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Document 52001IE0535

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on "Organised civil society and European governance: the Committee's contribution to the drafting of the White Paper"

OJ C 193, 10.7.2001, p. 117–125 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)

52001IE0535

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on "Organised civil society and European governance: the Committee's contribution to the drafting of the White Paper"

Official Journal C 193 , 10/07/2001 P. 0117 - 0125


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on "Organised civil society and European governance: the Committee's contribution to the drafting of the White Paper"

(2001/C 193/21)

At its plenary session on 19 October 2000 the Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 23(3) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an opinion on "Organised civil society and European governance: the Committee's contribution to the drafting of the White Paper". Under Rule 11(4) and Rule 19(1) of its Rules of Procedure the Committee decided to set up a Sub-committee to prepare the opinion in question.

The Sub-committee adopted its draft opinion on 4 April 2001. The rapporteur was Mrs Sigmund and the co-rapporteur was Mr Rodríguez García Caro.

At its 381st plenary session (meeting of 25 April 2001), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 84 votes, with two votes against and five abstentions.

1. Introduction

1.1. The process of European integration was launched over 50 years ago by Robert Schuman as a peace initiative. The initial focus was on economic measures to which a social component was added later. But European integration always had a political dimension. This requires the further development and if necessary introduction of new decision-making structures, especially in view of the adjustments required prior to EU enlargement. The Commission's response within the framework of its four strategic priorities for 2000-2005 has been to draw up a White Paper on "Governance" in the European Union. A working document(1) intended to structure a dynamic process of exchange which will be open and interactive was drawn up in preparation for this White Paper.

1.1.1. On 28 March the College of Commissioners discussed a document entitled "The possible approaches to European governance", which is to prepare the ground for the White Paper "For democratic European governance".

The Committee notes that this document clarifies and explains the issues addressed in the working document, which are now grouped under four broad approaches:

- understanding what Europe is all about;

- the challenge of participation and effectiveness;

- the tension between decentralisation and European unity;

- selectiveness, subsidiarity and proportionality.

1.2. This opinion represents an ESC contribution to the drafting of the Commission White Paper. The Committee has previously observed that one of the biggest challenges for European governance is ensuring effective participation of organised civil society. It therefore focuses on this issue, which is a main theme of both the Commission working document and the current debate. The Committee believes that at this stage, when the focus is on fundamental and procedural questions, it can best contribute to the Commission initiative by providing analysis and proposals in this area. The final version of the White Paper should be adopted in July 2001, and the Committee also intends to deliver an opinion on that document.

1.2.1. The Committee is convinced that - as the representative of organised civil society(2) in the EU political and institutional system - its experience and working methods enable it to provide the work of the Commission with added value.

1.2.2. The Committee firmly believes that effective implementation of a new European concept for the way in which Europe is governed and administered must go hand in hand with appropriate institutional reform. It is therefore endeavouring in its own sphere to introduce the appropriate reforms in order to adapt its working arrangements to current requirements and make these more flexible. At the start of his term, the Committee's president identified eight priority objectives; a panel is currently reviewing the Rules of Procedure; an ad hoc group has drafted a strategic communication plan; and another ad hoc group is preparing specific proposals on how the Committee can best perform its role as the institution representing organised civil society at European level.

1.3. In anticipation of the launch of the debate about future EU governance, the Committee has over the past two years looked closely at the following issues in its opinions: "The role and contribution of civil society organisations in the building of Europe"(3), "The 2000 Intergovernmental Conference - The role of the European Economic and Social Committee"(4), "The Commission and non-governmental organisations: building a stronger partnership"(5) and "Strategic objectives 2000-2005"(6).

1.4. Concrete examples of how the Committee, as the institution representing organised civil society, is contributing to the reform of European governance are its proposals on simplifying rules in the single market(7) and its simplification code of conduct.

2. General comments on the governance concept

2.1. Although the concept of governance is becoming well established in modern political parlance in all languages, it seems helpful to define the term more precisely. Calame and Talmant define governance as "the capacity of human societies to equip themselves with systems of representation, institutions, processes and intermediary bodies in order to manage themselves by intentional action. The capacity of conscience (the intentional action), of organisation (the institutions and intermediary bodies), of conceptualisation (the systems of representation) and of adaptation to new situations is a characteristic of human societies"(8).

2.1.1. The Commission working document defines governance as encompassing "rules, processes and behaviour that affect the way in which powers are exercised at European level, particularly as regards accountability, clarity, transparency, coherence, efficiency and effectiveness".

