Meet our members | Maria Nikolopoulou: her involvement in the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform and in mainstreaming gender equality across the EESC

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Maria Nikolopoulou is a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) from the Workers' Group, representing the Spanish trade union Comisiones Obreras. She is currently one of the Vice Presidents of the NAT Bureau and member of the Steering Group of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform.

What drives you to be an active and engaged EESC and NAT Section Member? How do you make the link with your work (and your life) back home?

I believe that if you want to improve things in life, instead of complaining with your friends and family or debating on social media, you should tell your opinion to those who have the power to take decisions and activate change. And this is precisely the role of the EESC, to give civil society a loud voice, so why not grasp the opportunity?  The core issues of the NAT section, especially the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are very close to my heart and the demands of my trade union. Every single one of the SDGs is what we’ve always fought for. Now we have the opportunity to put the SDGs high on the agenda and to push for their implementation.

Since October, you have become one of the three Members representing the EESC on the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform – a successful initiative developed by the EESC in collaboration with the Commission. What are the recent developments of the Platform and where do you see its main potential in the months and years to come?

The European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (ECESP) was established in 2017 to strengthen engagement and action by businesses, workers, consumers and policymakers.

The platform’s mandate was renewed in November 2020 to allow it to continue its role as a "network of networks" cutting across sectoral interests and bringing everyone together to further develop the circular economy by linking policy and practice. A new Coordination Group was also set up, and its 24 members form Leadership Groups on topical issues for sectoral stakeholders, such as on Retailers & Consumers & Skills; Cities & Regions, Circular Procurement, Food Waste, Food systems & Bioeconomy, etc.

It’s an innovative approach - the EESC and the Commission are the facilitators of a common space where different stakeholders co-create ideas and share best practices, thus accelerating the transition to a circular economy.

Ever since the platform was launched there has been a growing interest from different civil society organizations and, as the time goes by, it becomes more participatory. Many of the activities, for example the #EU Circular Talks, and the online events are proposed and organized by people from different organizations. It’s an innovative approach: the EESC and the Commission are the facilitators of a common space where different stakeholders can co-create ideas and share best practices, thus accelerating the transition to a circular economy. This is part of the innovation that I think is required if we want to do things differently. New ways of collaborating, new structures of governance and new people involved in the processes.  

You are also actively involved in mainstreaming gender equality across the EESC. What are the main challenges and opportunities in this area, especially in the context of the implementation of the Agenda 2030 on sustainable development?

The challenges in the EESC are similar to some of the targets defined in the SDG 5 on gender equality, focusing on ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership as well as on ending any forms of discrimination and violence against women.  We cannot force Member States to acknowledge how enriching it is for the EESC to have more women onboard and assign more female members. Fortunately, with the October renovation of the mandate, we’ve seen an improvement in terms of numbers, as we went from having 27.30% of women members to 33%. But there is still a lot of room for improvement to reach gender balance. Internally, we now need to make sure that women have enough opportunities to thrive, get involved in the works of the EESC and occupy higher and visible positions. We’ve made a great start by nominating Christa Schweng as our new EESC President, Giulia Barbucci as our Vice President in charge of budget and Baiba Miltoviča as TEN section President so we need to keep up the good work. And finally, our new code of conduct enhances the fight against any form of discrimination and harassment.