Staffan Nilsson speaking at the conference "Ireland’s Presidency of the EU- Priorities and challenges"

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The situation in the European Union is more challenging than when I took office as president of the European Economic and Social Committee back in October 2010. And much more challenging than when you last held the presidency back in 2004. I dislike harping on about the "crisis", as it easily becomes just a mantra that we repeat. But now we not only have an economic crisis, manifesting itself differently in different countries, but also a social crisis and crisis of confidence. While dealing with the crisis, we must focus on the future, and on how we can move forward. We urged our leaders to focus on growth and job creation when they were still focusing on budget cuts and austerity measures in my statement on the crisis made last year and in the EESC resolution adopted in February this year. The crises, both in our private lives and in a broader social context, can also provide impetus for change, renewal and progress.

European integration must move forward and be strengthened. We must concentrate on opportunities, growth and jobs, social justice and a sustainable Europe and European Union. And I hope the Irish Presidency will go in this direction when taking the helm of the EU.

The preparations for the UN Rio+20 conference in June 2012 is one of the top priorities at the EESC during my mandate. I made it a priority because governments may be the decision makers when it comes to policy, but it is civil society players - businesses, employees, consumers, entrepreneurs etc. which play the key roles in enacting the change on-the-ground. After a one year long effort of consultations with European civil society organisations the EESC have agreed on a list of messages for EU and world leaders to take on board at the UN Rio+20 summit. We expect that EU leaders will negotiate for a more ambitious global roadmap on sustainable development with targets, timing, financing, legal commitment and follow-up. We have to speak with one voice to both the European public and the rest of the world.

EU leaders and members of the other EU institutions have on numerous occasions paid tribute to the EESC’s knowledge and experience and the added value they bring to our endeavours. The European Economic and Social Committee is there to advise and support the Irish EU presidency, based on the grassroots experience of its members and on its long-standing tradition of cooperation with EU presidencies.

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Staffan Nilsson`s speech at the conference "Ireland’s Presidency of the EU- Priorities and challenges"