The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
Soil matters have become increasingly topical. One example is that the European Environment Agency (EEA) in its European Environment State and Outlook 2015 outlines a few important challenges:
The ability of soil to deliver ecosystem services — in terms of food production, as biodiversity pools and as a regulator of gasses, water and nutrients — is under increasing pressure.
Observed rates of soil sealing, erosion, contamination and decline in organic matter all reduce soil capability.
A coherent soil policy at EU level would provide the framework to coordinate efforts to survey soil status adequately.
Estonia will hold the EU presidency for the first time in the second half of 2017 and the current topic falls within one of the main priorities of Estonia. The request by the Estonian Presidency for an exploratory opinion comes a few months after the NAT Section organised a debate on the ongoing ECI (European Citizens' Initiative) on matters related to soil. Among the main objectives of the ECI is to "Recognise soil as a shared heritage that needs EU level protection, as it provides essential benefits connected to human well-being and environmental resilience". This discussion is a good starting point for the current opinion.
The Estonian presidency has outlined four main questions that it would like to see guiding the EESC's exploratory opinion.
How is the issue of agricultural soil covered in EU policies?
How to promote sustainable usage of soil as a resource for EU food production?
How to better focus on soil management and protection on a political level?
How to increase the motivation of politics to address sustainable arable soil management and soil protection more effectively?
The Estonian presidency will hold a high-level conference on soil issues on 4-6 October. The Estonian government has already proposed that the EESC take part in order to share its preliminary or final views coming out of this opinion at this conference in Tallinn. The rapporteur is uniquely well placed to do so since he is also a member of the working group of Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs preparing this conference. The rapporteur will consequently be very well placed to give an EESC input into a planned declaration by EU agricultural ministers that could be signed during the conference.
The rapporteur underlines the need to establish an EU reference framework aimed at protecting agricultural land. A joint EU soil protection strategy defining good soil status, laying down uniform terminology and harmonised criteria for monitoring, and defining priority policy measures would be of decisive importance for the sustainable use and protection of agricultural soil.