Accept Refuse

EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

Back to EUR-Lex homepage

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Document 52012IE0766

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Principles, procedures and action for the implementation of Article 11(1) and (2) of the Lisbon Treaty' (own-initiative opinion)’

OJ C 11, 15.1.2013, p. 8–15 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

15.1.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 11/8


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Principles, procedures and action for the implementation of Article 11(1) and (2) of the Lisbon Treaty' (own-initiative opinion)’

2013/C 11/03

Rapporteur: Mr JAHIER

On 14 July 2011 the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an own-initiative opinion on

Principles, procedures and action for the implementation of Articles 11(1) and 11(2) of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 3 September 2012.

At its 484th plenary session, held on 14 and 15 November 2012 (meeting of 14 November 2012), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 168 votes to 3 with 7 abstentions.

"Nothing can be done without citizens but nothing can last without institutions"

Jean Monnet

1.   Conclusions

1.1

The Committee considers it vital to develop practical proposals for action to ensure that the various EU institutions act, within their respective remits, to frame suitable measures for implementing Article 11(1) and (2) TEU. This process should be seen as an opportunity to expand and bolster the structures for dialogue with civil society at European level as well as at national, regional and local levels.

1.2

Representative democracy remains at the heart of democracy. Participatory democracy is a complementary approach and never an alternative to representative democracy, on which all our societies are based. Similarly, civil dialogue is not in competition with social dialogue; rather, each has a very specific, distinctive role, under the provisions of the Treaty.

1.3

It is necessary to put in place an effective participatory democracy as enshrined in the TEU and reflecting the values and identity of the European Union. In view of the current economic, social and political crisis, full implementation of Article 11 is of paramount importance if the Union is to reinforce its democratic legitimacy vis-à-vis its citizens. Ultimately, it is only through greater transparency, ownership and participation by citizens and organised civil society at both national and European level, that Europe will be able to avoid extremism, defend its democratic values and establish a "community of destiny".

1.4

Implementation of Article 11(1) and (2) TEU should be viewed as a crucial opportunity to move beyond the existing processes for consulting and involving civil society which have been developed at European level since the 2001 White Paper on European Governance. A variety of practices have already been developed for civil society participation, some of which have moved beyond information sharing and could be considered as good examples on which to build a structured framework for European civil dialogue, pursuant to Article 11(1) and (2).

1.5

The EESC therefore puts forward the following recommendations:

the European Commission should carry out a detailed study of existing processes for civil society participation in policy-making at European level. The study should assess the effectiveness of the current structured-cooperation system and recommend a general framework establishing how all EU institutions and bodies could implement Article 11(1) and (2). The EESC and relevant stakeholders should be asked to contribute to this study, as regards both the design and implementation and in the dissemination of results;

the Transparency Register, which is operated jointly by the Commission and the European Parliament, should be extended to include the Council. In the future it could become a useful tool for identifying European civil-dialogue stakeholders;

the European institutions should establish a single database with information on contacts, consultations and dialogue with civil society. An annual report should also be envisaged, as a useful communication tool to demonstrate the scale of participatory democracy within the EU;

the EESC should conduct an internal evaluation of the effectiveness, relevance and perception of its cooperation with civil society organisations (CSOs), with a view to identifying effective improvements;

the EESC should develop a database with detailed information on which civil society organisations have been involved in its work and in what capacity;

the EESC should make full use of the new Protocol of Cooperation signed with the European Commission in February 2012, leading to greater involvement in the definition of European priorities, work programmes and key policies;

the EESC should undertake to review and revitalise its Liaison Group with European civil society, with a view to extending participation and helping to secure better implementation of Article 11(1);

the EESC should help to organise, along with all other relevant stakeholders and the EU institutions in particular, a large-scale annual event that would offer shared input to the agenda of EU priorities. The political impact of such an event could be enhanced by holding it in parallel with a joint conference of the 27 national parliaments and the European Parliament. The first one could be held before the 2014 European elections, thereby consolidating the bridge between Europe's citizens, the electorate and the elected.

1.6

A substantial and increasingly strong commitment by the Committee to shaping a European public space could thus seek and promote an increasingly active role by the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament in the implementation of Articles 11(1) and (2). The resulting processes and output should thus be appreciated by all of the institutions and European CSOs.

