Communication for Sustainable Development

Europe Needs Civil Society

Official emblem of the EESCImage via Wikipedia
Brussels - Engaging people for a sustainable Europe is the main political message of my term as  President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

At a moment when the EU has to make long-term strategic choices, and to opt for realistic, yet ambitious policy responses to Europe's economic and social challenges, I have decided to make sustainability and engagement with Europeans the flagships of my programme for the next two and a half years. Sustainable growth to finance our European social models and promote our interests and values on the world stage, as well as regaining citizens' trust in the EU and their governments are keys for the future of Europe.

More civil society involvement at EU level through dialogue and participation, sustainability and green growth, and solidarity with the developing world are my priorities. I want the organized civil society to be able to play a bolder role in the decision-making process of the EU. This is most likely to happen as the new Treaty compels all EU institutions to engage in structured dialogue with civil society. Not all of the EU institutions are equipped to do it, nor are all willing to do it. But the EESC, with more than half a century of experience in consultation and consensus-building, is ready to help.
This would not only make the EU more democratic, but also keep the vision of a common Europe alive.
How can the EESC have a stronger say in EU policy-making affairs? The answer is – EU institutions need to use more our membership's expertise! The Committee's members not only have the know-how to analyse particular policy issues from all angles and to propose concrete policy recommendations, but they can also carry out a reality check of European initiatives and ideas to ensure that they do not miss their goals.

With members from all walks of life who spend most of their time with their own organisations in their home countries, the Committee brings together economic, social and civic organisations in the 27 Member States: employers' associations and trade unions, the professions, farmers' organisations, SMEs, and other non-governmental organisations working for the environment, consumer protection, human rights, social inclusion etc. 

For me, sustainability should be the umbrella strategy embracing all policy areas. The source for jobs and green economic growth is entrepreneurship. Incentives and regulatory simplification are needed to make people more willing to start and run businesses. I define sustainable businesses as those that aim at more than just the maximum profit, such as the social economy companies – e.g. cooperatives, mutuals and associations. These often offer more sustainable business models than the traditional listed ones. My vision for a recovered Europe also includes its ability to act effectively and with one voice on the world stage. It is clear that the competitive global economic environment is also about out-thinking others. For instance, the EU has the potential to lead global sustainable development. Under my presidency, the EESC will draw up a European organised civil society's position in preparation for the 2012 World Summit on Sustainable Development Rio+20. The Rio+20 Summit is about mobilising not only governments but also civil society.

My work programme fully supports the concerted work of the EU institutions and Member States on the Europe 2020 Strategy.  I have just initiated a EUROPE 2020 Steering Committee in the EESC, a horizontal strategy group, coordinating all the thematic work of the EESC and getting the national economic and social councils involved in it. The aim is to identify and promote particular initiatives and best practises in the ongoing reform process in the Member States. Only with the civil society on board, can the Europe 2020 Strategy deliver concrete results and make Europeans happier than they are now under austerity measures.

The European Commission has asked the EESC to play a major role in the reform process implied by the Europe2020 Strategy. In my view, besides tackling the crisis effects, we need to look towards the future. We need both a social and a competitive Europe and the EU is capable of making the impossible possible.

EUROPE 2020 should go beyond goodwill to action. The EESC can come up with concrete proposals for making the EU reform strategy a reality in all Member States. This claim is based on the EESC's strong links with the national civil society stakeholders. I have just started a series of visits to the Member States to discuss cooperation strategies between national economic and social councils and governments on the reform process. I urge national civil society including social partners to take full ownership of the economic and social reform process.

Staffan Nilsson Swedish farmer, a long-standing European advocate, and an EESC member in the Various Interests Group since 1995, has just been elected President of the EESC for two-and-a-half year term. In his programme, he makes sustainability a strategic imperative for all EU policies

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