9-10 July 2014: 500th plenary session

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On 9 July 2014 the plenary session hosted students from schools across Europe to present the initiatives they had adopted during the "Your Europe, Your Say" event earlier in the year, in March.

Statements by members of the Workers Group

Béatrice Ouin

Béatrice Ouin congratulated the students on the quality of their speeches and their commitment to greater integration in Europe, emphasising that their enthusiastic contributions inspired optimism about Europe's future, in spite of the results of the recent European elections.

She stressed that the EESC shared the priorities for what Europe should do that these young people had listed: more European education throughout the EU, featuring common educational programmes, transnational exchanges and language-learning; improved environmental protection, entailing in particular a shift in behaviour towards lower energy consumption and better use of recycling opportunities; recognition of job experience as a way of reducing youth unemployment; and promoting equal opportunities by organising cross-border exchange programmes that help develop a European framework and identity.

Ms Ouin regretted that putting these priorities into practice was running into such resistance in various Member States, due to red tape, unwillingness, lack of means or other causes.

She concluded by calling for cross-border exchanges to be organised between schools, based on the model established at European level by the EESC.

 

On 9 July 2014 the plenary session also welcomed Mr Alphandéry, Chairman of the Centre for European Policy Students (CEPS) and former French Minister for the Economy, and Mr Bofinger, member of the German Council of Economic Experts, for the discussion on the opinion on Completing European Economic and Monetary Union

Statements by members of the Workers Group

George Dassis

George Dassis, president of the Workers Group, was pleased that the views of both economic experts and the rapporteurs for the opinion in question were drawing closer together regarding greater European integration.

He did not believe that the poor outcome of the European elections or the rise of populism should be attributed to public mistrust of EU integration. Extreme right-wing and Europhobic parties in fact held only 20% of seats in the European Parliament following the most recent elections, and could not be used as a pretext by leaders for failing to take measures to convince people of the sound basis for such integration.

Against this backdrop, Mr Dassis wondered why decision-makers were not listening to the economic experts and other thinkers who were putting forward practical proposals to tackle the crisis. Investment was needed to revive growth. And when growth was weak or non-existent, citizens should not be left in poverty. Practical measures were needed, such as debt mutualisation, establishment of a minimum subsistence income, unemployment insurance, etc. Lastly, the democratic process needed to be strengthened and no effort spared in ensuring that citizens could take part in it.

This was the only way of guaranteeing that people would not turn back to populist movements to voice their anger at a Europe that had abandoned them.

Edgardo Iozia

Edgardo Iozia was pleased that this topic was being introduced at such an appropriate time for launching the next round of political debate within the European institutions.

This opinion advocated a path on which European leaders should have embarked, but they had failed to do so. The EU had effectively failed to cope with the complexity of the economic and social situation (not only in the euro area but in all the Member States) through a process of boosting convergence. It ought to be capable of implementing a fully-fledged European industrial, economic and monetary policy to go hand-in-hand with development.

Otherwise, the EU as a whole was doomed to irreversible decline: any failure of the euro area would have dramatic consequences for all the Member States.

He underlined that with this opinion, the EESC was sending a signal, highlighting the dysfunctions of the stability and growth pact and the need to promote development to guarantee stability.

On 10 July 2014, part of the plenary session on 21 September was given over to a discussion on taking stock of the Greek Presidency, attended by Mr Gerontopoulos, Greek Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Statements by members of the Workers Group

Gabriele Bischoff

Gabriele Bischoff congratulated Greece for having successfully met the challenge of the Presidency at a time when the country was facing huge internal difficulties.

She then referred to two issues on which the Greek Presidency had made a significant contribution: progress on banking union, marking an important step towards stabilising the financial markets, and social gains.

s Bischoff emphasised the need to meet the Europe 2020 objectives on combating poverty, so that voters could see that, thanks to measures taken in Europe, their situation had not worsened.

In this regard, she strongly regretted that no significant progress had been made on youth unemployment. Europe had to recognise that the idea of a youth guarantee was excellent, but that the ESF was not the right tool for framing rapid solutions on this issue.

She concluded by calling on the Italian Presidency to press ahead with all these subjects, including the posting of workers directive, and pointing out that the question of fair mobility was certainly among the challenges the Italian Presidency would have to face.

Christos Polyzogopoulos

Christos Polyzogopoulos also hailed the striking successes of the Greek Presidency at a time when dialogue at European and international level was particularly difficult, and in spite of the fact that Greece's difficult financial circumstances had made its task all the harder.

He went on to argue that while Italy was taking over from Greece in managing EU current affairs, the European project could not progress unless the three Maastricht indicators were made more flexible, allowing countries in difficulty to face the debt burden and cover their budget deficits. Moreover, the monolithic policy of budget austerity could only hinder growth.

Mr Polyzogopoulos stressed the need for countries also to comply with the social criteria in order to guarantee a minimum standard of living for all their citizens. In addition, a policy tackling the problems of the weakest countries must be introduced so that balanced growth and social cohesion could be ensured within the EU.

Turning to the European election results, Mr Polyzogopoulos emphasised that European leaders must quite simply accept the express will of the people and change policy, rather than giving in to fear.

 

A major contribution was also made to the plenary session of 10 July by the presence of Mr Gozi, Italian State Secretary to the Prime Minister's office with responsibility for European affairs, for a debate on the priorities of the Italian Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Statements by members of the Workers Group

Georges Dassis

George Dassis, president of the Workers Group, underlined that there had been a flagrant lack of solidarity between European countries ever since the financial crisis had erupted and that Europe had been completely divided.

The Workers Group had of course repeatedly spoken out against the reckless debt built up by certain countries, including Greece. However, he fiercely criticised the austerity measures applied blindly by both the European Commission and the IMF, as they had hit the weakest sectors of the population hardest.

Mr Dassis therefore called on the Italian government to take practical steps such as strengthening the financial stability mechanism, settling the question of increasing the EU's own resources, ensuring equitable financing for businesses and national debt, and implementing measures to relieve unemployment. This was the only way for people to regain confidence in the ambitious venture of a united and solidarity-based Europe.

He concluded by urging the Italian government to tap the expertise of EESC members during its presidency. He mentioned two Committee opinions that could be useful in its work: the first addressed the cost of non-Europe and the second advocated a return to the Community method which had been overlooked since the crisis erupted in 2008.

Stefano Palmieri

Stefano Palmieri, president of the Europe 2020 steering committee, thanked the Italian government for accepting the high-level conference proposed by the EESC in its programme. The purpose of the conference was to carry out a mid-term assessment of the Europe 2020 strategy and to kick-start it by effectively involving civil society. This recovery was needed, as Europe could not afford a second failure after that of the Lisbon strategy. Combating unemployment and poverty were fields where Europe had in particular to succeed, before the gulf between different countries and regions widened further. The EU could not afford to lose its economic, social and territorial cohesion, which had always been one of its most distinguishing features. There was a risk that this might happen, because Europe had for too long prioritised economic aims over governance. There would however be no development unless it was sustainable from the economic, social, environmental and intergenerational points of view.

Europe recovery hinged on the quality of work, the creativity of entrepreneurs, independent professionals and workers in general, and on workers' ability to train and retrain. But if workers, as well as other economic actors, were to bring these abilities to bear, stable economic and social conditions must be created and measures taken to combat job insecurity.

Mr Palmieri concluded by recalling that the Italian Presidency wanted to promote growth for people, and that it could count on the support of EESC members in doing so.