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.
In my work programme as the President of the EESC, my goal is to consolidate the social dimension of the EU: improve employment conditions and promote social integration, fighting the poverty and exclusion that are afflicting vulnerable groups across all of Europe.
A social Europe is a Europe with a society that combines economic growth with high living standards and good working conditions, or at least decent jobs and worthy living conditions for all. A social Europe is a society that cares about its most vulnerable.
'Social exclusion and the Labour market. What can the EU do to improve access to jobs for those furthest away from the Labour market?'
Nowadays, more than ever, a social care has become one of the main European concerns. The crisis has affected the most vulnerable groups of society: homeless persons, young people, single parent families, immigrants, elderly and uneducated people, and people with disabilities, who suffer more than others from the crisis. For example homelessness is an extreme and very damaging form of poverty and social exclusion. It is growing everywhere and I can see it in Stockholm as well as in every other European member state.
Europe that does not invest enough in social care is an obstacle to the sustainable society described in the Europe 2020 strategy.
What is the main purpose?
To fight against the fact that the most vulnerable people can fall into the endless trap of extreme poverty and social exclusion;
One of the actions is to give those people a decent position in the society. This means, first of all: to have a decent job.
This means that the target for the EU-wide employment must be supplemented with measurable targets for specific groups, such as the long-term unemployed, women, older workers, people with disabilities, and especially young people.
The EESC has called for a European stimulus package for the labour market policy and recognises that the "Compact for Growth and Jobs" adopted at the European Council summit of June 2012 is a first important step in that direction. However, results still need to materialise.
The EESC has also adopted several important opinions over the past years regarding vulnerable people. Some of the central recommendations from the EESC are:
The employment of vulnerable people must be an integral part of the European Employment Strategy. The employment situation of workers in Europe is complicated, but that of people with disabilities, or socially different workers is even more difficult, so an inclusive market must be strengthened.
The crisis is making the situation of people with fragile social and educational profiles on the labour market even more difficult in two ways: Firstly, the entry into the market will be more difficult, and secondly - governments will tend to adjust their public deficits by cutting all types of assistance and pensions.
The EESC warns that the vulnerable people cannot be the main victims of the crisis, and opposes any cuts in their assistance.
The social partners play a crucial role in enabling vulnerable people to enter the labour market by means of collective bargaining and to fit into companies. They also help implementing diversity policies and negotiate diversity plans in agreement with employers, who must be offered incentives to move in this direction: corporate social responsibility policies can be used to this end. The EESC consequently welcomes the successful conclusion by the European social partners of the negotiations for a new autonomous agreement on inclusive labour markets.
The EESC reaffirms that people with differences and disabilities are as qualified as any others to get a full working life, and that their skills should not be underestimated.
The EESC supports a market that is inclusive for all, and points out that employment policies for people excluded from the labour market must focus on the entire life process relating to employment ("life-streaming"), and in particular on education, recruitment, staying in employment, and re‑employment.
Social benefits and tax systems should be adjusted so that entering the labour market does not entail a loss of purchasing power for people with social differences, difficulties, or disabilities and so that they provide motivation to work in fairly-paid, high quality jobs.
The EESC is firmly convinced about the advantages of funding employment rather than unemployment benefit, and of the value of encouraging those the furthest from the labour market and those with disabilities to want to obtain employment, employers to recruit them, and self-employment among them.
The EESC calls for awareness-raising policies to combat persistent stereotypes regarding workers with differences, social difficulties or disabilities, and highlights the role of the media in ensuring acceptance of diversity.
Civil society and social partners must be involved at every stage in shaping and implementing employment policy. This is key to develop the aforementioned right recipes and to successful policy coordination. The EESC will continue to champion this message during 2013, the European Year of Citizens.
Getting people back to work: the contribution of skills development to finding and remaining in employment
Unemployment rate is still rising at a worrying speed and signs of recovery are shaky. Young people, who represent our hope for the future, have particular problems with entering the labour market and keeping a stable job.
Sustainable jobs creation is a policy area that the EU cannot drive directly, but it is also its major priority. The EU has to invest in this area to boost the real economy and to contribute towards paving the way for growth and jobs.
On 25 September last year, the European Economic and Social Committee held a major civil society stakeholder' conference, "Step up for a stronger Europe", We had a comprehensive debate on the future of Europe with a specific focus on what can be done to boost employment and in particular youth employment.
There is a need to reinvigorate the Europe 2020 strategy through determined action. For that purpose, we need an agreement on a European budget that allows members states to get Funds to supports their employment policies, especially when it is about strategic investments or cohesion policies. This is my first message. The crisis has demonstrated its seriousness over the last two years.
When we talk about getting people into the labour market, or indeed back to work, we need to talk about vocational education and training (VET). This is key to bringing people back to finding a job and remaining employed. But we also need to look at the transition from education and training to the labour market.
Development of skills that are relevant to the labour market must be supported, through active cooperation between the world of employment and institutes of education and training. Placements in enterprises and traineeships as well as voluntary service programmes are important means for young people to acquire skills and work experience. In particular, the dual system of apprenticeship as it is known from countries such as Germany and Austria should be applied much more broadly in Europe. Countries with dual vocational training systems have a significantly lower unemployment rate among younger people than countries without such systems, a fact that speaks its own clear voice.
In Europe, in order to create sustainable and decent jobs, knowledge and new skills are needed. And this entails a bigger focus on making the VET a more attractive alternative to attending university.
Part of the solution lies with more efficient and up-to-date VET systems that improve skills and employability of workers, improve mobility and a better forecast of skills needed. A lot has been achieved at European level but there is still a lot to be done. The first steps have been taken towards making an overall forecast of future skills deficiencies and towards measuring learning outcomes and the satisfaction of VET end-users.
The Youth Guarantee could help pushing things in the right direction, but it obviously needs to be accompanied by concrete efforts:
We have to continue a modernisation of existing systems and improve the image of VET, so that more students and workers become attracted to learning and upgrading their skills and competences.
Quality apprenticeships and internships should consistently be integrated into learning curricula.
Employers should be able to find people with the necessary skills – in other words: employability should be improved.
Marrying formal education with non-formal learning on a larger scale will benefit all, but especially disadvantaged groups.
Finally, civil society should be more involved in VET measures in order to create synergies between initiatives at European, national or sectorial levels. The Committee will be honoured to assist in this process.
I am convinced that this meeting will provide us with an opportunity to look back at what has been achieved or not yet achieved, in order to inspire further progress.