2.1.2. In his speech of 18 September 2000 in Santander, Commissioner Busquin gave a neat definition: "Governance means public administration through the interaction of the traditional political authorities and 'civil society': private stakeholders, public organisations, citizens"(9).

2.2. The title of the working document, "Enhancing democracy in the European Union", describes both the means and the objective of the initiative, alluding only obliquely to the "democratic deficit" in European Union policy-making (an accusation frequently made).

2.2.1. The Committee does not wish in this opinion to address the issue of the "democratic deficit" that might result from an imbalance between the legislative and executive functions at Community level or from the difficulty of organising civil society participation in decision- and policy-making, an issue which will be dealt with below. However, it would stress that democracy always relates to a collective entity that regards itself as such(10). Can such a collective identity be assumed to exist at European level? In the national context this role is played by the population, the "demos"; but in Europe we have to deal with the sum (or synthesis) of a number of identity criteria, which are together based on common values(11). A collective European identity could be created through communities based on interaction, experience and shared history. But the European Union is not an interaction-based community, it is hardly a historical community and only to a certain extent a community based on experience(12). Thus it would be more appropriate in this context to talk about lack of a common European awareness(13).

2.2.2. European awareness will certainly be strengthened when Europeans in the 12 countries currently in the eurozone are connected with each other in their everyday lives by a single currency. Another very important instrument for developing a European identity would be a binding European Charter of Fundamental Rights, as noted in the Committee's opinion on that subject(14).

2.2.3. The Committee wishes to stress that the distance between Europe's citizens and Brussels is not just a quantitative problem (distance), but above all a qualitative problem (experience), which must be addressed both by specific efforts to win people over and by providing specific opportunities for them to be involved. Information must not remain a one-way street, but must be improved to form a system of two-way communication in which people are no longer passive recipients of impenetrable facts. As long as people perceive decision-taking that affects them to be remote and unfathomable, it is understandable that their interest is constantly waning and sometimes turns to hostility. People must be given the opportunity to interact and participate in an appropriate way. This applies to measures both at European and at Member State level. In short, responsiveness to grassroots concerns must become a key feature of European policy. This also means constantly checking and clarifying that Community policies are coherent.

2.2.4. In this context the open coordination method used since the Lisbon Summit for implementing certain Community policies opens up interesting possibilities in terms of increasing the involvement of civil society organisations. For example, using this method for the programme to combat social exclusion would require the active participation both of the authorities in the Member States and of civil society organisations and other parties concerned, at local and European level. The Committee will monitor the new coordination method closely to ensure it genuinely involves civil society organisations in relevant policy areas.

3. Guidelines for reforming modes of European governance

3.1. It is a considerable challenge for the Commission's governance concept to strengthen and develop this European awareness and so make the activities and decisions of the European institutions more responsive to grassroots concerns. With well-coordinated and complementary measures, the governance concept could offer an appropriate way of involving Europe's citizens more closely in the joint task of building Europe through information, cooperation and participation and helping to make this European awareness develop from the grassroots level, starting with the people themselves. The Committee is prepared to play a central role in realising this concept by acting as a bridge between Europe and its citizens.

3.2. Governance is accurately described as a governing and administrative culture that presupposes a consensus about certain terms, principles, rules and procedures. The Committee therefore feels it would be useful in the context of drawing up this opinion to look briefly at four key concepts which are invoked again and again in connection with new forms of governance.

3.3. Legitimisation: legitimised action, or action that is authorised within a remit, always has several points of reference, that of the issuer of the remit, that of the remit itself and that of the aim of the remit. If the remit is to adopt legislation, then the electoral system, within the meaning of representative democracy, is surely the appropriate means of legitimisation(15). However, where it is a question of influencing opinion-forming in a political process with specialist knowledge (representation of interests), appointment is an adequate basis for legitimisation The Committee's members - by virtue of their appointment, their expertise and the fact that they are rooted in organised civil society in the Member States - are legitimised to exercise their right to participate in Europe's multi-tier system.

3.3.1. The "European democratic model" will contain many, but not only, elements of participatory democracy; it is designed as a model for cooperation and allows room to formulate new types of participation, while retaining many elements of representative democracy. This European political system is based on relatively recent structures and is thus, overall, more accessible than most Member States' systems. In this context, European governance must above all ensure effective representation of people's interests by giving their representatives a real say in matters. This is to be achieved by improving and, if necessary, transforming cooperation between the existing institutions at Community level in the interest of greater transparency, efficiency and accountability.