2.   Introduction

2.1

Over the past 12 years the EESC has made significant progress regarding the definition of European civil dialogue, its complementary role in relation to representative democracy, and its differentiation from social dialogue. Civil dialogue has been defined as a democratic and public opinion-forming process that can take various forms depending on the actors involved. The EESC has agreed on a definition of the actors and concepts of civil dialogue, and its connection with participatory governance (1).

2.2

The EESC has also reaffirmed the principle of subsidiarity at European level; it has proposed a grid setting out 14 specific quantitative and qualitative criteria for gauging the representativeness of civil society organisations selected to take part in the horizontal, vertical and sectoral civil dialogue; and it has defined precisely the differences between consultation (top-down process) and civil dialogue (bottom-up, or more circular process). In this way the EESC has contributed to the institutional achievements now enshrined in Article 11 TEU (2).

2.3

The Treaty on European Union (TEU), which entered into force in December 2009, gives formal recognition to the role of participatory democracy (civil dialogue, consultation, European citizens' initiative). Article 11 (3) builds on and bolsters the central institution of representative democracy (Articles 10 and 12) (4), thus giving expression to an innovative European model of democracy.

2.4

The task now is to work for a tangible implementation of Article 11. In particular, we must make a start on paragraphs 1 and 2, since the consultation practices provided for under paragraph 3 are by now widely developed and the European citizens' initiative has been regulated (5). The history of the EESC has taught us that effective structures for dialogue require a precise regulatory framework and institutional continuity.

2.5

In March 2010, the Committee called on the Commission "to publish a Green Paper on civil dialogue, which would cover the practical implementation of Articles 11(1) and 11(2), consider existing practice, define procedures and principles more precisely, evaluate them and, together with civil society organisations, make improvements, in particular by creating clearly defined structures" (6). One year on, in 2011, an extraordinary meeting hosted by the EESC's Group III entitled What are the prospects for participatory democracy in Europe? repeated this request and approved a Roadmap for Participatory Democracy (7).

2.6

The Committee notes that, apart from the consultation practices and the regulation on the European citizens' initiative, which came into force on 1 April 2012, there has been no progress made within the various institutions on the provisions regarding civil dialogue (Article 11(1) and (2)) and that there has not yet been a positive response to the request for a green paper on this matter.

2.7

Moreover, a structural economic crisis has spread throughout Europe, calling into question the very foundations of EU integration and fuelling a twofold, dangerous phenomenon. On the one hand, a reversion to intergovernmental negotiations for finding solutions to the crisis, with a proliferation of EU summits; on the other hand, a growing distance between the people and their organisations and the EU institutions. This is coupled with a widespread perception that not only is the EU failing to find a way out of the crisis, but that it is imposing austerity policies that affect the lives of all Europeans, and engaging in virtually no dialogue with the various sectors of organised civil society about the choices made. The lack of understanding and distance thus seem to be growing, paving the way for a dangerous scenario in which the EU institutions themselves may lose their legitimacy.

2.8

The Committee believes that the dynamics generated by the TEU, as well as the range of issues and priorities now on the Union's political agenda, require a resolute revival of the Community method. The only way to achieve this is by strengthening and renewing it, while also strengthening parliamentary democracy – the cornerstone of the EU institutions – and ushering in a new era of direct involvement of civil society, designed to enhance the European identity and generate interest among citizens. Closer involvement of the public through civil dialogue, both in its direct forms and by means of representative organisations, as provided for under Article 11, is becoming a pivotal challenge for the whole future of the European project. It comes down to ownership, support, transparency and increasing the democratic legitimacy of the decision-making process.

2.9

Article 11 and its implementation thus provide a valuable tool for putting this participatory democracy into practice, and the Committee undoubtedly has all the experience required to act as a catalyst here for bolstering European democratic life, in close coordination with the various EU institutions and the main European and national networks of organised civil society.

2.10

The Committee is aware that it reflects only partially the diversity inherent in the term organised civil society (8) and has thus for some time been taking pragmatic steps to place its relations with European organised civil society on an increasingly broad footing. At a time of crisis, the Committee believes that strengthening such a "bridge" between the institutions and civil society is more crucial than ever, with a view to accompanying the structural policy choices and institutional reforms that are incumbent on the EU if it is to have a future.

2.11

Article 11 as a whole is a clear signal of confidence in the added value of active citizenship, in the value of participatory democracy and the role it can play in bolstering people's sense of ownership of the European project, fostering an increasingly informed and significant European citizenry. Article 11, by placing the well-established tradition of consultation (paragraph 3) in the context of the participatory pillar (paragraphs 1 and 2) thus indicates a significant shift towards a more advanced model of structured dialogue.

