In an opinion debated and adopted in plenary, the European Economic and Social Committee renewed its request for reform of the European Semester. The opinion, which draws on a recent consultation undertaken in 23 different Member States, calls for an EU regulation to make civil society involvement in the cycle mandatory. The EESC insists that economic reforms should be based on social factors and no longer solely on economic indicators. The process of country-specific recommendations (CSRs) must also be reviewed to encourage Member States to take the lead in implementing them.
The European Semester is the annual six-month cycle of economic, social and fiscal policy coordination between the Member States. Following the COVID-19 crisis and the adoption of NextGenerationEU, Europe's largest ever stimulus package, it now also monitors the national recovery and resilience plans (RRPs). However, while it has played an important role since its introduction in 2011, the Semester has also shown significant weaknesses.
Through this opinion, the Committee once again proposes a solid reform in order to strengthen the Semester's transparency and democracy, the involvement of organised civil society, and the effectiveness of its operation, explained EESC rapporteur Gonçalo Lobo Xavier during the debate.
The EESC's work is the fruit of a consultation of organised civil society via a questionnaire as well as country visits carried out in 23 different EU Member States between January and March 2023. The opinion, particularly its annex, includes a number of specific actionable proposals.
EESC President, Oliver Röpke, said
The EESC has always emphasised the need to reinforce and revise the European Semester, and to strengthen its effectiveness. We need to know and we need to ask ourselves what are the best practices that add value to this instrument; and what are the barriers that prevent civil society from being heard. Our aim is to create more transparency, to raise awareness, and mobilise civil society to enhance their involvement in the process.
The call for reform is supported by Estrella Durá Ferrandis, member of the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs:
We must rethink a Semester that is now obsolete. We need new governance and investment instruments based on justice and solidarity.
The Committee states that the existing systems of indicators must be reviewed, complemented and made consistent with each other, thus helping to improve evaluation procedures.
Rapporteur Javier Doz Orrit added:
One of the recommendations for the Semester process is that the country-specific recommendations (CSRs), should cover a period of three years, with annual evaluations and reviews, in order to facilitate the processes of national ownership. We believe that the most appropriate incentive to comply with the CSRs is to link their implementation to the EU budget and to receive part of the funds from it, along the lines of the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
Third rapporteur on the opinion, Luca Jahier, continued, stating that
a crucial element for such reform is the proposal for the adoption of an EU regulation that would define the principles and general characteristics of structured and permanent involvement of organised civil society. This would be done while at the same time respecting the fact that it is up to national legislation.
This regulation should establish basic criteria and principles concerning issues such as timetables, public access to documentation in due time and form, government responses, and a roadmap for implementing agreements.
Dragos Pîslaru, chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, pointed out that
on a par with economic coordination, we need social convergence. Decisions, awareness and results in policy-making are better when the social partners are consulted. We have evidence of that. Now we must work together to make sure that the Commission's latest package includes proper representation of civil society.
The EESC's ad hoc group on the European Semester will hold its annual conference on 26 September 2023, and will continue its work on an overhaul of the European Semester.