3.4. Participation means providing the opportunity to help shape an opinion-forming and decision-making process in accordance with democratic principles. This opportunity must already exist when the problem or the need to address it is identified. A basic precondition and legitimising basis for participation is adequate representativeness of those speaking for organised civil society. The Committee has addressed this question in the past(16), and repeats its view that representativeness must be qualitative as well as quantitative. This is understood as meaning that representatives are able to participate effectively and constructively in the opinion-forming and decision-making process through the provision of appropriate organisational structures and expertise.

3.4.1. The Committee feels that, when consulting civil society organisations, the European institutions should check how representative these bodies are. The Commission has already addressed the question of criteria for representativeness(17). This experience has shown that the criteria must also take into account differences between the Member States. Account should be taken of certain criteria when deciding whether an organisation can be recognised as entitled to participate at European level. The Committee proposes the following criteria for representativeness:

The organisation must:

- exist permanently at Community level;

- provide direct access to its members' expertise and hence rapid and constructive consultation;

- represent general concerns that tally with the interests of European society;

- comprise bodies that are recognised at Member State level as representative of particular interests;

- have member organisations in most of the EU Member States;

- provide for accountability to its members;

- have authority to represent and act at European level;

- be independent and mandatory, not bound by instructions from outside bodies.

3.5. Consultation: The Committee supports all initiatives that enable whoever is affected by a measure to express their views at the earliest possible stage. However, the working document does not mention the Commission's widely used practice of setting up committees, particularly advisory committees and groups of experts, whose number is steadily increasing(18).

3.5.1. The setting-up of advisory committees and groups of experts must be considered in the light of the objective formulated by the Commission itself of improving efficiency, in the sense of "institutional efficiency", or the ability to fulfil the task in hand with reasonable resources, within a reasonable timeframe and with a reasonable cost-benefit ratio(19). It is possible to assume, without exact figures being available, that there are some 600 such committees and groups, a fact which makes this objective seem all the more important(20).

3.5.2. The Committee notes that however legitimate it may be to consult experts, the legitimacy of decision-making is not increased, even if this expertise helps to give decisions more technical validity. The Committee thus recognises the need for external expertise on certain Commission activities, but points out that in such instances major "policy shaping" takes place that is not subject to any control or legitimised participation. The Committee therefore proposes that the setting up of further committees should be reconsidered in the interests of transparency, efficiency and accountability, principles promoted by the Commission itself. In their present form such committees pose a problem in terms of efficient governance, transparency and legitimacy.

3.5.3. In its working document the Commission also says that more extensive consultations held earlier in the decision-making process should not make this process unwieldy or complicated. But in another part of the text it calls for consultation to extend down to the lowest - i.e. local - level, and even below the level of civil society organisations, i.e. to individual people. It remains to be seen whether the new information technology that it proposes as a means of achieving this will solve the problem and whether such an "electronic democracy" is really practicable.

3.6. In simplified terms, subsidiarity means that decisions should be taken at the level that is most appropriate for solving a problem. Subsidiarity is often equated with responsiveness to grassroots concerns. However, the concepts of a "decision-making level" and "responsiveness to grassroots concerns" encourage the mistaken assumption that subsidiarity is determined only by vertical - i.e. hierarchical and territorial - criteria. The basic idea here is to achieve efficiency through a particularly close understanding of problems; however, a close understanding of problems depends not just on territorial, but also on functional, criteria. When deciding who is to be involved in decision-making, this means that functional subsidiarity, as determined by specific expertise, must be taken into account as described in point 3.4. Functional and territorial subsidiarity are complementary concepts, and they each in their own right guarantee greater responsiveness to ordinary people's concerns and greater efficiency. The subsidiarity principle does not mean simply redistributing decision-making powers, but also - and perhaps principally - redistributing the responsibility shared by institutions and organised civil society players at every level. The idea of an interactive network that is inherent in the governance concept is also fully consistent with these two facets of subsidiarity.

4. Role of the European Economic and Social Committee in European governance

4.1. The Committee is both a forum for dialogue and the institutional platform that enables representatives of the Member States' economic, social and civic organisations to be an integral part of the Community decision-making process. Under the role assigned to it by the Treaties, and by virtue of its composition and the knowledge of its members, the Committee is a key player as the representative, centre of information and mouthpiece for organised civil society, and thus an essential bridge between Europe and its citizens, thereby complementing their political representation by the European Parliament and the representation of local and regional authorities by the Committee of the Regions.

