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Recent events, such as the post-pandemic recovery and war in Europe, have further highlighted the role of a strong and independent civil society in securing a solid and resilient democracy. Ensuring open debate and motivating engaged citizens are essential in this respect. Civil society must continually respond to the major challenges facing our continent. It is imperative that citizens be equipped with the knowledge and skills required to help meet these needs. In this context, the 2023 edition of the EESC Civil Society Days, being held from 1 to 3 March 2023, will focus on issues such as the future of participatory democracy, and the democratisation of the European economy, through a series of eight interactive workshops organised by civil society members of the EESC’s liaison group. This digest presents a selection of relevant publications from the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS).

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1. Can we democratise the European economy through the European Semester?

Democratic institutions and prosperity: The benefits of an open society

  • Briefing by Jerôme Saulnier, Gianluca Sgueo and Ionel Zamfir, EPRS, February 2021

The ongoing structural transformation and the rapid spread of the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are challenging current democratic institutions and their established forms of governance and regulation. At the same time, these changes offer vast opportunities to enhance, strengthen and expand the existing democratic framework to reflect a more complex and interdependent world. This process has already begun in many democratic societies but further progress is needed. Examining these issues involves looking at the impact of ongoing complex, and simultaneous, changes on the theoretical framework underpinning beneficial democratic regulation.

Ten issues to watch in 2023

  • In-depth Analysis by EPRS, January 2023

This is the seventh edition of an annual EPRS publication aimed at identifying and framing some of the key issues and policy areas that have the potential to feature prominently in public debate and on the political agenda of the European Union over the coming year. The topics analysed encompass the 2024 European elections, budgeting in times of crises and war, lessons for public investment in the EU from the EU recovery instrument, the fiscal and monetary policy mix, climate and socio-economic tipping points, the impact of increasing fuel prices on transport, cyber-resilience in the EU, protecting media freedom and journalists, the future of Russia, and geoeconomics in an age of empires.

EU action plan for the social economy: Pre-legislative synthesis of national, regional and local positions on the European Commission's initiative

  • Briefing by Claudio Collova and Nora Milotay, EPRS, December 2021

This briefing forms part of an EPRS series which offers a synthesis of the pre-legislative state-of-play and advance consultation on a range of key European Commission priorities during the latter's five-year term in office. It seeks to summarise the state of affairs in the relevant policy field, examine how existing policy is working on the ground, and identify best practice and ideas for the future on the part of governmental organisations at all levels of European system of multilevel governance.

Further reading

2. Skills and lifelong learning for democratic societies

Proposal to make 2023 European Year of Skills

  • 'At a glance' note by Marketa Pape, EPRS, November 2022

Following European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's announcement in her 2022 State of the Union address, the Commission has formally proposed to make 2023 the European Year of Skills. The aim is to give fresh impetus to lifelong learning, boost EU companies' competitiveness, and help achieve the green and digital transitions in a socially fair manner. Building on existing EU action, the activities of the European year would promote skills policies and investment so as to address labour shortages and secure a better skilled workforce.

Young people in the EU: Fit for the digital age

  • ‘At a glance’ note by Ivana Katsarova, EPRS, July 2022

In 2021, 95 % of young Europeans aged from 16 to 29 reported using the internet every day. However, the share of young people with basic or above basic digital skills ranges from 93 % in Finland, 92 % in Malta, 89 % in Croatia and 87 % in Greece and the Netherlands, to just 49 % in Bulgaria and 46 % in Romania, with the EU average standing at 71 %. Some 76 % of all young people reported that they had performed basic computer tasks such as copying or moving a file or a folder, while slightly lower shares had downloaded or installed software or applications (70 %). However, more technical skills, such as writing code in a programming language, were much less widespread.

Implementation of citizenship education actions in the EU

  • Study by Ex-Post Evaluation Unit, EPRS, August 2021

This European implementation assessment (EIA) was prepared to accompany the European Parliament's Committee on Culture and Education in its scrutiny work on the implementation of citizenship education actions in the European Union. The first part of the EIA presents an overview of the EU policy framework for citizenship education, while the second part presents actions in the field of citizenship education supported by EU funding programmes, in particular the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes. The second part also presents citizenship education policies and practices in 10 EU Member States.

