Opening remarks at the Liaison Group meeting

Thank you all for coming here. Thank you for all your contribution to and mobilisation for the Civil Society Day. I believe we had very good and open debates, I got very good feedback. The Civil Society Day yesterday shows the EESC and the European civil society networks can talk to each other, mobilize civil society from all over Europe, voice their concerns, provide them a platform, have a constructive dialogue and formulate messages for EU leaders.

I would like to thank all organisations present here and members for the work you have put in the last two years into this platform for dialogue. I particularly would like to thank you for the work on Rio+20 and all our other initiatives we organised together.

This afternoon we would like to make an assessment of the work we have done together and I would like us to have an open and honest debate about the way forward for this group to function in the best way possible. Thank you very much for the four contributions we received to our questionnaire. We wanted to survey all members before this meeting, but I believe this format, this space and time is also a good opportunity to assess and talk about the future prospects. It is also my last meeting as co-chair of the EESC Liaison Group.

This is why I invited the future EESC President to come to attend this meeting, listen to you, to us all, and speak to us about his plans and his vision for the EESC.

I will give you the floor, Henri, very soon.

First of all I would like to encourage us to debate about the Liaison Group in a constructive way. I would like us to acknowledge and assess what we have achieved, and then to see how we can improve this mechanism for dialogue in a way that is beneficial and useful for both the EESC and for our partners European civil society organisations, represented here.

It all started with the Convention for the draft treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe; there were regular information and consultation meetings with European civil society organisations and networks organised by the Committee with the Convention itself. There was a proposal during all discussions that European civil society networks representatives would cooperate more and work closer with the EESC. This is how the proposal for setting up the Liaison Group came about in the Report of an ad hoc group written by Mr Bloch-Laine. The intention was that the Liaison Group would reflect  the diversity of organised European civil society as broadly as possible. In this group the leaders of the EESC, Group presidents and section presidents, would be also represented and participate in this platform.

The reasons were and are obvious: we have a role by the Treaty as the body representing civil society organisations from the Member States, providing a forum for information and consultation; however the Committee does not FULLY reflect the diversity and ongoing development of "organised civil society". At European level many civil society players, networks, associations, and in particular NGOs have been emerging and developing, operating effectively, but are not formally represented in the European Economic and Social Committee. Many of you have your own channels of direct information and communication with the European institutions. These include the social dialogue in the case of employers' and workers' representatives, and the direct European NGO consultation procedures put in place by the Commission.

However not many of you talk to each other and know each other, and I believe this is one of the achievements of this Group which I would like to mention here: we have a platform of dialogue between European civil society networks and with EU institutions. The EESC's mission is also to enable the expression of as many voices as possible and of as many broad interests as there can be. A very good example of the effectiveness of such platform is the creation of the European Year of Citizens' Alliance, which was born in this Group and which has become now our main partner for our initiatives for the European Year of Citizens, and is also the main partner of other EU institutions, such as the European Commission.

The mission of this group:

  • Enrich the Committee's / Sections' work with expertise that may not be found in the EESC (complementing, not replacing); we have seen how relevant your input was in the Rio+20 work we have done and for Europe2020 strategy;
  • Civil Society Day – organise initiatives together (major annual EESC event recognizing such structured dialogue publicly and again providing a platform for dialogue)
  • Play the role of a real and meaningful Civil Society House (horizontal dialogue), enabling broader civil society organisations to talk to each other and give them autonomy as cooperation goes through autonomy; in my view, enabling the expression of the civil society organisations potentialize the role of the EESC. We know that civil dialogue at European level can only be truly effective if it is part of an institutional framework and benefits from a specific forum.

I believe that we need to take a step forward with our cooperation with your organisations and networks as regards quality, effectiveness and added value, which means that we need a discussion here and in the future on the Liaison Group's future prospects. Now it is a matter for us all to discuss and propose the ways in which we could make this consultation and debating forum as valuable as it can get.

I've been in the Laison Group from the very beginning, I value its work, and still I know we can do better. So let's see how we can consolidate our relations with European civil society organisations and networks and how we should facilitate, with appropriate measures and procedures, a new step forward in this cooperation. I am aware that we, as Committee, we need to better identify issues and activities where there is a shared interest in order to increase the added value of this cooperation, in the interest of both, the EESC and European civil society organisations and networks.

I need to mention here as well the responsibility we all have (the Committee and European civil society networks) to make sure we take advantage of the new context created by Article 11 TEU. The Committee, as mentioned in Luca's opinion, intends to act even more effectively in future as the institutional forum at EU level for civil society representation, consultation and debating.

For me what it matters the most is to keep the Committee open, to remain engaged with organisations which are outside the EESC. We were appointed by national governments, coming from national organisations of various interests, trade-unions, employers', and we know that there are many more organisations out there. The Committee's membership does not fully cover and reflect the diversity and the on-going development of "organised civil society".

So let's discuss here today how we can work better together; if there anything to be changed, let's look into "the how" and all the options we have.


Staffan Nilsson`s opening remarks at the Liaison Group meeting

Work organisation