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Civil society

Luca Jahier, the new president of the EESC, vows to revive civic engagement for a sustainable Europe

19 April Apr 2018 1500 19 April 2018
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Elected as 32nd president of the European Economic and Social Committee, the EU body representing organised civil society, in his inaugural speech Mr Jahier invited all participants to dream with him of a re-energised Europe and to work together for a second European Renaissance.

Italy’s Luca Jahier has been elected as the 32nd president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the EU body representing organised civil society, which he will head for the next two and a half years. The two new vice-presidents will be Milena Angelova (Bulgaria) for budget and Isabel Caño Aguilar (Spain) for communication.

In an inspiring speech, delivered on 18 April at the EESC plenary, which marked the end of the presidency of Georges Dassis and welcomed the new presidency of Mr Jahier, the new president set out the four priorities of his programme: sustainable development, promotion of peace, strengthening the role of culture and giving a voice to Europe’s young people.

«I invite all of you to join me in a strong civic engagement for our sustainable European future. I invite you to dream with me of a re-energised Europe and to work together for a second European Renaissance!» Mr Jahier told the 350-member body, which following the appointment of its new Bureau stands as a shining example of gender equality, with many senior positions filled by women.

Europe – still plagued by high levels of poverty and the unresolved migration crisis, as well as by the low levels of trust in democratic institutions – would benefit from a powerful humanistic revolution and a transformation similar to that of the Renaissance, Mr Jahier added, hoping that his four priorities «for a unifying agenda for the future» could give this “rEUnaissance” a real chance.

The president's programme places the greatest emphasis on sustainable development, which should underpin all transformations that will shape the Europe of tomorrow, such as the fourth industrial revolution, a circular and low-carbon economy, growing challenges to EU values, threats to peace and stability on the EU's borders and many others.

Bottom-up initiatives involving local and regional governments, citizens and civil society will have a key role to play in this agenda for achieving economic prosperity, which must go hand in hand with environmental sustainability and social inclusion.

Mr Jahier's second priority is the promotion of peace, which should not be taken for granted now that the EU faces challenges such as Brexit, growing tensions in the Western Balkans and a rise in terrorism and undemocratic practices in some Member States.

The third priority of the new presidency is strengthening the role of culture, which Mr Jahier sees as a unifying and mobilising force for a Europe that shares a common heritage, history and values. «Culture can help us to overcome the current systemic, political and identity crisis in Europe and encourage us to dream, to create new perspectives», Mr Jahier stressed.

The final priority is making young people the very first agents of change and giving them the space and voice they deserve.

Commending the work of his predecessor, Mr Dassis, on important issues such as migration, the social pillar and the future of Europe, Mr Jahier said he would continue on this path and would strive to further improve the EESC's role in fighting against nationalistic and populist trends, which are on the rise in many Member States, as well as addressing the shrinking civic space.

He said the EESC would take an active part in the upcoming "strategic rendez-vous", such as the EU summit on the future of Europe and participation in President Macron's citizen consultations. The Committee also needs to enhance cooperation with other EU institutions and strengthen dialogue with civil society at large in all EU countries.

«We have the opportunity to give a new impulse to European civil society engagement. For the Europe of tomorrow, we must have the courage; we must dare to imagine a new world. There is no time to waste, as so many defeats in history can be summarised in two words: too late,» Mr Jahier concluded.

In their inaugural speeches, the two vice-presidents talked about the importance and value of the EESC's work.

«The EESC has a unique and key role to play here, being in a position to present the balanced view of the social partners and organised civil society on how to work together more effectively to achieve a more united and more federal Europe… I believe that the motto of the current Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union – United we stand strong – is directly relevant and should be fully endorsed,» said Ms Angelova who will be in charge of the EESC budget.

The elected vice-president for communication, Ms Caño Aguilar, said: «We are the voice of the workers, the employers, the activists, the voluntary workers, the consumers, the disabled, the farmers. We are the cement which has provided the foundations for Europe, which is doing so today and which will continue to provide those foundations in the future. The Committee is the real point of dialogue, the bridge between the European institutions and the machinery that keeps everything moving. And in this role, we must listen and speak out».

