The unfolding aggression directed at Ukraine calls for further strengthening of the EU project

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 The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a conference entitled Shaping Europe Together on Thursday 24 February. The purpose of this conference, organised with a view to the conclusion of the Conference of the Future of Europe, was to wrap up work done so far by the Committee and to discuss the latest state of the affairs, challenges ahead and ambitions for the future.

EESC president Christa Schweng kicked off the debate, referring to the recent developments in Ukraine and answering the opening question as to whether now was the right time to discuss the Future of Europe.

Witnessing the aggression against Ukraine and its people shows the urgency of further strengthening the European project and Europe's fundamental values, like peace, freedom and democracy, said Ms Schweng.

Ms. Schweng highlighted: In order to become a success, the Conference on the Future of Europe needs to achieve concrete and representative policy recommendations where the European Union can make a real difference. The results achieved need to be translated without delay into tangible results for businesses, workers and citizens at large in Europe. Moreover, we need to achieve a higher level of European democracy which genuinely and by default involves civil society and its representatives.

The EESC has conducted outreach initiatives and events in all Member States in order to guarantee fair representation, to involve employers, workers and the whole of organised civil society, and to convey their points of view to the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Committee also adopted a resolution on the new narrative for Europe and published several ideas on the Conference's online platform.

The EESC's work on a new narrative for Europe was led by the three EESC Group presidents: Stefano Mallia of the Employers' Group, Oliver Röpke of the Workers' Group and Séamus Boland of the Diversity Europe Group.

Stefano Mallia said that he strongly believed in a united Europe that respected human rights and the rule of law. With the invasion of Ukraine, Putin tramples on the principles of freedom and democracy, the non-negotiable values of Europe and the international world order. The time of ambiguity is over. We cannot stand by while Russia today, and other authoritarian regimes tomorrow, continue to kill and sabotage our democratic way of life. The Future of Europe is at stake", Mr Mallia said. "Europeans expect the EU to guarantee security and peace. We believe the CoFoE should be the vehicle through which we continue building a project of peace and prosperity that is also a beacon of hope for all those that are victims of aggression and tyranny.

Oliver Röpke also linked the situation in Ukraine with discussions on the future of Europe, giving it a different focus as he said. It is more important than ever that Europe remain united and find the responses to this aggression. Together, with our idea of democratic values and the rule of law, we will work for the Conference on the Future of Europe to ensure that Europe can act better, in solidarity, and with a stronger social dimension. We need to listen to the citizens while ensuring the essential role of civil society organisations, including trade unions, and then draw concrete conclusions.

Séamus Boland said that today the Future of Europe is at a very distinct crossroads. Peace is at stake. In the Conference on the Future of Europe, we are trying to build on the founding idea of the European project: A Europe that will improve the democratic values and that will be based on equality and above all justice. The Conference on the Future of Europe should continue under the headline of equality and justice, rooted in peace, he added.

Cillian Lohan, EESC vice-president responsible for communication, on attending the first thematic debate of the conference, said that the most important thing today was to further strengthen our principles when shaping the future of Europe.

Giulia Barbucci, EESC vice-president responsible for budget, on attending the second thematic debate of the conference said that the citizens understand very well the value of the European project. If we want people to continue trust the European Union we should take their expectations really in consideration, she added.

In a closing statement, Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs to France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, said: Implementing the citizen's proposals will require debates and institutional decisions, and the EESC will act as guardian to ensure that this meets your expectations.

The EESC has played an exceedingly active role in the Conference on the Future of Europe through its ad-hoc group, as an observer on the Conference's Executive Board and as a member of the Plenary.

Watch the #CoFoE – Shaping Europe Together event on the EESC's twitter account @EU_EESC and Facebook