This opinion seeks to analyse the impact of the emergency measures aimed at limiting unemployment, supporting income and helping businesses, with a particular focus on the SURE instrument. The EESC considers SURE as a positive and innovative financial instrument which delivers on European solidarity to preserve jobs, provide income support to workers and support businesses, as well as a tool for integration and socio-economic resilience in the EU. It is proposed that a SURE observatory is set up for as long as the financial instrument is in operation, involving the social partners and other civil society organisations. The EESC also fully acknowledges the positive results of SURE highlighted in the Commission's report of March 2021 and endorses the proposal for its stabilisation in support of workers and businesses as a tool for the EU's integration and socio-economic resilience in times of crisis such as the current one.
This opinion provides with the EESC's views on the new EU Strategy on voluntary return and reintegration, a key objective under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The EESC welcomes the strategy as a management tool that seeks to improve coordination and Member States' shared objectives in the field of migration governance. It also agrees with the Commission's approach of further reviewing and harmonising the existing instruments, in order to, among other things, improve the fragmented approach to the issue, reduce the costs of return and increase the funding allocated to programmes. The EESC however continues to hold the view that the strategic weakness of the European Union's immigration and asylum policy is its almost exclusive focus on tackling irregular situations, whether at the border or through voluntary and forced returns.
In this opinion, the EESC recalls that media freedom, including the safety and security of journalists, and media pluralism are cornerstones of liberal democracy. It therefore notes with regrets that the developments within the EU are alarming and calls for urgent steps by Member States and the EU, including through the use of the new general regime of budget conditionality. The EESC welcomes the broad range of reports and initiatives by the European Parliament and the Commission, including the Commission's plan for a "European Media Freedom Act". It also supports measures to increase the safety of journalists and underlines the necessity of a legal ban on Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The EESC supports the idea of a European Agency to bolster media skills of EU citizens through educational programmes. It also proposes the creation of a fully independent European public service broadcaster.
The EESC is deeply aware of the horror of human trafficking and the harmful consequences for its victims and supports all measures to fight and eradicate it. It supports the intention to establish minimum standards at EU level that criminalise the networks involved in trafficking and exploiting human beings, and the use of services arising from the exploitation of trafficking victims. The EESC proposes that involvement of CSOs and social partners be incorporated into the Strategy and that these organisations be properly supported.
Trade Policy Review - An Open, Sustainable and Assertive Trade Policy
The EESC welcomes both the Strategy on the Rights of the Child and the Child Guarantee, and considers that their implementation will help support efforts at European and national level aimed at promoting children's well-being and reducing child poverty. This opinion calls for the consultation and involvement of organised civil society, children's and family organisations, amongst other stakeholders, in the drafting of national action plans and their monitoring mechanisms. The EESC recommends all Member States to earmark ESF+ funding for lifting children out of poverty, with the designated 5% taken as a minimum. Furthermore, it recommends them to grant free access to early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities and healthcare or grant these services free of charge.
The EESC welcomes the new EU Disability Rights Strategy, acknowledging that it is a clear step forward compared with the previous one. It is however concerned about the lack of binding measures and hard legislation implementing the Strategy.
Among other recommendations, the Committee regrets the lack of specific actions addressing the needs of women and girls with disabilities and calls for a specific flagship initiative in the second half of the period of the Strategy. It also calls for the full involvement and participation of organisations of persons with disabilities in the proposed Disability Platform. As regarding the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), the EESC feels it should be strongly linked to the Disability Strategy and used to help persons with disabilities recovering from the pandemic.
The Own Resources Decision (ORD) entered into force on 1 June, enabling the Commission to start borrowing resources for the Next Generation EU (NGEU) recovery instrument. For the EESC, a well-functioning funding strategy is key for the smooth implementation of NGEU. Sound and sustainable funding and solid risk management are in the very interests of civil society. Moreover, borrowing and debt management has to be based on democratic control, legitimacy and transparency.
The EESC stresses how important it is that the Commission manage the funding strategy directly and does not outsource this. The massive engagement on capital markets will be accompanied with a broad set of risks. The EESC supports the establishment of solid risk-management systems and the holding of the 'NGEU account' with the ECB.