Further reading

3. Civil society space, civil dialogue and funding of civil society

A statute for European cross-border associations and non-profit organisations

  • Study by Klaus Müller and Meenakshi Fernandes, EPRS, May 2021

Examining both the potential EU added value and the drawbacks of the policy options (encouraging cross-border transactions, enhancing social outcomes and increasing economic contributions), this assessment also highlights additional non-legislative measures that could promote specific functions of non-profit organisations in the EU.

A statute for European cross-border associations and non-profit organisations

  • 'At a glance' note by Micaela Del Monte, EPRS, February 2022

During the February 2022 plenary session, Parliament voted on a legislative-initiative report calling on the Commission to put forward a directive on common measures for non-profit organisations (NPOs) and also a regulation establishing a statute for European cross-border associations and non-profit organisations.

4. Civil society organisations' resilience against shrinking democratic space

The shrinking space for civil society in Europe

  • 'At a glance' note by Micaela Del Monte, EPRS, March 2022

During its first March 2022 plenary session, Parliament voted on an own-initiative report of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), advocating new measures to protect and boost civil society organisations' participation in the democratic life of the European Union. Acknowledging the contribution civil society organisations (CSOs) make to promoting the EU values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), and in particular fundamental rights, the report recognises the challenges CSOs are facing, not least in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs)

  • 'EU legislation in progress' briefing by Maria Diaz Crego and Micaela Del Monte, EPRS, September 2022

Over the years, techniques to limit freedom of expression have been refined, in innovative ways, often taking advantage of a legal void or grey zones between legal norms. One of these techniques is that of 'SLAPPs' (strategic lawsuits against public participation), a term coined by George Pring and Penelope Canan in the 1980s to indicate an abusive or meritless lawsuit filed against someone for exercising their political rights or freedom of expression in relation to matters of public interest. The purpose of SLAPPs is not to seek justice but to intimidate, silence and drain the financial and physical resources of the targeted victims.

Further reading

5. Volunteers and resilience

European Solidarity Corps 2021-2027

  • 'EU legislation in progress' briefing by Denise Chircop, EPRS, June 2021

The distinctive feature of the European Solidarity Corps today is that it brings together volunteering, traineeship and job opportunities for young people, with a clear focus on solidarity projects, and uses existing management structures to maximise focus on delivery and performance.

Inclusion measures within the Erasmus+ programme 2014-2020

  • Study by Ex-Post Evaluation Unit, EPRS, September 2021

The main conclusion of this European implementation assessment, based on the findings of two external studies and the analysis of other relevant existing documents, is that the Erasmus+ programme 2014-2020 has managed to strengthen the learning mobility of individuals and the participation of young people with special needs or fewer opportunities in Erasmus+ projects, and to establish inclusion-related support tools for Erasmus+ applicants and beneficiaries. However, the current assessment, together with other evaluations and research, indicates a need to make these categories even more accessible and inclusive.

6. Digital participation and digital rights in the European public space: A focus on youth

Digital rights and principles

  • ‘At a glance’ note by Polona Car, EPRS, January 2023

As digital tools and services are now integral to daily life, the protection of human rights in the digital context has become a top priority, and international organisations are stepping-up their efforts to that end. One EU contribution has been the adoption of the European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles.

The new European strategy for a better internet for kids (BIK+)

  • Briefing by Maria Niestadt, EPRS, September 2022

The way children use digital technologies has changed a lot over the past decade. Most children go online using a smartphone, and do so almost twice as much as 10 years ago. They also use the internet at an earlier age than did children 10 years ago. Although the internet provides many opportunities for kids to learn and explore, to be creative or to interact with their friends and family, it also entails many risks such as cyberbullying, age-inappropriate content, disinformation and sexual abuse. On 11 May 2022, the European Commission published a new European strategy for a better internet for kids (BIK+). The strategy builds on its predecessor with the same name, adopted in 2012. The new strategy contributes to the vision for the EU's digital transformation by 2030 and reflects the principle, 'Children and young people should be protected and empowered online'.

