The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomed representatives from civil society organisations from candidate countries at its July plenary session, announcing the initiative to appoint Honorary Enlargement Members and invite them to participate in the daily advisory work of the Committee
In his political manifesto President Röpke committed to opening the EESC doors and strengthening its cooperation with the civil society in the EU candidate countries. As the first concrete step towards that goal, the EESC held a debate on the importance of civil society in the EU enlargement process at its July plenary session. President Röpke has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) to advance a structured engagement of civil society and youth in promoting peace and prosperity in the South East Europe.
On this occasion, the EESC President Oliver Röpke said:
I am determined to support and empower civil society in EU candidate countries. This is why I want the EESC to open its doors and invite the civil society representatives from EU candidate countries to be gradually involved in the daily work of our Committee. Today's debate was an important step towards welcoming Honorary Enlargement Members into our EESC family in the future. I also welcome the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding which will strengthen even further our already great cooperation with RCC.
This initiative is fully in line with the Commission's enhanced accession methodology and was embraced by many EESC members and civil society representatives. In his video message Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, commended on the EESC's "Honorary Enlargement Members" initiative as a way to continuously keep the enlargement policy high on the EU's agenda. He reiterated the Commission's support for the Western Balkans Forum in Thessaloniki this October, stressing the effort to promote the role of civil society in the enlargement process.
The Prime Minister of Moldova, Dorin Recean, stressed that this new initiative of the EESC is timely and will fortify cooperation with the civil society from Moldova. Referring to Moldova's progress on the Commission's recommendations, he reflected on the involvement of the civil society in the decision-making processes, strengthening the protection of human rights, promoting gender equality and fighting violence against women.
Majlinda Bregu, Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council, said
We in the RCC can’t imagine coordinating the regional efforts on the challenging Green Agenda for Western Balkans (WB)- without our Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Consultative Forum, nor coordinate the efforts towards a regional market without our chambers of commerce strong voice. Our youth policy labs, which enable dialogue platforms for co-designing policies relevant for youth employment and mental health – restupon the collective intelligence and deliberative spaces created by youth organizations and CSOs working in the field of youth. Same goes for our Butterfly Innovation Award or our trademark Balkathon competition and women entrepreneurship agenda. The 76% of support for regional cooperation is a force to be reckoned with, which paired with the expertise and knowledge networks of our civil society sectors – can be a decisive contributor to our enlargement and integration agenda.
Bosko Savkovic from the Union of Employers of Serbia, Co-chair of the EU-Serbia Joint Consultative Committee, praised the Serbian civil society for speaking up, fighting against foreign disinformation, and reminding citizens of the prospect of EU membership. As he said:
I never believed I would live to see this moment, I feel very welcome in this House. I hope that Serbia will be a star in the European flag!.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shifted the EU's priorities opening a new chapter in the European history, but even the war could not stop the reforms in the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. As Oleksandr Yavorskyi, from the Federation of Employers of Ukraine, put it:
Ukraine made the choice to start its journey to become a member of the EU long before the war started. Ukraine's social partners and civil society need now predictability and the right training to help u the EU accession process.
Marcin Nowacki, member of the EESC Employers' Group and co-chair of the EU-Ukraine Civil Society Platform added:
Over the past 500 days civil society has clearly shown its immense value. We have cooperated on humanitarian aid, skills, the business sector and organisations, working together to share experiences on the EU accession process.
Anisa Subashi, Vice President of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania, underlined the role of trade unions in strengthening social dialogue, especially at a time when the Albanian government is making efforts to shrink the civic space.
This is why it is important for us to be more involved in the work of the EESC, as this will give us a better understanding of the principles of the European civil dialogue and we will be able to apply those principles at the national level.
Along the same lines, Igor Zubcu President of the National Confederation of Trade Unions of Moldova, stressed the importance to involve trade unions in the dialogue with the EU so that the accession does not erode the workers' rights.
The president of the EESC Workers' Group Lucie Studničná said:
The accession to the EU is fundamental for every country. For social partners and civil society at large. They have a key role and need to be fully involved in formulating the demands and conditions for the accession.
By involving civil society representatives, the EESC is actually providing EU candidate countries with the necessary expertise and at the same time with a sense of belonging to the European family. As the EESC President said:
It is not a one-way street. We can learn from you.
Séamus Boland, president of the Civil Society Organisations' Group, complemented:
Civil society organisations can help in the EU enlargement process as they encourage higher standards. They can be front-runners in creating and disseminating a new enlargement narrative.
To that end, both Dajana Cvjetkovic, Centre for Promotion of Civil Society, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Daliborka Uljarevic, Executive Director, Centre for Civic Education in Montenegro, supported the role of the civil society in the enlargement process.
As Daliborka Uljarevic said:
We are the backbones of our society and the aspirations of our citizens. Even when politicians fail to deliver, we are promoting the democratic values, the human rights and social progress. We are the closest allies of the EU institutions and this initiative will further deepen our cooperation.