2.12

After 15 years of theorising and producing important papers, which can be found in the aforementioned compendium (9), specific targeted actions and instruments are now needed for each EU institution; however, at the same time, there must be a coordinated and consistent overall strategy to enable better implementation of the Article's overall objective.

2.13

The Committee warns against the temptation to transform the prescriptive foundation of Article 11 (in particular paragraphs 1 and 2) into something that is merely descriptive, like a photograph of what already exists. This would certainly not reflect the intentions of the legislator, nor correspond to the high expectations of European organised civil society.

3.   Building on existing good practice

3.1

The Committee believes that in starting to develop practical measures for implementing Article 11(1) and (2), it would be useful to build on existing best practice.

3.2

Over the last ten years, the EU has seen steady growth in the various forms of cooperation with civil society organisations. This mostly involves consultation processes conducted by the European Commission.

3.3

At Commission level, a growing number of directorates-general have developed a range of consultation processes, which vary in terms of objectives, regularity, size and impact. These have evolved largely independently and have often turned into proper "consultative forums". They amount to a variety of situations and results which, in some cases, already constitute quite structured forms of permanent dialogue with civil society (10). The Committee stresses that the legal structure of such consultations must not be confused with the new construct of civil dialogue, which must become structured and put on a permanent footing.

3.4

Existing structures include the EU health forum organised by DG Health and Consumers, the Fundamental Rights Platform of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, DG Development's civil society contact group and the Civil Society Dialogue launched by DG Trade.

3.5

The latter is perhaps the most advanced mechanism for structured sectoral dialogue, both because of the wide range of actors involved (over 800 registered organisations), and because almost half of them are based in a Member State and not in Brussels. It is also the only one for which an external assessment (11) has been commissioned, by DG Trade itself.

3.6

A second example is the European Integration Forum (12), launched in 2009 on a joint initiative of the EESC and the Commission. The forum has a stable membership of about a hundred European and national stakeholders, as well as ongoing participation by the European Parliament, the CoR and representatives of Member State governments. After a slightly rocky start, it has now become a hub for structured dialogue on the practical evolution of the EU agenda for integration policy, especially in the ex ante stage.

3.7

Civil society forums within the complex system of EU external relations provide a third example. Here we would highlight the success of the joint consultative committees set up in the context of EU accession negotiations, the role of the EU-Cariforum consultative committee in monitoring the specific Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Cariforum, and the role of civil society enshrined in the EU-Korea free trade agreement.

3.8

The Cotonou Agreement (13) is perhaps the most complex and substantial case, in terms of both the number of countries and stakeholders involved and the number of actions taken. It formally recognises the "complementary role of and potential for contributions by non-State actors [defined as the private sector, economic and social partners, and civil society] to the development process" (14). The EESC is specifically mandated to organise regular meetings of ACP-EU socio-economic players. A specific programme was also developed to provide financial support within the various countries, managed by the EU delegations and giving these actors an increasing role, and investing in capacity building (15).

3.9

Lastly, we would highlight the European Parliament's Citizens' Agora. This has held three thematic meetings (albeit at non-regular intervals, and with differing outcomes) since the initiative was launched in 2007, involving a broad range of European civil society organisations (16). The work is currently the subject of a specific evaluation within the European Parliament, acknowledging the need to relaunch it in a more effective form in future years.

3.10

There are also some noteworthy international examples of effective civil society participation in the decision-making process. These include the Aarhus Convention (17) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-making Process adopted by the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) of the Council of Europe (18).

3.11

The Aarhus Convention provides not only for the public and relevant civil society organisations to have the right to "access to environmental information" from public authorities, but also the right to "public participation in environmental decision-making" and potentially the right to challenge public decisions. Moreover, civil society representatives can nominate members to the Convention Compliance Committee and can be represented on the Bureau. Finally, financial support is available to these civil society organisations.

3.12

As regards the Council of Europe, the Code of Good Practice has been recognised by the Committee of Ministers and aims to improve civil society participation in political decision-making at local, regional and national levels. The Code outlines four different levels of participation (information, consultation, dialogue and partnership), which can be used as a matrix by both civil society and public authorities.