4.1.1. Although its mandate is primarily to issue opinions, the Committee has gradually diversified its activities with the aim of helping to ensure effective involvement of organised civil society in opinion-forming and decision-making, and promoting a Europe that is closer to its citizens.

4.1.2. Once it has entered into effect, the Nice Treaty will confirm the Committee in its role as the Community institution representing the leading forces of organised civil society. This treaty will give the Committee further scope to really play its role as the link between Europe and organised civil society and as a permanent and structured forum for dialogue and consultation at Community level. It will thus become a vital part of European governance(21).

4.2. On this basis the Committee reaffirms the need to involve civil society organisations more specifically and more fully in the political process. This applies - given the territorial and functional aspects of subsidiarity - both at the different territorial levels - (national, regional and local) and in the different sectors of civil society, as represented in the Committee. In this connection, the Committee will consider how its members can increase acceptance of the EU in the Member States through grassroots actions and with the support of their organisations.

4.3. Committee opinions are drawn up in a process that reflects civil society dialogue and is geared to achieving a consensus. The Committee's working methods provide for a "bottom-up" process where decisions are reached by involving a steadily widening circle of people. The vote in plenary session reflects a synthesis of views that may initially have been conflicting, based on the different interests of the civil society organisations represented in the Committee. Within this decision-making process the members are able to gather an optimum amount of information, which often means that their views change as a result of discussion. The added value of this process is that each Committee member can try to reach a consensus on the basis of his or her position and can gauge to what extent this position can also evolve. The Committee's opinions thus accurately reflect the views of organised civil society.

4.3.1. In the interests of the transparency that the Committee itself is calling for, it will consider whether and, if necessary, how it could record the different initial positions of its members.

4.3.2. The Committee sees its consultative role as more than just delivering opinions; it considers participation to extend from the point when a problem is identified to the stage immediately preceding the taking of the decision. This wider view of participation, which includes evaluation and monitoring, is particularly valid for specific problem areas (e.g. the single market, the euro, enlargement).

4.3.3. An example of this global approach is the recent evaluation of the new open coordination method introduced by the Lisbon Summit(22). The Committee notes that this new method of coordination requires the participation of all organised civil society in implementing the strategy. It also points out that the applicant countries, especially the representatives of organised civil society, have to be involved in the process without delay.

4.3.4. The success of the Single Market Observatory (SMO), which was set up in 1994 at the request of the Community institutions in order to monitor the working of the single market and propose improvements if necessary, testifies to the added value provided by the Committee's activity in this sphere and to the benefits of developing such activities. With the aid of an interactive information network that collects data provided by "users" of the single market (PRISM: Progress Report on Initiatives in the Single Market), the SMO is able not just to identify obstacles to the completion of the single market, but also to spread good practice, facilitate information transmission and encourage cooperative arrangements(23).

4.4. The Committee as a barometer of socio-political development: The appointment of ESC members by the Member States guarantees that they have a strong connection - because of their work, too - with what is happening in their countries. This means that they will be able to estimate whether Community legislative measures are acceptable in their countries, but also to promote understanding for these measures in their countries and to explain to the general public the relevance of the EU to their everyday lives.

4.4.1. With a view to ensuring that legislative proposals meet people's needs, the Commission can draw on this fund of experience at a pre-drafting stage by asking for exploratory opinions. The Committee can also provide useful information whenever the EU's position on an international issue has to be broadly based, drawing on the views of civil society. In a quite general way, the Committee can serve as an early warning system for socio-political developments and make suggestions for useful measures at an early stage, before conflicts arise or threaten to become difficult.

4.5. Specifically, the Committee's work takes the form of:

- referrals under the EC Treaty: these opinions are generally issued too late, however, i.e. at a point when the Commission has already in many cases consulted interest groups and so completed an initial opinion-forming process. There is a causal link between the timing of the Commission's referral and the effectiveness of the Committee's work, i.e. the earlier the Commission consults the Committee, the more useful its work is for the Commission. Normally the Committee should already be consulted by the Commission at the stage when the need for action or legislation is first identified. The Committee could then make a useful contribution to analysing the problem and finding solutions, so that its work provides as much added value as possible for the Commission. However, it should also be consulted again later on in the decision-making process, for example when new positions are discussed and additional expertise seems to be called for under the co-decision procedure;

- exploratory opinions: the Committee carries out a forward analysis on behalf of an institution and formulates proposals on a given subject. The Commission has taken up the Committee's suggestion of consulting it at an early stage on two recent occasions; exploratory opinions on "Human rights in the workplace"(24) and "Towards an EU strategy for health and safety at the workplace" are currently in preparation;

- own-initiative opinions: these allow the Committee to address certain issues directly, without a referral, to speak on matters of general interest and give its views about topical and politically important issues.