European declaration on digital rights and principles

  • Briefing by Polona Car, EPRS, June 2022

Digital transformation concerns us all, in every aspect of our lives, from learning, working, communicating, doing business, to interacting with administrations, shopping and enjoying culture. The online environment has become very often our first and sometimes our only space for interaction. To steer this process so that no one is left behind, the European Commission tabled a draft declaration on digital rights and principles for a human-centred digital transformation.

Further reading

7. Elections 2024: Debating the EU outside capitals, and the key role of organised civil society

Towards new rules for European elections?

  • 'EU legislation in progress' briefing by Maria Diaz Crego, EPRS, September 2022

In May 2022, the European Parliament adopted a draft legislative act proposing to repeal the 1976 European Electoral Act and replace it with a new Council regulation on the election of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) by direct universal suffrage. The aim is to harmonise a number of rules applicable to European elections, which are currently a combination of the common principles under the European Electoral Act and the different national rules implementing them. Harmonisation would affect several areas, such as the age for voting or standing as a candidate; the electoral calendar for European elections; the principles applicable to the selection of candidates, including from a gender perspective; and the electoral threshold.

Transnational electoral lists: Ways to Europeanise elections to the European Parliament

  • Study by Maria Diaz Crego, EPRS, February 2021

Aiming to feed into the Conference on the Future of Europe and debate in the European Parliament on possible reforms of the 1976 European Electoral Act, this paper from the European Parliamentary Research Service analyses the main proposals to create a European constituency (or constituencies), in which Members of the European Parliament would be elected from transnational electoral lists. Such proposals have been discussed over the years in the European Parliament itself, as well as in other European and national institutions and academia.

Voting and candidacy rights of mobile EU citizens in European elections under Council Directive 93/109/EC

  • Briefing by Irmgard Anglmayer, EPRS, October 2021

Under the arrangements set out in Council Directives 93/109/EC and 94/80/EC, EU nationals who live in a Member State other than their own are entitled to participate in European and municipal elections, respectively, in their country of residence. This concerns an estimated 11 million EU citizens of voting age. Even if Member States have successfully transposed both directives, voter turnout among mobile citizens remains low compared to nationals. Similarly, only a fraction of candidates standing for European elections is made up of non-nationals (slightly over 1 % in the 2019 elections). The European Commission has announced its intention to update both directives.

Further reading

8. The future of participatory and deliberative democracy

Conference on the Future of Europe: Overview of the final proposals

  • Briefing by Silvia Kotanidis, EPRS, November 2022

What should the EU look like in 2050? How do you see your life in 2050? These are just some of the questions that the European citizens taking part in the Conference on the Future of Europe were asked to answer during the inaugural session of the European citizens' panels in Strasbourg in September 2021. Shaping a vision of Europe's future was the task of all participants in the Conference, whether they were institutional actors, representatives of civil society, social partners or randomly selected citizens called on to participate in a European democratic process.

Young people in the EU: Democratic participation and attitudes towards the EU

  • Infographic by Ivana Katsarova, EPRS, December 2022

Today's political decisions have a strong impact on the future of young people. It is therefore crucial to foster their active participation in social and democratic life. Importantly, young people belong to the most educated and digitally savvy of all generations, and are determined to tackle pressing global issues such as climate change. Consequently, they have the potential to leave a significant imprint on the political system.

Strengthening citizens' participation: How the European Parliament is responding to citizens' expectations

  • Briefing by Silvia Kotanidis and Micaela Del Monte, EPRS, April 2022

Aiming to forge a closer relationship between EU citizens and the EU integration project, the Conference on the Future of Europe gave 800 citizens gathered in four panels the opportunity to discuss and formulate recommendations for the EU institutions to follow up.

Further reading

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Topical digest Civil Society Days 2023