3.13

There are also good examples at regional and national levels. Particularly noteworthy is the French "Grenelle Environnement" created in 2007 at the initiative of the French president (19). The forum brought together representatives of the State, local authorities, NGOs and the social partners in a process of dialogue and partnership, and led to two significant packages of environmental laws, in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Moreover, following a proposal from the "Grenelle Environnement", in 2008 the name of the French ESC was changed to Economic, Social and Environmental Council and members representing this sector were appointed to the body (20). Lastly, one should mention other forms of civil dialogue established at national and local level, such as cooperation platforms, compacts, cooperation protocols or agreements, which should be exploited accordingly.

4.   Lessons and opportunities to develop

4.1

Today there are hugely interesting examples which have, in practice, gone well beyond the standard forms of mere consultation. In some cases, these have brought more stable and multifaceted processes of active participation, with stronger forms of cooperation, paving the way to possible forms of structured civil dialogue, as prescribed in Article 11 TEU. However, these practices are generally insufficiently known outside the circles concerned: they need to be assessed, more widely promoted, extended and put on a more stable footing.

4.2

Furthermore, how these forums are perceived by the various stakeholders, particularly as regards their effectiveness, depends on a range of factors: the highly varying level of ownership of the process, the perceived level of representativeness of the stakeholders (21), the financial conditions that may or may not be conducive to the participation of less structured players not present in Brussels, and the technical capacity to contribute actively to the discussion and ensure follow-up of the process and the continuity of the operational investment made by the EU institutions.

4.3

It is worth highlighting some important aspects of these processes:

they have given rise to working practices which, over time, have become widely used and accepted standards, providing an asset that should be studied and assessed;

most of them involve a very extensive set of stakeholders, usually from more than one family or one sector of civil society organisations; rather, they often include the same types of representatives as are found in the Committee: employer bodies, worker organisations, and bodies representing other socio-economic, civic, professional and cultural players;

in some cases, more than one EU institution/body is involved, albeit with different roles; this sometimes creates the effect of a network among various institutions, which should be further developed;

in this process of structured dialogue, there is ever greater involvement – in a wide range of forms – of national civil society representatives and organisations, alongside European organisations. However, there is still much to be done here to ensure greater involvement of the local and national levels of civil society in the 27 Member States (22).

4.4

These findings reveal a potential critical mass which, if harnessed systematically and properly publicised, could constitute an important building block in the construction of participatory democracy at EU level. In any case, it would give visibility to this pillar of European democracy, both in the eyes of the public and within the various institutions. The scale of the contribution of European civil society organisations and the efforts that the EU has been making for some time would then be more widely recognised and appreciated.

4.5

The Committee thus proposes that the European Commission, with the active cooperation of all the other institutions, launch a larger-scale, more detailed study.

4.6

Ten years on from the White Paper on European Governance (23), such a study should provide a more complete overall assessment of the results achieved, the tangible impact on the legislative process, the intervening unexpected developments, the problems encountered, the shortcomings and incongruities noted, and the costs borne, while identifying, finally, the elements required to ensure more appropriate, wider participation. The study should assess the actual effectiveness and scope of the current system of structured cooperation with civil society, and consider ways of making it more effective. It should also consider good practices that could be put forward, and how to develop them further. It should assess how and to what extent this considerable body of work is known and perceived outside the circles concerned, and how it contributes to broadening democratic participation and increasing support for the European project and thus to the shaping of a European public space. The study should also include pointers for an impact assessment from the point of view of both the institutions and the various stakeholders of organised civil society.

4.7

Carried out in the light of Article 11 (24), and directly and actively involving civil society organisations, this study could become a good working basis for identifying guidelines and further practical arrangements for developing structured dialogue in line with Article 11 TEU. In this way it could provide the Commission and the other EU institutions with the requisite elements for framing subsequent and more precise practical proposals, in line with the green paper referred to in point 2.5, whose importance the Committee stresses. In particular, the study should seek to identify possible common guidelines and practices for all institutions, with due regard for their individual autonomy, in order to develop an unambiguous, effective, inclusive and transparent process for the structured participation of civil society in the European venture.

4.8

The EESC can certainly contribute here, making available its expertise and networks: it would play an active part in both the design and implementation of the study, and then during dissemination of the results, especially in the 27 Member States.

