The EESC, an organisation essential to governance by dialogue
What is the role and the mission of the EESC? How is it constituted?
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) was the first participatory assembly to be formed in the history of Europe. The “ECSC Consultative Committee” was in existence even before the Treaty of Rome.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) does not pass laws, but it has an essential function in the European construction, that of a bridge between organised civil society and political decision-makers. It strives to integrate the experiences of real life into the drafting of European policies, giving clear, informed advice to legislators. Every year it issues between 160 and 190 reports of opinion and information.
Europe thus sought to establish two pillars of support: firstly, that of governance by governments and the institutions they create, and secondly, governance issuing from the representative organisations of civil society, from all the intermediary bodies, which form an essential component of subsidiarity. As well as these pillars, Europe then had the courage to develop a parliamentary assembly, a parliament worthy of the name, and then an assembly of regional powers.
If we lose this concept of multiple governance, especially in these times of such significant and abrupt transformation, where each element is fundamental in helping us to understand, to create alliances, mutual understanding and commitment as part of our transformation plan, we will be disoriented.
This route is the only one possible. With what could we replace it? With online consultations, with Facebook “likes”? The very concept of such simplification is stark.
I am convinced that since its origin, the Treaty of Rome, and even since the ECSC, the European project has upheld the four articles of its democracy as found in the Treaty of Lisbon*. The EESC is the institutional space that supports the building of the aforementioned bridge.
You are about to take up your duties at the head of the European Economic and Social Committee. What are the challenges the institution will face over the next few years?
I see four main tasks. Firstly, we will need to work intensively on matters of sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda is our major positive and systemic response to this huge problem. It’s a question of vision. Europe was the originator of this agenda, and also holds the essential keys to successful intervention. Europe should not insist on taking pride of place, but should make this agenda the driving force behind the policies of the future.
The second task is peace. It is no longer simply a matter of heritage and greater success for Europe. Today, we are once again in danger. Europe is in the process of experiencing its very first divorce, and it is a deep wound; we are not concerned here with a minor technical detail. Europe is in the process of experiencing a situation of war, of conflict, of tension, at all its borders. And for the first time it is experiencing within itself a fundamental questioning of the values enshrined in Article 2 of the treaty.
Peace is therefore a vital element that requires renewed work, the renegotiation of alliances and an acute awareness of the problems that face us today, namely the fundamental values on which we have based our existence as Europeans, which are now seriously at stake. We would do well to be aware of this, since without peace there is no future, no growth, no quality employment, no sustainable development.
The third task, in my opinion, is culture, because this contains a vast store of potential positive energy for the future. This is a source of hope that can help us to rediscover the strength of these values, along with a reservoir of redevelopment and of life. I am not talking only of the creative industries. Let us look at Bilbao, Manchester, all the European Capitals of Culture: I saw Sibiu when it was European Capital of Culture, and I have visited it again since, and I saw for myself that its economy, too, had been transformed.
Culture becomes a positive lever of economic transformation, for creating employment, and a factor that enables communities to overcome divisions and to rebuild. Of course, it does not provide an instant solution for those who are living in poverty, but it does offer an instrument of progress. There are also other tools within a framework of sustainable development, such as growth and social security.
The fourth task is young people, whom we should place at the centre of our projects. They are the primary lever that can trigger this vast change and progress alongside it. There is a serious question that really must be asked: why prevent the young people of today from dreaming? Why do we not dream along with them of a future of sound values, a future of peace, of unity, of solidarity, of cohesion and universal rights?
Young people help us to refocus our perspectives on the future. Europe needs to rethink its activities and realign them with the future, rather than concerning ourselves solely with preserving the status quo. Our response should be to progress from what we have learned so far and head for the future. Our agenda should be an agenda for the future. Young people have this driving force within them. Culture can establish the right conditions within which to achieve these aims, and sustainable development can become our agenda, with peace an indispensable part of it.
What role can Christians play in this economic and social dynamic?
In times of fear and closed attitudes, Christians should continue to speak these simple words: we should not be afraid. From its origins as the dream of a few, Europe has become a fact of life for 500 million people, guaranteeing peace and prosperity.
On the difficult road we are travelling, full of challenges, Christians have four things to offer. First of all, they can point out new, positive reasons to hope, and increase existing ones, on the basis of the appropriate application of the values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union and the principles and objectives detailed in Article 3. Secondly, they can cultivate a wider, more far-sighted vision than one that is centred exclusively on the short-term and individual interests. Thirdly, they can keep reminding people that the strength of society as a whole is always a function of the integrity of the weakest link, or that which is subject to the greatest forces: if this link gives way, the whole chain is broken. Finally, they can emphasise that Europe should, as a matter of urgency, invest courageously beyond its borders, both across the Mediterranean and throughout Africa and towards the east, because our future also depends on the peaceful progress of the rest of the world, in which Europe can and should play a crucial role.
Interview by Johanna Touzel
Translated from the original text in French
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.
*Article 9 of the Treaty of Lisbon provides that Europe is based on citizens and democracy; Article 10 asserts that it is founded on representative democracy (this is the role of the European Parliament); Article 11 deals with participatory democracy; and finally, Article 12 refers to the national parliaments. It is not an error and not by chance that the legislators have included participatory democracy. An obligation to hold constant, constructive dialogue is at the heart of the four articles of the Treaty concerned with democracy.