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.
Exiled Turkish journalist debates media freedom and human rights with EESC
Following recent developments in Turkey, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) invited Turkish journalist Can Dündar to its Plenary session on 26th April. The former editor-in-chief of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, currently living in exile, called on the EU to stand beside Turkey and the Turkish people in support of media freedom, human rights, rule of law and democracy. The EESC debate also assessed recent developments in Turkey and discussed EU-Turkey relations.
EESC President Georges Dassis said:Your fight is our fight and this appeal for us to defend democracy and freedom is important. I hope it will be heard by our governments, national parliaments and the European Parliament. We will be there to support you.
Please do not leave Turkey alone.Turkey represents the largest prison for journalists today, said Can Dündar. Europe may need Turkey, but if it still attaches a great importance to freedom of thought and press, it should support Turkish people. Europe shouldn’t give up its values in the interest of short-term benefits or goals.
Dündar, who was one of the 5 finalists of the 2016 Shakharov Prize, was arrested in November 2015 after his newspaper reported on Turkey’s intelligence service smuggling arms to rebels in Syria. In May 2016, he was sentenced to five years' jail for "revealing state secrets", and survived an assassination attempt that same day. Still facing an arrest warrant in Turkey, he currently lives in exile in Germany.
Through this debate today, we would like to honour the courage of the more than 150 journalists remaining in jail, the 2,700 journalists who have been dismissed, and the 170 media organisations who were closed down and we ask the Turkish authorities to free the German journalist, Deniz Yücel, who is also detained, said EESC Workers' Group President, Gabriele Bischoff, welcoming Mr Dündar. The EU must address the violation of human rights, severe attacks on freedom of speech, on freedom to associate, and the lack of the rule of law in order also to develop clear criteria for the next steps with Turkey.
EESC Various Interests’ Group President, Luca Jahier, said Turkey is its people, the living force of its society. It is this Turkey that we have to continue working with. We hope to return to a Turkey that is democratic, open to the future, and that respects liberties and the rule of law separation of power – and it is the role of civil society, academia and the media to keep open these avenues of communication and support.
EESC Vice-President Gonçalo Lobo Xavier stated we urge Turkey to work with international journalists' organisations and UNESCO, OSCE and the Council of Europe on working with journalists and insuring, in the interest of Turkey, that press freedom is at the heart of its policy.
Even though the situation in Turkey is difficult, I would like to stress that the EESC will have to continue to have regular contacts with Turkish civil society organisations in order to demonstrate to them our support, and convey their concerns to the EU institutions said Dilyana Slavova, President of the EESC’s External Relations Section.
During the debate, Dündar recommended that EU politicians defend democracy and rule of law and make it a requisite for investing in Turkey. He advised that during official visits to Turkey, they visit jailed politicians and lawyers in Turkey who are stigmatised and risk to be forgotten. Relations with Turkish civil society need to be bottom-up – via local authorities and civil society, as European governments have been taken hostage by their relations with Turkey.
EESC relations with Turkish civil society
Since 1995, the EESC hosts the EU-Turkey Joint Consultative Committee (JCC), which has been active in liaising with civil society and pushing for Trade Union rights and Women rights in Turkey. The 35th JCC meeting was held on 5 and 6 December 2016 in Ankara, and the next one is scheduled for 18-19 July 2017 in Brussels.
The recommendations of the opinion will provide guidelines to the other EU institutions, especially to the Commission, on how to better support Turkish civil society organisations and improve their working conditions.
The EESC still considers that Turkey remains a very important partner and that the political will exists to increase levels of cooperation, but only provided that compliance with the fundamental European values and the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights is ensured. The EESC believes that ongoing developments have rendered the current Customs Union (CU) agreement obsolete and that the parties to the agreement will have to start serious negotiations on strengthening their economic ties by establishing a new type of trade agreement that reflects current needs. The recent adjustments and best practices implemented in various trade agreements have transformed models for sustainability, transparency and the involvement of the social partners and civil society in international trade agreements.
EESC opinion: Enhancement of the EU-Turkey bilateral trade relations and the modernisation of the Customs Union