4.9

On 23 June 2011the Commission and the European Parliament launched the joint transparency register, which replaces the register set up by the Commission in 2008. Several thousand organisations have registered to date, from all corners of European civil society. These organisations have to provide an extensive range of information and undertake to abide by a code of conduct (25). This single register, common to the two institutions, and the fact that the Council has already expressed an interest in coming on board, suggests clear direction here and a willingness on the part of the institutions to proceed in a coordinated manner on a matter of such importance and sensitivity for relations with civil society.

4.10

The Committee believes that this register – so far solely aimed at achieving transparency for those in contact with the EU institutions in order to influence policy – could gradually become a tool for identifying civil-dialogue stakeholders as regards representativeness criteria. The possibilities that the register opens up for developing structured civil dialogue should thus also be explored in the aforementioned study.

4.11

The Lisbon Treaty also opens new windows of opportunity in relation to the European Council. This is now a permanent structure, with the president of the European Council appointed for a two-and-a-half year term of office, which can be renewed. This lays the foundation for structuring a more long-term vision and more stable relations with organised civil society. The European Council is also required to meet the Article 11 obligation. The fact that it is now responsible for setting the EU's broad policy guidelines makes it even more strategically important to develop cooperation that evolves gradually towards structured civil dialogue. The Committee thinks that the Council should set up a special unit dedicated to dialogue with civil society and, as part of its specific functions, the Committee is willing to cooperate closely with the Council to pursue this aim in practice.

5.   The EESC's role

5.1

Over the past ten years, the Committee has substantially modified its own working methods and above all has greatly expanded the involvement of stakeholders, experts and European civil society organisations in its work.

5.2

Every facet of the Committee's work has seen changes: the more traditional aspect of its work (opinions), with the increasing involvement of experts and the proliferation of hearings (varying in scale); the establishment of the Liaison Group with CSOs; the various conferences and events organised under the programmes of the sections, groups and presidencies, both in Brussels and in the Member States; the work carried out on the Europe 2020 strategy with the economic and social councils and similar bodies in the Member States; and finally, the same diverse range of activities carried out in the framework of its external relations.

5.3

A picture emerges of substantial and ever growing relations and dialogue with a wider, more diverse range of players from European organised civil society: a multifaceted, very sectoral development, where the various players tend to be relatively unaware of each others' actions. The overall potential of this has not been sufficiently exploited.

5.4

This is why the Committee should undertake to:

promote more thorough analysis of the evolution of and prospects for its system of relations with organised civil society, to assess the effectiveness, relevance and perception of its work, and identify possible changes and innovations that may be necessary in order to constantly hone its specific role as an EU advisory body and strengthen the process of implementing Article 11 TEU. Such a study should be carried out with the support of high-level research institutes and should provide for appropriate means of involving and cooperating actively with representative CSOs at EU level, thus also gathering their views and overall assessments;

develop a dedicated centralised database of all contacts, competences and organisations that are involved in various ways every year in the Committee's work, also defining their different types and then evaluating what possible initiatives (joint statements and/or annual dialogue with the whole body of contacts) could be developed in order to place this system of relations on a more robust footing;

and finally, propose to the various EU institutions to set up a single database for the whole system of relations and dialogue with civil society organisations pursued by all of the EU institutions and bodies, also envisaging an appropriate annual report to be made accessible to all national and European stakeholders (26).

5.5

The Committee must tap all useful synergies with the other EU institutions, to ensure that Article 11 is properly implemented. To this end, it reiterates its commitment to opening up new avenues for working with the European Council and to strengthening and expanding all of the opportunities for cooperation already in place with the European Parliament, the Commission and the Committee of the Regions.

5.6

The new cooperation protocol signed by the EESC with the European Commission  (27), which consolidates and strengthens the role of the Committee as a privileged intermediary between civil society organisations and the Union institutions, opens up many opportunities here, which should be followed through with determination. This protocol consolidates and reinforces the avenues of cooperation developed over the years and establishes new, ambitious and tangible paths for progressively and jointly implementing Article 11 TEU, in order to develop "participative democracy at Union level with the aim of strengthening its democratic legitimacy" (28). Specifically, "the Commission considers this cooperation as a privileged tool to organise an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society as referred to by Article 11 TEU" (29).

5.7

Indeed, the protocol sets out two pivotal opportunities for developing such cooperation, which could become a stable and structured framework in which to progressively include an ever-broadening network of European civil society representative organisations, thus giving further shape to the practical development of structured civil dialogue under Article 11(2):

As regards the establishment of the EU's political priorities, the Committee has the opportunity to influence the Commission's political priorities and annual work programme. To this end, the Committee is to inform the Commission of its own proposed priorities for the following year, and at the end of each year the Committee organises a debate on the future of the EU during which the Commission presents its strategic priorities.

