ALLIANCE Director Irene Oldfather shares an update from the European Economic and Social Committee's Diversity Europe Group
2018 was a year of renewal, marked by a new Presidency, a change of name and logo. There was a redefinition of the Group’s identity and priorities around the topic of ‘Diversity.’
Since the mid-term renewal of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in April 2018 we have sought to drive new initiatives within the EESC. This led to the organisation of five thematic conferences last year, totalling over 1,000 external participants.
In addition, our Group launched or completed five studies and requested two own-initiative opinions. Moreover, there have been specific outputs from our work in 2018, starting with ‘taking Europe to its regions.’
- For example, during our conference in Feldkirch (Austria) on the topic ‘Can Economic Progress and Social Stability Cure EU-scepticism?’ But also during the numerous ‘going local’ events of members and the statements by the Group III President at civil society events.
- Secondly, in 2018 we gave a voice to the most vulnerable, most notably at our conference in Sofia on Supporting Vulnerable Regions and Citizens.
- Thirdly, we took a proactive approach, addressing important topical subjects such as populism.
- Fourthly, we supported greater responsibility for defending and promoting the EU among individual Group III members, through a heightened and well-coordinated communication strategy.
- Fifthly, in 2018 we introduced a new approach to the work of Group III. Namely, a focus on horizontal topics of common interest to members at Group III events, marking a departure from previous practices of specific policy work.
The most successful example of this horizontal approach was undoubtedly our contribution to the EESC ‘Roadmap to Sibiu and Beyond.’ The Diversity Europe Group seized the initiative and was the first Committee body to organise a brainstorming event on the topic and to draft a written contribution.
In conclusion, it is clear that in 2018 the Diversity Europe Group did make a concrete contribution to rendering the EU more transparent, comprehensive to citizens and better governed. Our change of name has given us clarity, a new direction and new priorities which will continue to be pursued this year.
2019 will be a very challenging year at European level, with the elections to the European Parliament, the conclusion of the Brexit negotiations, the Sibiu Summit on the future of Europe and a new European Commission to be instated. We, as civil society representatives, have a key role in ensuring that the EU is more transparent and better understood by citizens by defending democracy, but also positively influencing the future EU agenda.
We will begin our activities in 2019 with a discussion within our Group on trade, a topic where we have special aims, challenges, fears and proposals to introduce. We will continue with a meeting in Belfast in February, to discuss the impact of Brexit on civil society with our Irish and UK colleagues. We will maintain close relations with civil society across the Channel, throughout the final phase of the Brexit negotiations and well into our future relationship.
In the first few months of 2019 we will also step up our Communication on the Group III Recommendations on Sibiu, which were adopted in September 2018. In parallel, we will begin preparations for a large-scale event in Bucharest on the subject ‘A Europe of Shared Values and Civil Society,’ scheduled for May, just after the Sibiu Summit. This event will complement the findings of a study to be launched by our Group this year, entitled ‘Finding a New Consensus on Civil Society Values and their Evaluation.’
Moreover, in this year’s communication strategy, we will stress the pivotal role of education in combatting the proliferation of populism. Not forgetting of course the necessity to stimulate economic growth and to defend against unemployment and poverty. Our study on ‘Youngsters in the EU: perceptions, knowledge and expectations on Europe,’ to be published this year, will complement these activities.
This year the Diversity Europe Group will also bring many new initiatives, with a large-scale event on new European role models for women and men and an event in Finland on the importance of small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in agriculture, tourism and the environment, both scheduled for the second half of the year. Mention should also be made of the three own-initiative opinions on trade and tourism, a future EU agenda for disability rights and on the challenges for families in Europe.
Above all, this year we must rise to the challenge as the direct link between the Institutions and citizens. We are aware of our responsibility to re-energise Europe, to disseminate the benefits of EU membership, to defend democracy and support an engaged civil society. Let us not forget that the EU needs, not only our expertise, but also our engagement, in order to give credibility to the European project of today and tomorrow! We can help for a better Europe as Europe helps us for a better life.