The text of Mr Luca Jahier's inaugural speech follows.



of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)

Inaugural Speech


Dare a sustainable Europe'

Brussels, 18 April 2018

Distinguished guests

Dear friends and colleagues,

I take up the challenge of this Presidency with a spirit of service, with passion and hope!
For did not the philosopher Aristotle declare that 'Hope is a waking dream'?
So, I invite all of you to join me for a strong civic engagement for our sustainable European future.
I invite you to dream with me of a re-energised Europe and to work together for a second European Renaissance!

His Holiness Pope Francis asked at the conferral of the Charlemagne prize in 2016: "What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?"
I would not presume to provide an exhaustive answer during the next two and a half years.
But I will certainly work with all of you to improve the EESC’s role in re-instilling unity, dynamism and a new direction in the EU.
Fighting against the polarisation of our societies and against increasing nationalistic and populist trends.
A shrinking civic space, which is threatening our democracy, has no place in the Europe of tomorrow!

The European Union should be proud of its extraordinary achievement of the past 60 years, during which we preserved peace and prosperity.

Let us NOT forget that most Member States are currently living through the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth. Last year, consensus was reached on key joint initiatives such as the European Pillar of Social Rights and the EU Defence Cooperation Pact.

This is not to say that we should be complacent.

There is a lot of uncertainty on the horizon, both within the EU and externally.

It would be foolhardy and deeply unfair not to listen to and react constructively to the warning signals, such as the continuously high levels of poverty touching 24% of Europeans; the widening inequalities between and inside EU Member States; the low levels of trust in democratic institutions; the unresolved migration crisis that could disrupt European unity; the still incomplete and fragile economic and monetary union.

The EU is unarguably going through five fundamental transformations:

- Firstly, an economic transformation The fourth industrial revolution, accompanied by significant ethical questions, educational, social and economic challenges and opportunities;
- Secondly, an energy and ecological transformation, towards a circular and low carbon economy which respects the finite resources of our planet and gives a key role to citizens and local communities.
- Thirdly, a deep social transformation, with a changing labour market and welfare state, a greater role for new actors and social innovation and the crucial need to strengthen the European social model for all generations;
- Fourthly, a democratic and participatory transformation. Shrinking civic space, biases introduced by misinformation, new forms of illiberalism and growing challenges to EU values are clear threats to our democracies.
- Lastly, a geopolitical transition in international relations, that can be summarized in the swift change from cooperative competition to disruptive confrontation, from trade to security, from growing tensions to real wars at EU borders.

WE have to become the shapers of those transformations.

We need to engage and forge a new positive narrative for Europe and revive civic engagement for a sustainable European future.

As the philosopher Immanuel Kant said in the 18th century,
we must "Dare to understand”.

That is true particularly in today's world of extreme emotive reactions. We need to understand, guided by reason, humanism, science and progress. Not guided by prejudice, fears, distrust or hate.

This rationality does not negate emotions.
Hope, love, frustration, fear, joy - these emotions bind us together.
Emotions touch upon the very essence of what it means to be 'alive'.
Ignoring emotions means ignoring our humanity, ignoring our need to connect and …dream.

I am more and more convinced that Europe needs today 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.
“Homo faber ipsius fortunae”,
Man is the artisan of his fortune. Today, we need a similar process.

So, I stand before you, with four priorities for the next two and a half years.

Four priorities for a unifying agenda for the future.
For giving this rEUnaissance a real chance.

First, a European Union of sustainable development. Sustainable development can provide necessary responses to all five transformations I mentioned earlier.
It is imperative that EU makes the 2030 Agenda the horizontal European priority.

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.
The EU must maintain its momentum, embrace change.

One thing is certain: this transformation can only be achieved through bottom up initiatives by local and regional authorities, with civil society and citizens playing a key role.

Business has a pivotal role to play in this agenda for change. But without the strong involvement of our trade unions and all other civil society organisations, we will be unable to tackle inequalities and deliver what I consider the new Social and Economic Contract for the 21st Century!

My second priority is the promotion of Peace.
We should not take peace for granted.
In a few months we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Reconciliation and peace are the greatest achievements of the European Union. By interlinking our economies and interests, by perfecting the art of compromise, we have created the most reliable system for long-term peace in the world.

But let's not forget … as Herman Van Rompuy highlighted in 2014 at Ypres: "War has become inconceivable. Yet 'inconceivable' does not mean 'impossible'…".