As regards the European Semester and the Europe 2020 strategy, the protocol places on an institutional footing the presentation of an annual report by the EESC, with the close cooperation of the network of national economic and social councils and similar institutions, on civil society involvement in the drafting of National Reform Programmes. The report is debated in advance of the Spring European Council; the relevant Commission member is required to participate in this debate and present the Annual Growth Survey.

5.8

The Committee should also undertake to create the most appropriate synergies with CSOs at national and EU levels, developing structured cooperation at both levels.

5.9

In particular, such structured cooperation could be developed at national level for the contribution that the protocol now asks the Committee to make to "evaluating the implementation of EU legislation in particular in relation to the horizontal clauses, as provided for under Articles 8 to 12 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)" (30). To that end, existing cooperation with national ESCs and similar institutions should be stepped up.

5.10

Lastly, in 2004 the Committee established the Liaison Group with European civil society bodies and networks, which is also mentioned in the revised protocol. In the context of the vision outlined, the Committee deems it necessary to review, restructure and revitalise the role of the Liaison Group, and, in particular, to open it to all sectors of organised civil society, including with reference to the more multifaceted composition of the Committee's three Groups. Bolstering it in this way could be a specific step towards decisively advancing implementation of Article 11(1) TEU (as regards horizontal civil dialogue), making the Committee a platform for facilitating this process. Overhauled and bolstered in this way, the Liaison Group could play an increasingly valuable role within the EESC, particularly in monitoring the implementation of Article 11.

6.   Building a structured space for European civil dialogue

6.1

The Committee believes that it is incumbent on it to become an increasing centre of excellence for European civil dialogue, developing and fine-tuning existing instruments, and fostering new forms of structured dialogue and open, participatory forums for stakeholders: This should be part of a wider strategy involving ever more appropriate participation of European CSOs, with the aim of multiplying good civil-dialogue practices at all levels. In this way, the Committee can make a key contribution to the implementation of Article 11.

6.2

The Committee believes that work should start on shaping a space that will embody this new era of participatory democracy. As well as being an innovation in terms of both substance and method, this would give a boost for the overall process and would provide a communication event in itself. This is a way to give form and substance to the construction of a European public sphere, as proposed by the philosopher Jürgen Habermas as a prerequisite for the whole European project, but still far from being realised. This work is all the more urgent in view of the crisis and the previously highlighted risks of an unravelling of democratic support for European integration.

6.3

Proposals for such a space have already been put forward at the Committee, both during in-house conferences (31) and in a recent authoritative opinion on Renewal of the Community Method  (32).

6.4

The Committee thinks that this structured space for European civil dialogue could take the form of an annual event, with the following structure and aims:

an event aimed at gathering, conveying and summarising the main contributions of European organised civil society to the Commission's annual programme and to the priorities of the various institutions, in connection with the scenario outlined in point 5.7;

an event that could come to be structured over several days, along the lines of the "Open Days" organised effectively by the CoR (33), with workshops and thematic meetings which feed into a comprehensive closing session;

an event for which the EESC would lay solid groundwork, in the form of a dedicated committee which would include representatives of European CSOs and establish the thematic priorities as well as the participation arrangements (34);

an event where participation should be broadened out as much as possible, also in terms of national and sectoral organisations;

an event which would also involve direct participation by Europeans – in view of Article 11(1), which also requires direct dialogue with citizens across the 27 EU Member States – harnessing the huge potential of the new communications technologies;

an event which could conclude with a final declaration which would be managed and coordinated by a preparatory committee, as already successfully trialled by the EESC on various occasions both in-house and externally.

6.5

The Committee believes that this event could constructively spur all of the EU institutions to make civil dialogue a horizontal task for all directorates-general in the Commission, all working parties in the Council and all committees in the European Parliament, in a transparent and balanced way, in respect of the various components of European organised civil society, as previously called for by the European Parliament (35).

6.6

In order to give more weight and a stronger foundation to this prospect, the Committee also calls on the Commission to put forward again a specific, definitive proposal for a European Statute for Associations, as strongly called for by European CSOs and as has been previously requested in several EESC opinions.

