The December plenary of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted a debate with Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight. The discussions, focusing on the EU's priorities for recovery and the European Commission's 2022 Work Programme, highlighted the desire to continue the excellent cooperation between the two institutions.
The EESC and the European Commission need to be united in working together for a Europe that manages to eradicate the pandemic and consolidate the recovery – one that is prosperous, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. This was the main message delivered at the December plenary session by EESC President Christa Schweng and addressed to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission and Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight.
Expressing satisfaction at the fact that many EESC proposals and recommendations, as stated in the EESC Resolution of June 2021, were reflected in the European Commission Work Programme for 2022, Ms Schweng said:
Our priorities tie in closely with those of the European Commission, which we will continue to support in the implementation of its ambitious goals. We also need to make sure that organised civil society thrives and lives in an open, values-based society. Let us join forces to make Europe a truly great place to be and prosper!.
For her part, acknowledging the work done by the EESC, Ms von der Leyen said:
The Committee has always been very supportive and very firm in its mission: to make people's voices heard: the voice of businesses, workers and other civil society organisations. We are and we will remain close partners, both in annual policy planning and for the building of our long-term vision.
Echoing her words, Mr Šefčovič thanked the Committee for its close cooperation with the European Commission, saying that this kept
the bonds between the two institutions alive and kicking and noting that
the EESC members are the best ambassadors for the European Union.
Priority number 1: overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic
Ms von der Leyen said that fighting the pandemic remained the EU's top priority, underlining the need to step up the vaccination rate in Europe and asking the EESC's members to join forces in spreading this important message back home. She stressed that thanks to the EU-level strategy, there was no shortage of vaccines in Europe and that the EU was the world's biggest donor.
Ms Schweng agreed that overcoming the ongoing pandemic remained the most urgent issue, explaining that the EESC had started an information campaign to help increase the vaccination rate, because vaccinations were, without doubt, the best protection against the virus.
Ms Von der Leyen also noted that other important issues for Europe's future were the green transition, affordable energy and related supply chains, the digital transition and the future of work, and social dialogue. In this respect, she pointed out that the pandemic had accelerated changes in the labour market and that if Europe wanted to get the recovery right, social dialogue had to be at its centre. Within the European model of a social market economy, we all worked together, we shared the benefits and we were collectively protected against the major risks in life.
Debate with civil society stakeholders
During the debate, Stefano Mallia, president of the EESC Employers' Group, stressed the need for a favourable regulatory framework for companies to thrive and create prosperity; he called for steps going beyond the occasional impact assessment towards a competitiveness check to reduce the administrative burden on businesses.
Oliver Röpke, president of the EESC Workers' Group, highlighted the importance of solidarity and the social partners in the recovery process, as well as of support for the temporary waiver of patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines in order to help raise vaccination levels in other parts of the world and prevent new variants from spreading.
Finally, Séamus Boland, president of the EESC Diversity Europe Group, pointed out that it was vital to broaden EU competences in the field of health emergencies and cross-border threats to health, and that civil society players had to be allowed to play a key role in implementation of the European Health Union.