Irene Oldfather, ALLIANCE Director and Member of the UK delegation to the European Economic Social Committee (EESC), outlines EESC's plans.
With the newspapers full of articles about Brexit and the European referendum, it would appear, on the horizon, it is worth reflecting on how we engage with Europe and what it means to us in Scotland.
The work of the EESC, where I have the privilege of being one of the new UK members, is important to the Third Sector, as it offers the opportunity for us to be more than mere observers on the European stage. The EESC describes itself as a bridge between Europe and organised Civil Society.
A consultative body created by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 the EESC is the second assembly of the European Union (EU). It ensures that organised civil society from the 28 Member States in all its diversity is represented in Brussels. Its 353 members come from organisations of employers. Works and other sections of organised civil society, especially in the socioeconomic, civil, professional and cultural spheres (SME and craft associations, farmers’ organisations, NGOs working for the environment, combating poverty and social exclusion, youth, consumer protection, etc.).
The very existence of the EESC serves to illustrate the European vision of democracy, which involves citizens through their own actions and not just their ballot papers. The Committee is the only non-political institutional forum for representation, consultation, meeting and dialogue at European level, enabling consensus between divergent stakeholders serving the general interest based on its members’ experience and expertise.
Thus, the EESC communicates the concerns of European civil society to the European institutions, so that the views it expresses are taken into account in the EU policy and decision making process. The aim of its opinions is to help ensure that European policies and legislation are suited to the economic, social and societal realities of the Member States. This also helps to make these policies and decisions more understandable and acceptable for ordination Europeans.
In doing so, it helps to make the framing of EU policies and preparations of EU decisions more democratic while also bringing the European Union closer to its citizens. Thus, participatory democracy enriches parliamentary democracy-foundation of political democracy-by enabling players from civil society to make their voices heard. The EESC therefore plays a distinct role of its own, in consolidating the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of the EU, in partnership with other European institutions.
The EESC also helps to promote values underpinning the European integration process within and outside the EU, to develop dialogue with and between civil society organisations, and to establish consultative structures in non-EU countries.
In short it is a way of connecting the Third Sector and Civil Society more closely to the European Policy agenda, and connecting Europe more closely to the Third Sector. In the next few weeks I hope to have a webpage where you can follow the agenda of the EESC more closely, with guest blog pieces from those working across the sector and updates from myself.
Looking to future activity, in the short term the EESC is planning to host a conference in Manchester on Tuesday 8th March in order to provide an opportunity, ahead of a referendum, to discuss our experience of Europe. The agenda is currently under discussion, and places are limited, but if you would like to attend- or if you have any comments or views that you, or your organisation would like me to put forward, I would be very pleased to do so and especially to know “Europe – What Matters to You?”