The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
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EESC plenary provides European platform for successful European Citizens' Initiatives
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) gave the floor to the ''End the Cage Age'' European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) at its 23 January plenary, held in Brussels, providing a European level platform for it to express its goals and concerns about the welfare of farming animals.
Isabel Caño, EESC vice-president, welcomed Olga Kikou, coordinator of the initiative, congratulating her on the successful ECI: it had gathered more than 1.5 million signatures over 21 European Member States within one year and was now undergoing the Member States' certification procedure.
The End the Cage Age initiative, which would probably be the sixth successful ECI, was presented at the EESC plenary before being officially forwarded to the European Commission, an indication of the high level of trust that the Committee enjoys amongst European civil society.
The executive vice-president of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, not only opened the 2019 ECI Day last April, but also presented the revised ECI tool, making it easier to collect signatures for citizens' initiatives. We will always keep our doors open and we support citizens' initiatives as a unique instrument that allows people to voice their concerns through an official channel. We are looking forward to the 2020 ECI Day on 25 February, said Mrs Caño, as she invited Mrs Kikou to present the ECI.
Compassion in world farming, the organisation behind the ECI campaign, was established back in 1865 by Peter Roberts, a British dairy farmer who was worried about modern farming methods. Animals were able to suffer and feel pain, and they could enjoy the company of others and have feelings of joy and negative feelings too; this demonstrated that they were sentient beings, said Mrs Kikou, underlining that the Lisbon Treaty recognised animals as sentient beings.
Based on that and the fact that many people, including some celebrities, were very much interested in animal welfare - a growing animal advocacy movement had gained importance over the years – the End the Cage Age initiative was asking the European Commission to propose legislation to phase out and eventually ban the use of cages in animal farming.
We want to make sure that the European institutions will act upon citizens' expectations. At national level, we are trying to raise awareness and secure support from countries. There are number of alternatives, said Mrs Kikou, we are working together with farmers to teach them sustainable farming. We are not against them, we are not for banning meat; it is just that cages don’t belong in the 21st century.
Christophe Lefevre, president of the ECI group at the EESC, took the opportunity to reaffirm the EESC's continuing commitment to improving the ECI instrument – something that emerged in a very practical way at the annual ECI day – in order to make it more user-friendly and ensure that it had a genuine impact. These efforts were finally bearing fruit.
EESC members commented that, in the interests of both consumers and farmers and of sustainable farming, all aspects – such as meat imports and the financial impact on the single market – had to be carefully examined before any further action was taken.
The European Citizens' Initiative entitled "End the Cage Age" was registered by the European Commission on 11 September 2018, the date on which the twelve-month period for the collection of one million signatures began. By June 2019, the initiative had already collected over 1.1 million signatures. The collection closed on 11 September 2019. The organisers are currently certifying their signatures in the Member States and will submit the successful initiative to the European Commission for an official reply, preceded by a public hearing at the European Parliament. It is expected that the initiative will be submitted to the European Commission in May 2020.