EESC: Upward convergence and communication are key for the EU's future

Organised civil society tables proposals for regaining citizens' support for European integration and achieving sustainable economic growth and social progress in the EU

The benefits of the European Union are sometimes taken for granted or played down by populist and Eurosceptic movements. This is becoming increasingly dangerous to the very existence of the EU and further European integration, in the light of growing support for these movements across Europe and the European elections in May.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is strongly convinced that making citizens more aware of EU benefits through better communication while at the same time stepping up convergence between regions and Member States could help reduce this danger. The Committee thus puts forward concrete proposals to work in this direction, in the recently adopted opinion on The Future of the EU: Benefits to citizens and respect for European values.

The European project has brought European citizens the longest period of peace, unprecedented wealth and social development, free movement of people, goods and services and the largest single market in the world, said Mihai Ivaşcu, rapporteur for the EESC opinion. We should never forget that thanks to the EU we benefit from a significantly better standard of living, social welfare and increased opportunities compared to most other parts of the world, he added.

In the view of European organised civil society, represented by the EESC, the EU must continue creating such benefits through common action. This however must be carried forward by EU citizens in order to be legitimate.

With regard to citizens' trust in and support for common action, EESC co-rapporteur Stéphane Buffetaut said: Our citizens must regain the feeling that acting at European level does not mean renouncing national policies, rather acknowledging that some projects have a better outcome when decisions are made together. We believe that further convergence amongst regions and Member States is key to regaining that feeling.   

The EESC opinion, which was requested by the Romanian presidency, puts forward proposals to increase social and economic cohesion across the EU which will help reconnect EU citizens with EU policies. The Committee recommends following a sustainable approach and stresses the need to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and other agreements on climate, biodiversity and water.

With regard to the social dimension, the EESC believes that youth education and inclusion in the labour market should be a vital priority. In this context, the EESC urges the development of additional programmes to support those with fewer economic resources.                    

Concerning the economic dimension Mihai Ivaşcu said: Sound economic growth must be achieved together with a stable social dimension. We believe that significant investment in R&D, skills supply and infrastructure are needed if the EU is to leverage its competitive advantages. European workers must be provided with training, re-skilling, up-skilling and life-long learning programmes, in order to fully benefit from technological change.

The EESC furthermore advocates free, fair and sustainable trade in a multilateral system and believes that trade agreements must continue to respect social, consumer and environmental rights while supporting the growth and evolution of businesses. The completion of the Economic and Monetary Union is indispensable to ensure stability and prosperity in Europe.

With a view to raising citizens' awareness of EU benefits and to counter populist and Eurosceptic movements endangering European integration, the EESC calls on the EU to step up its efforts in communicating with citizens.

The EU must provide more funds for communication and use all available channels to improve its communication with citizens, said Stéphane Buffetaut. As crucial players in the European integration process, social partners and other civil society organisations must play an active role in the European Union's communication efforts. They could help create a real and structured dialogue with EU citizens, which will also help reconnect citizens with EU policies and ensure that their concerns are addressed by these policies.

Communication efforts should not only raise citizens' awareness of EU achievements and the value of common action and increase their powers of analysis, but also safeguard freedom of expression, prevent dissemination of fake news and build fact-checking and verification tools. They could thus contribute to bringing the EU closer to its citizens again.