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.
• The opinion's approach to the Social Economy (SE) in Latin America (LA) is based on two inescapable factors: firstly, the real social differences between the European Union and (EU) and LA, and secondly, the fact that LA is not an homogenous area. This analysis therefore takes full account of this diversity. It also seeks to identify common areas which make cooperation possible on an equal footing and takes account of the transformations under way in both regions.
• One of the great problems hindering the development of the Latin American SSE is the difficulty of systematising information on this sector, a problem which exacerbates its social invisibility. In the absence of measurements, it is very difficult to identify its true social importance and how it differs from other kinds of enterprise in terms of the impact of its economic, social and solidarity activities. The same is urged for the sector in Europe: statistical recognition; the creation of reliable public registers; satellite accounts for each institutional sector and area of activity, all with a view to achieving greater visibility.
• As in many EU countries, the priority is to resolve the SSE's lack of sufficiently consolidated, integrated and effective representation. Although a lot of progress has been made, the representative structures of the different categories of the SSE must be organised in a pyramid fashion, in a bottom-up, sectoral and territorial manner, while preventing fragmentation, competition between them and corporatism.
• One of the tasks yet to be resolved by the SSE is how to create agreements and alliances with public authorities on the basis of mutual respect and independence. Public policies are therefore one of the priority concerns and objectives of the SSE in Latin America. These policies must include proposals which are not essentially based on direct economic aid, since, being sources which are not controlled, they are unpredictable, and they may become a tool for pressure and manipulation. The policies must not therefore merely be palliative or merely provide assistance, and they must not promote bad practices.
• The State must establish clear policy action lines, drawing up coordinated programmes according to its various levels, competences and administrative structures, in order to institutionalise the SSE and treat it in an inter-sectoral manner. Administrative procedures of all kinds must be speeded up and there must be effective harmonisation at State and supranational level in relation to the promotion and support of the SSE.
• The informal economy is an immense issue in Latin America, as it is in certain parts of the EU (the black economy), in which work and economic activities take place in the total or partial absence of social protection or respect for the legislation in force. Unemployment, underemployment and poor quality working conditions, violating the ILO's declarations on decent work, is a serious problem. A direct link has been found between informal employment or underemployment and poverty rates, and this is endemic amongst women, young people, indigenous people and people of African origin, both in terms of employment informality and in terms of unequal pay and conditions.
• The SSE is not a marginal sector, but rather an institutional element of the economic system, coexisting with the public and private sectors. It therefore creates economic plurality, providing a counterbalance for the other two. The SSE contributes to sustainable development, promotes the voluntary sector and seeks to enhance equal opportunities through its educational promotion systems. It is essential to achieving social stability, the sustainability of economic growth, the redistribution of income and the implementation of economic alternatives.
• The considerations and proposals contained in this opinion should be taken on board in an EU international cooperation policy towards Latin America. The EU has had a decreasing presence in Latin America and there has been a shortage of measures geared towards the SSE. This is a big mistake. The SSE's of the EU and of Latin America are based on similar principles and practices, but no advantage has been taken of this fact. International cooperation must not simply have the objective of transplanting a particular social model, but rather it should promote a form of development based on existing favourable conditions.
• In its General Assembly Resolution (64/136), the UN declared 2012 to be International Year of Cooperatives. The important statements in the Resolution, stressing cooperatives' contribution to economic and social development throughout the world, include a call for them to be actively promoted in particular during 2012. This opinion supports the content of that Resolution in all respects and agrees with its proposals. Also in 2012, the 7th Meeting of EU-Latin America organised civil society will take place. This meeting should dedicate time to the UN's proposals and recommendations, including express references to them in its final document.