The European Union must become healthier, fairer and more prosperous, while stepping up its long‑term transformation into a greener economy that is fit for the digital age. This is the message that the EESC President Christa Schweng delivered on 27 January 2021, during the first day of the EESC plenary session, to European Commission Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Maroš Šefčovič.
The Commission's 2021 work programme for an inclusive, digital and green Europe
Referring to the EESC contribution to the 2021 European Commission's work programme, adopted in July 2020, Ms Schweng pointed out that the Committee's priorities were aligned with those of the Commission and that most of the proposals the EESC had put forward would be addressed by the Commission: "We wish to make a powerful contribution to Europe's recovery and future resilience to ensure a Europe that is prospering economically, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable".
Mr Šefčovič specified that the Commission's 2021 work programme followed the conclusions of the first annual Strategic Foresight Report, published in September 2020, and included individual initiatives which all reflected the political ambitions of the von der Leyen Commission: recovery of the economy in a socially inclusive way, twin digital and climate transitions and strengthening Europe's resilience and leading position in the world. "The work programme is designed to help the EU move beyond the fragility caused by the crisis and create a new vitality, by putting a clear focus on delivery with future-proof solutions across all policy areas", he said.
Recovering from the crisis and fighting the pandemic
In this respect, Ms Schweng stated that the Commission could count on the EESC's full support in the implementation of its ambitious goals, for example by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of sustainability in the EU from the economic, environmental, social and institutional point of view: This could help to identify new opportunities for post-pandemic recovery. Our incumbent challenge ahead is to effectively tackle the economic and social hardship caused by COVID-19.
For his part, Mr Šefčovič maintained that the pandemic was having a terrible impact on our societies, but also presented opportunities: "Our Union showed a great deal of solidarity and unity. We do not just bounce back, but also forward and after all the challenges of 2020, now is the time to kick our recovery from the COVID-19 crisis into gear and set out the future we want for our Union".
In particular, he mentioned the importance of dealing with the devastating social consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, adding that the European Social Summit proposed by the Portuguese Presidency would be an excellent opportunity to put into practice the European Pillar of Social Rights so that nobody would be left behind.
With reference to the ongoing measures against the pandemic, Mr Šefčovič praised the Commission's efforts and work towards an EU Health Union, which had enabled the EU to take a coordinated approach on vaccination and secure the broadest portfolio of vaccines in the world, consisting of 2.3 billion doses.
The key role played by EU organised civil society
To successfully overcome the crisis, both Ms Schweng and Mr Šefčovič agreed on the need for a joint effort among institutional actors, public authorities and organised civil society. This was also emphasised by the EESC group representatives.
During the debate, Stefano Mallia, president of the EESC Employers' Group, welcomed the Commission's foresight approach, as a long-term view is the only way to put enterprises in a better position to grow and create more jobs.
Oliver Röpke, president of the EESC Workers' Group, highlighted that political vision had paid off and, as the pandemic had pushed the European Union and its citizens to the limit, now was the time to deliver, taking into account workers' concerns.
Jarmila Dubravská, on behalf of the EESC Diversity Europe Group, stressed that European farmers were ready and willing to work on the recovery of Europe, but that the conditions had to be right and the farming sector must be strengthened.
The Conference on the Future of Europe
In conclusion, Ms Schweng revealed that the Committee would play a full part in the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe, a unique opportunity to encourage a frank discussion on the challenges ahead and future shape of the EU.
"Our unique position as a bridge between the EU institutions and organised civil society makes it possible to reach out to a vast number of Europeans from different backgrounds, including those parts of society that would otherwise have no voice. This is even more important today, in the framework of the COVID-19 crisis", concluded Ms Schweng.
Picture: Christa Schweng, President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations. Picture: © EESC.