The threat of global conflicts is flaring up in the light of recent shifts in geopolitics.

For the very first time since its creation, the EU is challenged by its first ever divorce (Brexit) and by growing tensions in its neighbourhood—the Balkans, Southern Mediterranean and Eastern borders.

At home, some fail to uphold fundamental rights, values of freedom, solidarity, democracy and rule of law. We are shattered by the rising antisemitism, racism, terrorism and protectionism.

Worryingly, the world and Europe are not prepared. And without Peace there is no growth, no decent jobs and no cohesion.
Without peace there is no sustainable Europe.

My third priority is that of strengthening the role of Culture within the European political discourse.

Culture has an enormous untapped potential to become a unifying and mobilising force for Europe. We share a common European heritage, composed of shared history and values, which allows us to sense our belonging to a joint space in constant evolution and openness to diversity
And also the social economy market, the European social model, subsidiarity and sustainability are today key parts of this heritage.

We have many successful cultural initiatives at the European level – the current European Year of Cultural Heritage and the 'EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations' to name just two. But it is not enough. Culture can help us overcome the current systemic, political and identity crisis in Europe and dare us to dream, to create new perspectives.
It can play a crucial role in strengthening social and territorial cohesion, in creating growth and jobs, in engaging in dialogue and in re-building trust.
Culture can bring Hope, New Narratives and a second Renaissance to Europe!

Last but not least, my final priority will be to give our youth the space and voice that they deserve – they must become the very first agents of change.

I will work with all of you to find a way to re-engage youth in the democratic system. It is unacceptable to find in most of our countries millennials that are disillusioned and isolated. In Britain and Poland less than half of under25–year olds voted in their countries' most recent general elections. In Italy an increasing majority of youth has voted in recent elections, but most of them against the current establishment.

This will further challenge our institutions.

As the European Commission's First Vice-President Frans Timmermans asked our plenary last year: "Why can we not make these young people dream?".
We cannot build the sustainable Europe of tomorrow without our youth!

Lastly, my dear colleagues … a few words on the role of the EESC in this positive change.

We already have a unifying European agenda. Not only by virtue of Article 2 of the TEU on a 'Union of Common Values'. More recently also with the Bratislava Declaration (September 2016) and the Rome Declaration of March last year.

Let us recall that the Rome Declaration states that «We have built a unique Union with common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare».

At the level of the Committee, we have transposed these horizontal ideas into concrete political documents, such as the 2017 'Resolution on the Future of Europe and Beyond' and the ‘EESC Political Priorities' for 2018.
We can count on the strong commitment of the 3 Groups, the concrete work of our sections and other internal bodies and also of the 3 new ones we have just created for dealing with key priorities: rule of law and fundamental rights, European semester and artificial intelligence.

With these instruments we have to face the upcoming strategic rendezvous: the negotiations on the EU budget after 2020, the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the European elections, the EU Summit in Sibiu on the future of Europe and our participation in President Macron's Citizen Consultations.
And of course, our contribution to the political and legislative priorities of the next European Commission, focusing also on a renewed EU Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) accompanied by a specific plan for boosting investments in social infrastructures.

We need to enhance our cooperation with other EU institutions and strengthen our "going local" initiative, for a more in-depth dialogue with our constituencies and civil society at large in all EU countries.

Our Committee faces both opportunities and responsibilities.

We have the opportunity to give a new impulse to European civil society engagement.
We will be able to fulfil our responsibilities if we cooperate and stand strong and united: Groups, Sections and the Administration together.

We must improve our avenues of communication and reinforce ‘competition’ in the original sense of the word – petere cum – to be more focused and deliver strategic actions, always adapting our methods and internal instruments accordingly.

Ladies and gentlemen: Albert Einstein once said that «Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere. Only imagination has the power to make that paradigm 'leap' necessary to design the future».
For the Europe of tomorrow, we must have the courage; we must dare to imagine a new world.

We must have the ambition to put opportunities and goals before problems.
We must have the creativity and determination to transform a vision into a positive European narrative.
A profoundly human narrative. The gentle touch, the human ecology, the forgotten word of the French revolution: fraternity.
There is no time to waste, as so many defeats in history can be summarised in two words: too late.

Thank you

Cover picture: Luca Jahier. ©EESC

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