Luca Jahier, President of the European Economic and Social Committee: I am convinced that Europe must be sustainable – or it will not be at all.
Now is the time to rethink our growth models and to balance economic prosperity with environmental sustainability, promoting investment, innovation, competitiveness, social inclusion and cohesion, good employment and democratic participation
- April 03, 2019 09:30
- Olya Georgieva
The European Economic and Social Committee contributes to strengthening the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of the European Union by enabling civil society organizations from the Member States to express their views at European level. What are the greatest achievements of the EESC since it was set up in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome? What are the goals of the Committee over the coming years?
At the EESC, we represent the very spirit of our European democracies. It is an intermediary force, carrying Europe back into local and national environments and representing their needs and hopes. It is a house of debate, consultation and compromise. Our members are not paid for the work they do for the EESC, they volunteer on top of their duties as farmers, unionists, business representatives, leaders of Civil Society Organisations and much more. The EESC has much to be proud of. With more than 2000 meetings annually, many of them in Member States or outside the EU, feeding into an average of 200 opinions per year, we contribute to strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU.
I would like to mention only a few of the remarkable examples of the EESC's greatest achievements.
The EESC was behind the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers in 1989, which then became part of European legislation. And last year we were, together with national ECS, a leading partner in the debate in all 28 Member States for the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Our long-term work in the field of migration and refugees resulted in the establishment in 2009 of the Integration Forum, now the European Migration Forum, which has been one of the most appreciated platforms of permanent dialogue between civil society and the institutions.
We have also successfully accompanied the enlargement process with structured preparatory dialogues with civil society representations of the candidate countries. We are now doing the same in the Western Balkans.
We were among those leading the successful call for integrating sustainability elements in trade agreements and for giving civil society a role in the monitoring process. We are now involved in several Domestic Advisory Bodies.
We pioneered suggestions on the Financial Transaction Tax, Social Economy and social enterprises, food waste, programmed obsolescence, industrial transformation and artificial intelligence, new models of functional, cooperative and circular economy, latter leading to the recent creation of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, a unique instrument for structured dialogue in the EU.
And on institutional level, we should definitely remember what has been the largest institutional achievement of the EESC in the past 20 years: the full recognition of the constitutional role of civil dialogue and participatory democracy, with Article 11 of the Treaty, something unique in the world.
Currently, we aim to follow three main priorities: to find better ways to communicate the strengths of Europe, to accept the problems and challenges and deal with them realistically and finally, to find innovative solutions in order to create a new story of Europe, while at the same time, showing strength to the European project.
The EESC is actively engaged in the current debate on the future of Europe. How can the European Union get closer to its citizens and become a global leader in sustainable development? What will be the role of the EESC in this process?
Currently, our European political system of representative democracies is facing a crisis of legitimacy. This crisis is driven by a certain complacency and disinterest on the one hand and populist, anti-elite rhetoric on the other. This leads us to a situation in which citizens feel they are not being heard by their own democratically elected decision-makers. Many citizens lack a sense of ownership and involvement.
I am convinced that the EESC has a crucial role to play in this process. We can contribute to give Europe's organized civil society a voice. Furthermore, we can assist in ensuring that citizens have a clear idea of the work and relevance of the EU. To get closer to the citizens, we are 'going local.' We are organizing country visits and events with organized civil society in the Member States to foster a debate on the future of Europe. Thereby we debate where people are (on the web, on social media, in schools, universities, in companies and factories, in NGOs).
On 20 March, our Committee adopted a wide-ranging opinion entitled "Listening to the citizens of Europe for a sustainable future (Sibiu and beyond)." This sets out the vision for the future, from a civil society perspective while addressing four major transformations.
You may know that sustainable development is one of the three priorities of my mandate as President of the EESC. The challenges we face today are numerous and they are unprecedented. We absolutely need to act with great urgency. The special IPCC (UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report adopted in October 2018 scientifically confirmed the need for urgent climate action. Carbon dioxide concentrations have never been as high.
Making sustainable development a horizontal priority and translating the UN's Sustainable Development Goals into policies that can improve the wellbeing of our people is the best chance that the EU has to re-connect with its citizens and avoid the mass populist vote in the next European elections, and ultimately a major crisis of the European project.
Your president's programme focuses on three main priorities - sustainable development, peace and culture. Tell us more about each one of them.
I am convinced that Europe must be sustainable – or it will not be at all. Therefore, I located sustainable development among the key priorities under my presidency at the EESC. Hereby, particularly the Agenda 2030 plays a crucial role. The Agenda 2030 is a win-win strategy for employers, for workers and for the whole planet. It is a global, comprehensive and positive economic, social and environmental contract of shared responsibility to commit to a path towards sustainable human well-being within planetary boundaries. Time has come for a new Social and Economic Contract for the 21st century.
Peace and reconciliation are the greatest achievements of the European Union. By interlinking our economies and people, we have created the most reliable system for long-term peace in the world. However, this peace cannot be taken for granted. We need to continuously reinforce our values as democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, human dignity and freedom. I am convinced that if we work together we will achieve a better outcome for all. Therefore, I believe we need to the future of our EU project for peace, progress and democracy which we have built for over 60 years.
