The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
What drives you to be an active and committed member of the EESC and the NAT section?
Being a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), and more specifically the Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment (NAT), is an honour and a consequence of my professional career always linked to the agri-food sector and the rural world, both in the public administration and in the private sector. I define myself as a farmer, entrepreneur, pro-European and progressive.
I participate in the EESC on behalf of FIAB, the federation that brings together the Spanish food and drink industry, the leading manufacturing sector and one of the first in terms of number of businesses, employment, invoicing and exports, responding to the requests of an increasingly demanding consumer.
Given that we are on an increasingly global stage, it is essential for the Spanish food industry to be represented in the main consultative body and forum for social dialogue in the European Union. Let us not forget that the EESC is at the heart of the construction of the EU itself, which was established in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, in order to involve and give a voice to the various economic and social actors.
How do you make the link with your work (and your life) back home?
It would be very difficult to play my role as an EESC Member without any real connection to the needs of the sector in my country. I am connected to it day by day as Director-General of the Association of Drinks (Asociación de Bebidas Refrescantes - ANFABRA), which in turn is part of FIAB (Spanish Federation of Food and Drinks Industries), which I am representing at the EESC in Brussels. I also maintain my Mediterranean farms, mainly fruit, olive oil and wine.
In the current situation caused by COVID, as in many other areas, the development of the EESC’s activity is more difficult because of the restrictions on mobility and personal distance imposed by the pandemic, which we try to compensate by telematic means and with the best possible will.
Recently, you have been the Rapporteur for an EESC own-initiative opinion on "An integrated approach for rural areas in the EU, with a particular focus on vulnerable regions". What are the main challenges facing rural areas and vulnerable regions in the EU? What approaches and policies are needed to promote the development of these areas?
It is a fact that European territories do not evolve evenly. There is a disconnect between the urban and rural areas, which, on the other hand, need each other. It is essential to curb this trend and promote population rebalancing, by enhancing the digitalisation of rural environments and combating the loss of biodiversity.
Space: fostering balanced development that rationalises flows between rural and urban hubs in each territory;
Economic: encouraging decentralisation and diversification in order to promote the rebalancing of income;
Social: ensuring access to essential services such as education, health, transport or culture;
Environmental: defending biodiversity
Institutional: creating a supporting ecosystem that facilitates progress on the other dimensions.
To develop these areas, we propose a “territorial contract” between urban society and the rural world, which should be participatory, adapted to the characteristics of the territories and preserving their historical, cultural and natural heritage.
On the basis of the opinion, one of the NAT section’s priorities in the 2020-2023 term of office is to develop a comprehensive strategy for sustainable urban and rural development. Why do you think this strategy is necessary, especially in the context of the Post-Covid recovery and the transition towards a more sustainable and resilient future of Europe?
The coronavirus crisis has intensified many of the debates we had on the table, including the imbalance between different European regions and the need to build a more sustainable economic and social model. The rural world must be a key part of this new European context that focuses on social cohesion and sustainability, in line with the European Commission’s European Green Deal and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The increase in teleworking provides new arguments for a more balanced population distribution. It also opens up new opportunities for economic activities with high added value to be relocated in rural and mountain areas.
From the NAT Section, we have defended the great potential for innovationand the opportunities these areas offer if sufficient resources are provided. Infrastructure and digitalisation need to be further promoted, with better access to connecting networks. We are now planning to further develop all these ideas, which we already highlighted in the above-mentioned opinion An integrated approach for EU rural areas in a new document entitled Towards a comprehensive strategy for sustainable urban and rural development.
The EESC, through its consultation and platform can offer an expert, objective view that identifies key priorities for future rural policy, thereby considering in particular the needs of the vulnerable regions. Rural-proofing needs to be reinvigorated alongside specific rural policies while transgenerational and smart community measures need to be mainstreamed.
EESC opinion: An integrated approach for the EU's rural areas, with particular emphasis on vulnerable regions (own-initiative opinion)