours have a key role to play to stimulate discussions and collect contributions from each EU country – because we need to reach out to more people, to the "silent majority"; we see that citizens' participation on the digital platform is far from being satisfactory: some 30.000 participants is really not enough for the whole EU.
We also need to make sure that this whole exercise is not an empty one, and that people's ideas and requests receive a follow up from the EU decision makers and are turned into concrete action.
That is why, I proposed the creation of a dashboard. We need to show, in all transparency, what are the proposals stemming from the Conference on the Future of Europe, what is the follow up that is given by EU institutions and what is the timeline for reform measures. And if no action is taken on some ideas, the reasons must be explained.
As the house of the organised European civil society, one of the main priorities of the EESC for this Conference and I believe one of the keys to its success is to define a new narrative for Europe, one that puts civil society back in the driving seat.
It is for this reason that the EESC, after supporting the organization of the Conference since day one, now is participating in its Executive Board and Plenary and has launched a series of consultations in all EU Member States.
These consultations will continue until the beginning of the next year.
Our aim is to ensure organised civil society is properly involved, as we believe this is a necessary part of any dialogue with citizens. Proper involvement of organised civil society is going to be THE key element in translating citizens' voices into concrete measures to improve the functioning of the EU.
The EESC will follow the timeline of the Conference and will present its conclusions in spring 2022.
The end of this exercise, I see as a starting point for concrete work on concrete reforms. Especially, I do hope we can come to a joint understanding of EU democracy, where organised civil society is properly involved by default when decisions impacting the daily lives of employers, workers and civil society at large are taken.
In conclusion, I would simply like to reiterate the importance and timeliness of today's event in the context of all the activities related to the Conference on the Future of Europe, and the importance to deliver a concrete contribution.
I am looking forward to the debates! Thank you.