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War on European soil, post-pandemic recovery, democratic values under increasing pressure on both sides of the EU's borders: these seismic shifts have left no doubt that civil society organisations are more important than ever – for both social cohesion and democracy in Europe. A strong, independent and diverse civil society is a key ingredient in ensuring a resilient democracy, able to safeguard both our fundamental rights and the integrity of our democratic way of life.
A solid and resilient democracy needs an open and informed debate on each issue affecting its citizens. It also needs its citizens to be engaged and its civil society to actively provide a safe space for all. In today's permanently challenged political environment, citizens' participation is often questioned or even under threat. Strengthening their voice in the EU's decision-making processes is not an option but a must.
Organised civil society is continuously challenged to adapt to the life-altering changes we never expected to see. And at a time when attention is diverted towards the twin transition and the energy crises, the EU must address the resurgent existential threats to democratic values. Skills – be they vocational or social, technical or key competences – can help all of us, at any age, not only to cope with each wave of crises, but also to inspire people in the role they can craft for society to move forward. This, in turn, enhances genuine democratic participation and advances both communities and social life.
Drawing on the outcomes from the Conference on the Future of Europe, we must invest in civic education. Now more than ever. Because after the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, democracy will have changed. We need to make it fit for the future.
In an open and inclusive conversation, we will debate questions like: How do we see participatory and deliberative democracy in the future? How can we democratise the European economy? How should civil society be funded? What do digital rights mean to citizens? What skills do we need?
Against this backdrop, the 2023 edition of the EESC Civil Society Days will bring together citizens, organised civil society and the European institutions under the theme “Civil society organisations: a pillar of democracy and a key player to overcome current challenges”.