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.
The theme of sustainability is one of the key elements of my Presidency's programme, and the EESC will actively continue the efforts to tackle this topic of vital concern at local, European and global level.
Soil is rapidly degrading in many places across the EU exacerbated by human activity, such as industrial activities, tourism, urban development, transport infrastructure and certain agricultural and forestry practices. In particular, I would like to point to the problem of soil sealing, which significantly decreases the soil's ability to retain water, and in turn, contributes to increased flood levels. In this context, the EESC welcomes the recently published Guidelines on best practice to limit, mitigate or compensate soil sealing.
I would like to address also the issue of soil protection in the context of the EU agricultural policy, given my background as an active farmer. I will highlight its relation to the quantitative and qualitative protection of water resources in the EU.
As it is broadly accepted, good agricultural and forestry practices maintain and improve the soil. Unsustainable agriculture on the other side can accelerate water and wind erosion, drain soil of organic matter and cause loss of soil fertility. For example, overgrazing by cattle and use of heavy machinery can cause soil compaction, and irrigation can lead to salinisation and water logging.
Therefore, the Committee has underlined on various occasions the need for a sustainable use of soil in agriculture, in order to maintain healthy soils and increase productivity, while avoiding erosion, compaction, and decline in biodiversity.
Furthermore, the Committee calls for soil-related standards to be established or further clarified in the context of the overall CAP reform, including an obligation not to plough wetlands and carbon-rich soils. Rural development programmes under the 2nd pillar should include objectives of sustainable management of resources, and climate mitigation/adaptation including by means of soil management.
The Committee is strongly in favour of adopting the previously proposed Soil Directive, in order to address the need for systematic monitoring and protection of soil quality across Europe in an effective and coherent way. Likewise, I would like to point to the revision of the Sewage Sludge Directive, as it is one of the mainstays in soil protection for agricultural land and for ensuring that contamination by dangerous substances does not increase. The EESC has repeatedly called for the introduction of minimum requirements for soil protection in using sewage sludge in agriculture.
The EESC advocates integrating social dialogue. Given its constitutional role, the Committee further tries to stimulate the debate through ongoing exchange of experiences and good practices between regional/local actors and organised civil society. We have to share our knowledge and experiences aimed at:
• a better service to our citizens,
• a better management of the resource, and
• a better protection of our environment.
Staffan Nilsson keynote speech on soil & water at the Green Week 2012