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EESC sets up special body to increase civil society's involvement in the European Semester process

European Semester Group 1st meeting

The new EESC European Semester Group reflects the growing importance of the European Semester and the lack of involvement and policy contributions on the part of social partners and civil society organisations in the process

Following the economic, social and political crises in Europe, the European Semester has become the focal point for reform discussions in the EU. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) acknowledges its growing importance and as a result has set up a new body that focuses on the European Semester and aims to ensure that organised civil society is better involved in, and able to contribute policy proposals to, the European Semester process. The European Semester Group (ESG) was established earlier this year but its work programme was finally approved on 18 September.

"The involvement of national stakeholders in the European Semester process is crucial for the successful and sustainable implementation of national reforms," said Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, ESG president, adding however that the Committee, along with the European Commission, felt that organised civil society was not sufficiently well represented in this process at present. The creation of the ESG was therefore, he said, an attempt on the part of the EESC to strengthen dialogue with organised civil society.

The ESG has been established for a term of two and a half years and comprises 33 members, which represent different economic and social interest groups from all EU Member States.

"The group will ensure that the Committee is able to contribute regularly to the European Semester cycle. It will link European and national civil society levels in a structured and systematic manner and integrate policy proposals from civil society organisations into the interinstitutional European Semester process", said Gonçalo Lobo Xavier.

"Our role is to increase the involvement of national stakeholders, who are not currently able to contribute to the European Semester process. We need to act as a bridge between the national and European levels to facilitate dialogue", said Ioannis Vardakastanis, an EESC member from the Diversity Europe Group.

The group aims to organise annual visits to Member States in order to bring together policy contributions from civil society for the European Semester process and promote the involvement of civil society. The so-called "National European Semester Days" will also be an opportunity to analyse where and why the implementation of country-specific recommendations fails, to encourage their implementation and to help raise awareness about the European Semester process.

"The country visits will enable us to support and complement the activities of the European Commission as we will have an opportunity to gather feedback and proposals from people on the ground in the Member States", said Stefano Palmieri, president of the EESC's ECO section.  

The results of the country visits will feed into interinstitutional discussions on the European Semester and a report will be drawn up each year.

In order to achieve its objectives, the ESG will supplement, strengthen and support the work of the six EESC sections and the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change with regard to the European Semester. The group will be the EESC's contact point on Semester-related matters and maintain close relations with other European institutions, national Economic and Social Councils and other partner organisations.

This was already reflected in the first group meeting in June, where Miroslav Florian, policy advisor at the European Commission, discussed the European Semester process and its current state of play with the group and welcomed the Committee's initiative. In the Commission's view, the Committee's initiative could help increase stakeholders' ownership of national reform programmes and therefore encourage their implementation.  

Aside from the debate with the Commission representative, during the first meeting the members also discussed a work programme for 2018-2020, which was finally approved on 18 September. It includes plans for drafting opinions and reports related to the European Semester process, as well as a European Semester Conference to be held in early 2019.

One key area to follow will be the development of the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), in particular regarding the proposal to strengthen the link between the EU budget and the European Semester.

For information on the European Semester please consult the website of the European Commission.