Dear friends, dear participants,
We are assembled – albeit virtually – here today to discuss one of the most important issues on the agenda: how to come out of the COVID-crisis and how to come out of it even stronger and more resilient than we were before 2020.
With the risk of abusing a well-worn quote attributed to Winston Churchill: Never let a good crisis go to waste!
The EU moved with speed and determination in 2020 and the result was the Recovery and Resilience Facility, adopted in December 2020. More than 600 billion € were made available as grants or loans on a basis of the solidarity principle: most is given to those that have the highest needs. But there are conditions to be met. This economic stimulus goes beyond simply encouraging consumption, since it is linked to structural reforms. It is also concentrated along two axes: green transformation and digital transformation.
But let us not forget the other important elements of it: economic cohesion, productivity and competitiveness; social and territorial cohesion; health, economic, social and institutional resilience; policies for the next generation.
The keywords in this respect are: green, digital, and competitive.
We already see that there is a number of challenges linked to the successful unleashing of the potential of the Recovery and Resiliency Facility: most Member States did not consult enough the organised civil society or they consulted it too late. The situation now is a series of National Recovery and Resilience Plans that vary substantially in quality and methodology and we can really wonder whether the plans are really meeting the needs on the ground.
There are also other issues – some countries have still not presented the final versions of their plans; most national plans are extremely long, even 2000 pages! and very often they only exist in the language of the Member state in question for the time being.
Therefore, the Commission has now a huge task ahead to analyse and approve the national plans before 1 August. And there is a lot of pressure for keeping the deadlines, so that the implementation and the funding can begin as soon as possible.
Starting to carry out projects financed by the Recovery and Resilience Facility becomes very urgent, as people who suffered from the pandemic need to be supported and businesses – and above all SMEs – need help to get back on their feet. This also means proper implementation and efficient enforcement of existing rules, while cutting the red tape, administrative burden and complexity of cross border trade.
The investment programmes must also take sufficient account of eligible projects coming from social economy enterprises, provide adequate support for rural areas and maintaining quality food production in Europe, and establish a modern and innovative industrial policy that includes European digital solutions. Cross-border and Pan-European projects must be supported.
The Committee wishes to help in the implementation process, which is the main reason why we are here today.
Since January, EESC's European Semester group has analysed the situation in the Member States by using our network of stakeholders on the ground. On the basis of this analysis, the Committee issued recommendations in February. You will hear more about these recommendations from Mr Doz Orrit, the President of the Semester Group.
This work – and its subsequent updating – has led to the structure of today's conference:
The first panel will discuss the involvement of Organised Civil Society in the National Recovery and Resilience Plans. As institutional representatives of social partners and civil society organisations in the EU, we have an obligation to ensure that the voice of these organisations is heard and duly taken into account in all policy areas, in particular those that are as important and wide-ranging as this one.
Next, we will concentrate on two areas that have been defined as primordial for the success of the strategy for exiting the crisis:
The first of these is how to move towards a green, digital and sustainable European economy, with a just transition. The devil is in the detail and it is fine to establish percentage-targets – 37% for the green transformation and 20% for the digital transformation.
However, there is a series of questions linked to definitions and monitoring, where organised civil society can improve the implementation. We do not want green-washing, and we want a level playing field. The involvement of the business community, trade unions and civil society organisations in this process is of the utmost importance.
The third and last panel is about implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights. This is a topic on which the Committee has been active for several years, notably consulting the civil society organisations in all Member States, when the Pillar was created. The 20 principles of the EPSR serve as a compass for social convergence and for a fair and sustainable recovery, and the Committee is currently working on its comments and suggestions for the Action Plan for implementing the Pillar. Our Committee was well represented at the Porto Social Summit earlier this month, and I am very happy that our comments were integrated in the final Porto Declaration. You will hear more on the implementation of the Pillar from the rapporteurs, later today.
All the discussions today will take place against the backdrop of the fundamental principles underpinning the EU: the protection of human and social rights, democratic values and the rule of law. Especially considering the amounts involved, the Committee considers it particularly essential to ensure good governance, vigilance against corruption in the management of funds and democratic accountability.
These are areas where organised civil society in the form of the different organisations represented in the EESC can contribute in a meaningful and important way to the successful implementation of the national recovery and resilience plans.
The more parties are involved, the more pluralism we establish, and the more transparency we manage to create, the better the end-result will be, for the benefit of the entire EU, in these difficult but potentially also very constructive times.
Thank you! I wish you a successful conference.