Reconstruction after the pandemic must be an opportunity to rebuild Europe on a new foundation of democratic participation. It would be a huge mistake if the fate and future of so many were to be decided by so few, the EESC 2021 Civil Society Days heard.
The EESC Civil Society Days ended today after five days of interactive online debates which saw the participation of over 1 400 people, with viewers connecting from as far afield as Africa, Asia, and North and South America.
Speakers saw a silver lining in the pandemic since, despite forcing the Conference on the Future of Europe to be deferred, it had brought to the fore civil society organisations as the mainstay of governments struggling to cope with a massive crisis. What better proof was needed, they asked, that civil society deserved a seat at the table that will decide on the future of Europe?
"I am happy that the Commission attaches such importance to citizens' involvement in the Conference on the Future of Europe" said EESC president, Christa Schweng. "The conference is a great chance to connect with citizens and the ones who are active in civil society organisations", she went on. "You can count on the Committee to make a substantial contribution to the debates by involving workers, employers and organised civil society, and by being multipliers and ambassadors, bringing the debate into our members' organisations."
Reflecting the leading role played by young people's organisations in the workshops, Brikena Xhomaqi, co-chair of the Liaison Group which co-organised the event, closed the proceedings saying: "I invite everyone to make intergenerational solidarity our currency for sustainable recovery for the future of Europe."
The conclusions of the eight workshops held over the last four days traced a path to a better future for Europe's citizens, as seen by the wealth of civil society organisations represented at the conference.
Key conclusions stressed, among other things, the need to:
- strengthen intermediary organisations (civil society organisations, parties, trade unions, etc.) to create positive synergies between the public and governments, boost civic and digital education to foster public participation and create decision-making citizens' assemblies to reinforce democracy;
- raise awareness of the social economy as a viable business model for sustainable recovery that goes beyond profit and helps tackle inequalities and climate change. Specific funds need to be set aside in the Recovery Plan and NextGenerationEU for national investment in this sector;
- invest in culture and education as crucial assets to build a more resilient and sustainable future for Europe, with dedicated funds allocated in the national recovery and resilience plans. Investing in hard infrastructure in not enough: people must be placed at the centre of the recovery;
- better explore the option of universal basic income and job guarantee schemes as a feasible solution beneficial for people and for the planet. The issue need to be depoliticised and case studies carried out in different Member States;
- give young people the chance to meaningfully participate and stay engaged right across Europe, and to have their voices heard not only on issues specific to youth, but in a variety of policy areas. Funding opportunities under the new EU plans should also be accessible to youth-led organisations;
- ensure that the European Green Deal contributes more effectively to eradicating poverty, injustice and gender inequality;
- accelerate building renovation in Europe by raising awareness of the challenges and opportunities it presents and mobilising key civil society groups such as representatives of building owners and architects to achieve the goals of the Renovation Wave in Europe;
- closely involve civil society organisations in the implementation of the national recovery plans, reversing the trend set in the preparation phase where their participation was limited. The value of volunteering must be understood by policymakers not just in terms of the output of hours invested, but as an expression of European values and a change-making example to others about the society based on solidarity, inclusion and democratic principles that we want Europe to be.
The full conclusions of the Civil Society Days will be published shortly on the EESC's website.