Thank you for granting the Aquí Europa-Vocento Award to the European Economic and Social Committee for its contribution to European integration. In the year in which the EESC celebrates its sixtieth anniversary, this award encourages us even more to continue our work of making the voices and interests of civil society heard in decision-making at European Union level.
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What can be done to counteract shrinking civic space? And how can we do this? We must promote the culture of participation in all spheres of life to safeguard our democracies. This means supporting civic education, and helping CSOs providing this educational dimension. This implies encouraging creative education and the arts, which are shown to promote critical thinking and enhance participation.
Just like the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee has dedicated - and will dedicate - a great deal of attention to the European Pillar of Social Rights. Its implementation concerns us all. Since its proclamation, the Commission has launched proposals on work-life balance, on access to social protection, on transparent working conditions and on the labour market authority. The legislators are still struggling to achieve agreements on these dossiers, which would reinforce very concretely the social dimension of the European agenda. With only six months to go before the European elections, a strong agreement would send a positive message to European citizens.
On 25 November the EU Heads of State signed the Withdrawal Agreement after nearly two years of exhausting and complex negotiations. They agreed on a compromise based on a balance of rights and obligations, and close cooperation, that takes due account of the unique relation between the United Kingdom and the European Union after over 45 years of integration.
Reflection time is over. We have less than seven months to jumpstart a new narrative, secure what we have achieved so far, and continue building the European future. As you know, the EU has experienced many challenges much like our Member States. We live in a world that is increasingly diversified and we cannot go back to old national formats. Understanding and embracing change will allow Europe to move forward and shape the global order for the 21st century.
Europe, its institutions and civil society appear to be a laughably inadequate defence against this sea of troubles. We need to get a grip. The next, crucial stage is just around the corner: the European elections. We have to put forward a European project that galvanises people, one that even lets them dream.
The EESC has been and will continue to advocate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda at a European level and beyond, transitioning to a society that is sustainable in economic, social and environmental terms. It is essential that organised civil society is fully involved and mobilised in relation to a future EU Sustainable Development Strategy.
The future is today – it is becoming reality faster than we can track and predict it. Just as people get to grips with one new technology, another one comes along. Our workers find it hard to keep up with the latest developments in tech. For some this is exciting, but others feel frightened.
Today, the EESC has adopted, with an overwhelming majority (140 votes for, 3 votes against and 7 abstentions) its opinion on the Multiannual Financial Framework, proposed by the Commission on 2 May. With less than 8 months to go before the European elections, this file is a crucial one as it measures the scale of our ambition for the future of our European Union.