Europe has always demonstrated a particular richness of culture and cultural heritage. Culture is an important factor for our EU project. I found myself quite surprise however that culture has until recently been rather absent from the dominant political discourse. I am convinced that an open understanding of its diversity and development, cultural practice and its inclusion in education on all levels are key to the sustainable development of an inclusive Europe and to counter nationalist and xenophobic tendencies.
Among your priorities you put special focus on young people. How can the Committee support young people in becoming the very first agents of change and give them the space and voice they deserve?
Yes, focusing on young people is among the key priorities under my mandate as President of the EESC. Young people are the future. I am convinced that we need young, creative and constructive minds to drive our societies forward.
On a more practical level, I am happy that at the EESC we are already engaging with young people. Recently at out event "Civil Society for rEUnaissance" I had the great pleasure of welcoming young climate activist Greta Thunberg. Supporting her and other youth activists to become agents of change by giving them the space they deserve is indispensable. Furthermore, a few days ago we hosted the 19th anniversary of the yearly youth event "Your Europe, Your Say!" for secondary school students from all EU member states and candidate countries. Thereby, secondary students address political challenges and draft possible solutions.
At the Committee, we take young people, their needs and ideas seriously. Therefore, I urge everyone to reinforce our efforts to engage and communicate WITH young people, showing that we are serious about dialogue, and not merely citing them at official occasions.
In the end of 2018 you have started a series of talks with the so called “innovative minds of Europe” called #LEuropaebella (Europe is beautiful). Tell us why have you started this project and what do you aim with it?
At the EESC, we are convinced that the European Union has managed to preserve peace for 70 years. But we are now confronted with the most dangerous democratic crisis since the end of the war. I believe we should not take peace for granted. Our values and our democratic way of life should be nurtured and enhanced.
The European Union will continue to be the best gift we can leave to our children, the best place in the world to live in, start a family, do business, be cared for, be protected and have a diversity of living together in a fruitful way. This is why I started the campaign #LEuropaebella, to give underscore the positive aspects of our living together as a United Europe.
I believe that we need to re-energise Europe, eventually leading towards a second European Renaissance.
Let's see the glass half full, rather than half empty, carve a positive narrative of our achievements …. And roll up our sleeves to continue working at the construction of our Union. Only together can we solve global challenges and shape a sustainable future for the next generation.
I believe that our citizens, their needs, but also their solutions, are the key to the future of Europe; they are the key to more prosperity, peace, stability and growth for us all. Let us do our jobs better, let’s work together for this common goal!
How can the “rEUnaissance”, for which you called on, bring a real change? What do you suggest concretely?
The theme of my Presidency at the EESC is 'rEUnaissance: dare a sustainable future'. I believe that Europe -that our world- needs a new Renaissance.
The Renaissance was a powerful and vast humanistic revolution, which re-established the real dimension of culture in its concrete relation with science, the art of government and the organisation of economic and social life and founded the modern transformation of Europe.
Today, we need a similar process, based on not only a new economic model, but also a new narrative. That is why my rEUnaissance priorities are sustainable development, peace and culture – the essential ingredients for a new narrative.
Thereby, the strategy for the 21st century already exists. It is the Agenda 2030. It is imperative that the EU makes the 2030 Agenda the horizontal European priority, which would enable Europe to move towards a sustainable growth and towards social justice. Now is the time to rethink our growth models and to balance economic prosperity with environmental sustainability, promoting investment, innovation, competitiveness, social inclusion and cohesion, good employment and democratic participation.
Concretely, this can be achieved by implementing a smart, sustainable and innovative industrial policy, based on a strong, fair and indivisible Single Market supported by adequate investments, as well as state of the art technical and environmental developments.
How organizations like TheMayorEU and EESC can work together to drive growth and to ensure a better future of Europe?
At the EESC, we believe in cooperation with civil society and local and regional authorities.
With Karl-Heinz Lambertz, president of the Committee of the Regions, we have launched the idea to have an EU permanent mechanism for structured consultations and dialogues with citizens.
The EESC and CoR are in constant dialogue with citizens through their members and their respective constituencies. Thus, we have been developing expertise, knowledge and tools to constitute the bridge between citizens and the European Union. Other EU institutions have also developed consultations and dialogue.
President Emmanuel Macron in his last open letter to EU citizens calls for a Conference for Europe that will need to engage with citizens' panesl and hear academics, business and labour representatives as well as religious and spiritual leaders. He wants the Conference to define a roadmap for the European Union that translates key priorities in concrete actions.
Time has come to give to these efforts more coherence through a longer-term strategy and to make them more impactful involving both civil society organization and local and regional authorities.
An EU permanent structured consultation with citizens will require a coordinated and coherent approach between the EU institutions and advisory bodies so to exploit synergies and complementarities among them as well as to speak with a clear and coherent voice to citizens.