On 19 July, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a high-level conference on relief and reconstruction of Ukraine, at which it pledged its full support for the war-ravaged country on all fronts
With war fatigue kicking in and solidarity seeming to wane as Europe braces itself for the harshest winter in decades, European civil society remains committed to helping Ukraine on its path to recovery and to "building back better" in line with Europe's core values.
At its conference held in Krakow, the EESC – the EU body representing civil society at EU level - stressed that it would continue advocating for ongoing EU solidarity towards Ukraine.
EESC president Christa Schweng commended the
concrete support for Ukraine shown since the beginning of the war by European civil society across the Member States, and above all in Poland. The EESC chose to hold the conference in Krakow
to pay tribute to this heartening solidarity, as well as to express our closeness to those who are working on the ground every day.
The EESC said it was keen to work closely with Ukrainian civil society, social partners and the authorities to assist the country through the lengthy and demanding accession process, with the final goal of it one day becoming a fully-fledged EU member.
In his welcome address, Dimitris Dimitriadis, EESC member and president of the EESC Section for External Relations, which co-organised the conference, said:
We are here to declare that the EESC is ready to support Ukrainian efforts to become a EU member.
The conference was opened by Ms Schweng and by the deputy mayor of Krakow, Andrzej Kulig.
Ms Schweng stressed the pivotal role played by civil society in managing the refugee crisis and called for immediate European and international financial assistance to save the Ukrainian economy, keep it operational in times of war and make it stronger and resilient in the future.
The reconstruction of Ukraine is a one-off situation that should lead to the development of a stronger civil society and of a new economy, based on the latest green and digital technologies. As the EESC, we are dedicated to strengthening cooperation and exchanges with Ukrainian civil society organisations, the EESC president declared.
Stressing that Krakow had passed the test of solidarity by welcoming thousands of refugees, Mr Kulig said:
We are quite concerned about what will happen in the future. We can express our great hope that the world will preserve European values, which are humanitarian values as well. This time, this brutal and ruthless force will not trample upon them like it did in the past.
The conference brought together high-level EU, Polish and Ukrainian officials, together with representatives of civil society organisations, including trade unions and employers' organisations, from both the EU and Ukraine.
The aim was to discuss the efforts undertaken so far by the grassroots level to directly aid those in need on the ground, including refugees, internally displaced people and those who have never left despite Russia's brutal aggression on their country.
It also looked at ways of directly helping the Ukrainian economy cope with the devastating effects of the war, amid gloomy projections of its GDP dwindling by some 45% in 2022. This calls for nothing short of a new Marshall Plan to help rebuild the country from scratch, in a green and sustainable way but also in line with the European labour and social rights.
Apart from unprecedented financial costs, which the current estimates from the European Investment Bank already put at EUR 1 trillion, recovery and reconstruction will also require full mobilisation of civil society, which, conference participants said, will be able to make use of its expertise on the ground to spearhead the implementation of reforms and rebuilding efforts.
Together against solidarity fatigue
The speakers in the high-level introductory panel warned against losing momentum for helping Ukraine.
Agnieszka Ścigaj, Minister-Member of the Council of Ministers, Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland, called for European unity in the face of Russian aggression:
Poland is on the frontline, but without the support of the EU and Member States and without the belief that we all have to help and come up with solutions, we will not be able to deliver. We need to show partnership, understand our common problems and have common funding. Only in this way will we be able to stop the aggression.
Jerzy Buzek, MEP and former president of the European Parliament, said:
There is no place for Ukraine war fatigue. It is our common responsibility that Ukraine remains on the European agenda and that each and every one of us works together on its path to the EU.
Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian journalist, political commentator and opinion maker, stressed the need to have objective and independent journalism in Ukraine:
This is as important as having the Ukrainian government and armed forces. To have this, we need the EU's support and international programmes. Without freedom of speech and high-quality information, without resources, we will have a risky situation.
The introductory panel also saw the participation of Wojciech Bakun, mayor of Przemyśl, the town on the border with Ukraine that bore the brunt of the refugee influx at the start of the war.
My message to those in power is that they need to prepare people that the cost of living will be higher. This is the cost we will pay as European society. This might hinder providing help to Ukraine, as the costs of energy will go up and the question will be posed why Europeans should pay for the war. But if we want to fight this, we need to pay the price, Mr Bakun said.
The EU has already earmarked huge amounts of funding to aid Ukraine.
In a video address, Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, said that more than EUR 6 billion had already been mobilised since the beginning of the war to support the Ukrainian budget. The EU has committed up to EUR 9 billion of microfinancial assistance which should help with various needs such as housing, education for internally displaced children and youth, and agriculture.
A successful reconstruction of Ukraine will require competent and efficient officials at all levels. That is why a reform of public administration should be at the core of all efforts, Mr Várhelyi maintained.
Olha Stefanishnya, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, said her country was grateful to the EU for mobilising such a large amount of resources.
The scope of the assistance is essential, but the war is not going to end tomorrow and its consequences will need to be mitigated for many more years to come, said Ms Stefanishnya.
We need more military and more financial support as well as more investments into Ukraine. I want to convey the sense of urgency. Additional funds must be mobilised to support the budget – EUR 8 billion for microfinancial assistance is lifesaving support for us to withstand until the end of the year.
The conference heard messages from all three EESC groups, representing Europe's employers, trade unions and civil society organisations of various interests.
The president of the Employers' Group, Stefano Mallia, stressed the importance of helping Ukrainian SMEs.
There is a need for targeted support on a number of actions, such as for access to finance. SMEs are a vital part of Ukrainian economy and society; we need to keep them alive so that they can drive the post-war reconstruction.
The president of the Workers' Group, Oliver Röpke, warned against labour law deregulation in Ukraine, which could deprive millions of workers of basic social rights.
Ukraine will need unity for its national reconstruction process, in which the full involvement of civil society and social partners will be key. In order not to put that unity at risk, there should be a clear commitment to social and labour rights in Ukraine.
Speaking on behalf of the Civil Society Organisations' Group, Lidija Pavić-Rogošić said:
It is not enough to rebuild all material assets and central infrastructure. We must ensure that reconstruction does not create new inequalities and that it tackles existing and persistent ones. Community cohesion passes through equality of opportunity for all.
More on the Conference
The conference featured three panels which discussed various aspects of aid for Ukraine. The first debate gave an overview of the work done so far by civil society organisations providing immediate support for refugees on their arrival and helping with their integration.
The second panel focused on displaced people and the role of Ukrainian civil society in ensuring that their country continues to function in the face of the crisis. Speakers included representatives from Ukrainian employers' associations, trade unions and local authorities who gave testimonies of their work on the ground.
The final panel explored how EU civil society can help and support Ukraine's recovery in accordance with EU values and norms, such as the rule of law, democracy and transparency, in particular from the perspective of a EU candidate state.
Concluding the conference, the president of the EESC Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, Laurențiu Plosceanu, said:
We need to act in a converged manner and become game changers. Our mission is to rebuild infrastructure, but also lives, hopes and values.
More information about the conference is available on our dedicated webpage