4.5.1. The Committee is for ever widening the circle of those involved in its work beyond its members, which is also helping it to develop as a forum for dialogue and consultation:

- public events:: by holding public events, the Committee helps to create an open forum in Europe for discussing key European issues with a broad range of civil society organisations (see "First European convention of organised civil society") and considering self-contained subject areas (e.g. the annual European Consumer Day on 15 March);

- hearings: these have become an increasingly popular instrument for the Committee. The aim is to enable as many civil society organisations as possible to participate in the drafting of opinions too (not only in Brussels, but also in the Member States), and to ensure that its work also reflects the views of those civil society organisations that are not represented by its members.

4.6. The ESC and EU external relations: One of the Committee's priorities is to promote the development of a pluralistic, participatory democratic model in the applicant countries and other geographical regions with which the EU maintains structured relations, and to establish appropriate mechanisms for consulting civil society in the countries and regions concerned(25).

4.6.1. In the context of enlargement the Committee feels that it is not enough for the applicant countries to adopt Community laws (the Community "acquis"), but that it is just as important for them to create structures that enable them to apply and monitor these laws (social "acquis"):

- The Committee supports the applicant countries' "institution building" through bilateral joint consultative committees(26) and is trying to promote the setting up of equivalent civil society structures to those existing in the Member States.

- It is involving organised civil society in the applicant countries more and more in its proceedings.

4.7. The ESC as the forum for organised civil society: At the "First European convention of organised civil society", held in October 1999, the Committee considered possible ways of involving in its communication process those parts of organised civil society that are not currently represented by its members. The first proposals were adopted in its opinion "The Commission and non-governmental organisations: building a stronger partnership(27)". An ad hoc group is currently drawing up proposals for practical implementation.

4.8. The Committee has tried to explain in several opinions and other statements that it is not the forum in which social dialogue takes place. Social dialogue has its own clear legal basis, enshrined in the Treaty(28), and represents a special, highly qualified form of governance based on the particular remit of the social partners (especially their ability to conclude binding agreements) and its own specific objectives. In addition, an embryonic public debate has begun to develop with the increased involvement of organised civil society, a debate that the Committee feels should be structured. This civil dialogue is also one form of governance, and the Committee feels that its aims, structures, procedures and participation criteria should be more closely examined and defined. An initial analysis containing proposed definitions can be found in its opinion "The Commission and non-governmental organisations: building a stronger partnership(29)". Accordingly, the Committee feels that civil dialogue should have the following features:

- in principle, all members of organised civil society (and therefore the social partners, too) should participate in the civil dialogue;

- the civil dialogue should not take the place of or compete with the social dialogue, but provide an adjunct;

- the civil dialogue can be conducted between the representatives of organised civil society alone or between them and a Community body or institution; it can cover horizontal or vertical issues and thus take the form of either a general or sectoral dialogue;

- the civil dialogue should be provided with the structures which it requires to operate; its remit should be mainly in the socio-economic sector, apart from those areas covered by the social dialogue(30), but should also embrace the environment, consumer matters, development, human rights, culture and all other questions which are important for civil society in all its component parts(31);

- civil dialogue players should also be responsible for ensuring that non-EU countries and especially the applicant countries are familiarised with the organisational structures and forms of communication of organised civil society. These countries must also be helped to form or develop similar structures.

The Committee has also already done considerable groundwork on defining the civil society organisations that are to participate in civil dialogue(32).

4.8.1. Civil dialogue could become the key instrument for participation in the European democratic model. Civil dialogue is based on public debate, which extends to legislative matters. However, it will be essential to bear in mind that consultation and participation are two different forms of involvement that are governed by different conditions.

4.9. Annual conference: The Committee supports the European Parliament decision of 10 December 1996(33)"to hold an annual debate in the form of a special part-session of Parliament, attended by the Commission and the Council, on the general guidelines for economic policy, and that the debate should be preceded by a preparatory conference of the European Parliament with representatives of the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions". This pragmatic approach to interinstitutional cooperation should be extended to other areas.