Brussels, 14 November 2012.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Staffan NILSSON


(1)  A good summary of these concepts is set out in the document, Participatory democracy in 5 points, drawn up by the EESC's Group III in March 2011, http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.publications.15525.

(2)  More details on this can be found in the Compendium entitled Participatory democracy: a retrospective overview of the story written by the EESC. See http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.events-and-activities-participatory-democracy-prospects-compend.

(3)  Article 11(1). The institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action. (2). The institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society. (3). The European Commission shall carry out broad consultations with parties concerned in order to ensure that the Union’s actions are coherent and transparent. (4). Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission.

(4)  Article 10(1) stipulates that the functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy; and according to Article 10(3): Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen.

(5)  http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/welcome At all events, it will be advisable to make a thorough assessment (also involving civil society organisations), within the next year, of the practical operation of the European citizens' initiative.

(6)  OJ C 354, 28.12.2010, p. 59.

(7)  http://www.eesc.europa.eu/resources/docs/roadmap-final-for-web.pdf.

(8)  The EESC shall consist of representatives of organisations of employers, of the employed, and of others representative of civil society, notably in socio-economic, civic, professional and cultural areas, Article 300(2) TFEU.

(9)  Participatory democracy: a retrospective overview of the story written by the EESC http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.events-and-activities-participatory-democracy-prospects-compend.

(10)  Set out below are only a few brief summaries.

(11)  http://trade.ec.europa.eu/civilsoc/index.cfm.

(12)  http://ec.europa.eu/ewsi/en/policy/legal.cfm.

(13)  Chapter 2, Article 4.

(14)  Chapter 2, Article 6.

(15)  To gain an idea of the monitoring work undertaken by the EESC, see the final declaration adopted at the regional seminar held in Addis Ababa from 7-10 July 2010. www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.acp-eu-eleventh-regional-seminar-documents.10876.

(16)  http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/00567de5f7/Agora.html.

(17)  Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters adopted in 1998. See http://www.unece.org/env/pp/introduction.html.

(18)  The Code was adopted in October 2009. See www.coe.int/ngo.

(19)  "Grenelle Environnement" – http://www.legrenelle-environnement.fr.

(20)  For further examples of civil society participation please refer to the hearing conducted during the drafting of this opinion: http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.events-and-activities-articles-11-1-2-lisbon-treaty.

(21)  However, the representativeness criteria applied in different situations vary widely. We would thus point again to the qualitative and quantitative criteria set out in the EESC opinion (rapporteur: Mr Olsson), OJ C 88, 11.4.2006, p. 41-47.

(22)  In this regard, it is worth pointing out the enormous number of local, national and regional organisations that have been involved in recent years in specific practical European projects and that could, if properly encouraged and networked, be actively involved in a wider dynamic of participation and civil dialogue, that could enhance grassroots public support for the European process at national and local levels across the EU.

(23)  OJ C 193, 10.7.2001, p. 117; OJ C 125, 27.5.2002, p. 61 and COM(2001) 428 final.

(24)  The institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue …, par. 2.

(25)  http://europa.eu/transparency-register/index_en.htm.

(26)  See also point 21 of the EP Resolution of 13 January 2009 on the Perspectives for developing civil dialogue under the Treaty of Lisbon (2009/0007 INI).

(27)  http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.eu-cooperation.22469.

(28)  Preamble to the Protocol, para. 6.

(29)  Also preamble to the Protocol, para. 7.

(30)  Preamble to the Protocol.

(31)  See point 4 of the document adopted by the main CSOs at the conference held at the EESC on 10 February 2010: "The organisation of an annual conference of organised civil society with a view to helping set the European political agenda …".

(32)  OJ C 51, 17.2.2011, p. 29, point 5.6, rapporteurs: Mr Malosse and Mr Dassis.

(33)  The CoR Open Days, the tenth anniversary of which is being celebrated in 2012, are a forum for discussion and political debate, as well as a space for exchanging good practices and cooperation. They now involve over 6 000 participants and around a hundred workshops, three general thematic meetings and a concluding session, and are attended by high-profile representatives of all the EU institutions.

(34)  An example of good practice here was the Programme for Europe: the proposals of civil society, published by the EESC in spring 2009.

(35)  European Parliament resolution of 13 January 2009 on the Perspectives for developing civil dialogue under the Treaty of Lisbon (rapporteur: G. Grabowska).


Top