Janusz Pietkiewicz has been a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) from the Employers' Group since 2015. He is currently the vice-president of the Sustainable Development Observatory of the EESC.
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?
Let me start with a reflection I had during one of the debates about modern trends and the challenges we have to face when considering our way out of the devastating crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to build resilience to future crises.
It was evoked by a diagram showing the development of societies on the horizontal axis, beginning with the era of agrarian civilisation. Wherever agriculture appeared then, civilisation arose, social development was created. A simple division of labour prevailed and a person's position in life was determined by birth. The economy was decentralised, with most of the necessary products being manufactured in each micro-community. The earth was the basis of life, culture and politics. Development processes were slow but predictable.
Then came the era of industrial civilisation at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, the discovery of the New World, a scientific boom and incredible industrial development. The main source of energy became non-renewable fossil fuels: coal, gas and oil. Steam and electromechanical machines, the telephone, radio, TV and computer were created. Machines began to see and count more accurately and faster than humans. Factories and industrial districts, world trade were established. The conquest of space and the landing of man on the moon in 1969 conventionally ended this era of three hundred years of steady development.
On the horizontal axis of development, however, through the ages, the line had continued to rise fairly calmly and predictably. On the vertical axis, the significant increase exploded sharply only in our time, since the turn of the century, due to digitalisation accelerating development on an unprecedented scale. Simultaneously there has been a fundamental change in the scale of the individual and the voting weight of the individual, or even small communities. Such development gave us a chance to speak globally about inclusiveness, diversity, universal tolerance and minority rights today.
This trend started slowly in the 1970's and 80's on the foundations of a new post-industrial era. The technological revolution collided with the world's first energy crisis and the spectre of the exhaustion of non-renewable energy sources, hinting at the possibility of the end of this economic era. At the same time, the technological breakthrough in communication and mobility, despite the rapid growth of the world's population, has, since the end of the last century, created new opportunities for local communities and even individual citizens to participate in economic, social and political life.
The development of digitisation has radically changed the perception of socio-political and cultural differences in the world and the problem of tolerance towards these differences. Social media emerged. It obviously created new challenges for decision-makers, administration and political parties. A debate has started on the responsibility for the principles of democracy, perceiving the needs of vulnerable groups and their inclusion in the social circuit, seeing the needs of a new production system that requires a much more diverse, open and diversified society.
I am offering these historical remarks, somewhat perversely, to show how important the voice of civil society is in our time. What responsibility rests on us as representatives of civil society. How important and strong our voice can be by using the benefits of technological development. How important vision and social imagination are, building strategic foresight based on access to information and monitoring decisions made by policy-makers in order to ensure the well-being of citizens and their broadly understood security. This is our role and responsibility in the EESC – home of dialogue, compromise and social understanding.
I am offering these historical remarks to show how important vision and social imagination are, building strategic foresight based on access to information and monitoring decisions made by policy-makers in order to ensure the well-being of citizens and their broadly understood security. This is our role and responsibility in the EESC – home of dialogue, compromise and social understanding.
I leave the comparison to the social conditions of the agrarian era in the clash against the industrial era, and the social implications for civil society organisations (CSOs) in the field of agriculture and breeding in today's era of digital and climate transformation to my colleagues. There is a discussion to be undertaken. Sometimes transfer of opportunities for "backward" countries and regions from an agrarian economy straight to modernity, jumping over many of the inconveniences of the industrial era, might be a case to raise …
And at the same time, how important is the role of a modern, ecological agricultural sector, developing in accordance with the requirements of digital and climate transformation, ensuring healthy and safe food and proper working conditions?
You are the vice-president of the Sustainable Development Observatory (SDO). Where do you see the biggest potential/role for the SDO both within the EESC and externally?
We agreed in the SDO's work plan on three main areas. First, broad activities in the international sphere: mainly engaging in the processes on the Agenda 2030 and SDGs in the UN HLPF, the UN General Assembly and related events, the UN FCCC, COP, CBD, as well as other similar processes. Second, at the EU policy level advocating for the EGD and the various internal and external policies on the path towards achieving the SDGs. That would cover exchange of experience and good practices of CSOs, sectorial and thematic organisations, regional conferences, etc. Third, on the internal EESC level, we have established mainstreaming the SDGs across the EESC.
We decided that a very important activity in this regard would be pragmatic and direct cooperation with other observatories, i.e. LMO and DSMO, in order to move away from segmenting the work in individual spheres, especially in the implementation of SDGs. The project was positively received by the LMO and DSMO, as well as by the presidents of the parent sections – SOC, INT and NAT. We agreed on a mechanism of periodic meetings of the presidiums of three observatories with the participation of section presidents, mutual presence at individual observatory meetings and, in addition, two plenary sessions of three observatories with the presence of all members during the mandate.
A question on sustainability priorities and/or civil society's involvement in the recovery and resilience plans.
I would like to express my satisfaction that the term "sustainable" has become a permanent part of our language and evaluation of the actions of political and economic decision-makers. It is also constantly present in our work at the EESC. It is extremely important for the welfare of civil society and social development.
Understanding the importance and necessity of balanced "sustained" planning in all areas of life is of paramount importance in working towards emerging from the crisis and building strong resilience in all areas of society, both economic and political, against the effects of successive crises that will inevitably come as a result of subsequent mutations of the COVID-19 virus.