4.10. The future of Europe: The Commission's governance team was set up in summer last year and therefore had to base its work on the practical and legal situation prior to Nice. The outcome of the Nice summit has required that new discussions be held on technical issues but also on the decision about new decision-making structures in the run-up to the intergovernmental conference planned for 2004. The Committee does not think this makes the governance issue any less relevant: on the contrary, the Commission's work on governance is vital in paving the way and clearing the ground for future discussions about Europe's future.

4.10.1. There already seems to be a consensus that better instruments must be created to prepare for the next intergovernmental conference and also that the list of topics appearing in the declaration about the future of the Union is not exhaustive. The Commission and European Parliament have so far indicated that they would prefer to establish a structure along the lines of the Convention used for drawing up the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

4.10.2. The Committee believes that organised civil society should be fully involved in the whole process of preparing the Intergovernmental Conference and that its involvement should not be limited to the public debate which, under the Declaration on the future of the Union annexed to the Treaty of Nice, must take place before the European Council in Laeken. Although it had the right to express its views to the Convention drawing up the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Committee believes that it could be a considerably more effective link in future between institutional dialogue and the broad public debate if, in accordance with its remit, it was a full part of the definitive structure.

5. Enhancing the Committee's role in the context of new European governance

5.1. Each institution has a role to play in ensuring that Europe's citizens are really involved in the European venture and can influence it, through the organisations that represent them. The Committee has already realised that it - like the other institutions - must adapt to the challenges facing the European Union. However, this also means, as observed above, that new synergies must be created between the Committee and the other institutions in the context of improving European governance.

5.2. In his address to the plenary session on 20 October 1999, the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, recognised this need for a new partnership between the Commission and the Committee. This partnership should be spelt out in the cooperation agreement currently being negotiated between the Committee and the Commission.

5.3. This agreement, which will lead to the establishment of a refurbished framework for cooperation, should promote the development of new forms of partnership and formalise those that already exist(34), so that the Committee can increase the added value of its activity.

5.4. The Committee proposes that similar agreements be concluded with the Council and the European Parliament, since this alone will enable it to effectively play its role in the new system of European governance, both in terms of its consultative tasks and as a forum for dialogue and consultation and a link with organised civil society.

5.5. In this context, the Committee urges the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament to consider the following proposals and guidelines:

1) Referring to the Committee at the earliest possible stage: the Committee has already indicated that consulting it at an early stage enhances the added value of its involvement in the opinion-forming and decision-making processes, and it therefore calls on the Commission, Council and Parliament to request more exploratory opinions, which must not be limited to future legislative measures, but could also be drafted prior to the preparation of, for example, green papers.

2) Effectiveness of the Committee's consultative role: to be as effective as possible, the Committee must not just be consulted at the earliest possible stage, but must also be involved throughout the whole decision-making process. The Committee not only feels it is necessary to have an overview of its proposals that are accepted, but also hopes that in future the Commission, Council and Parliament will provide reasons for not taking its proposals on board.

3) Helping to fix specific requirements for cooperation between the European institutions and civil society organisations: the Committee is offering, with the help of the institutions and civil society organisations, and on the basis of the proposal formulated in point 3.4 above, to draw up a list of criteria for representativeness which could serve as a precondition for such cooperation. It is also prepared to take charge of monitoring.

4) Helping to develop civil dialogue: the Committee is willing, with the help of the parties involved in civil dialogue and on the basis of work it has already done, to provide a closer definition of the dialogue and its structures, objectives and procedures. At the same time, the Committee can provide the impetus for a new pragmatic approach to civil dialogue.

5) Annual conferences: following the example of the European Parliament, all institutions should hold annual conferences on specific topics.

6) Role of the Committee in the debate about Europe's future: the Committee sets great store in being involved at the earliest possible stage in discussions about the structure of the future decision-making processes, so that it can act as the institutional link between the interinstitutional debate and the broad public debate about the future of Europe. It also intends to involve civil society players from the applicant countries in its discussions about Europe's future.

6. Meeting the challenge of the new governance concept

6.1. To sum up, the Committee welcomes the reaffirmed intention of the Commission to make the processes by which civil society is involved in legislative or executive decision-making more transparent, predictable and structured.

The Commission is now considering the following option as one way of achieving this objective:

- focusing on enhancing the consultative role of the Committee and if necessary establishing additional guidelines to promote the ongoing development of European civil society structures;

- giving socio-economic interest groups a key role in drawing up provisions (e.g. by developing new forms of self-regulation or co-regulation within the existing regulatory system).

On the basis of the guidelines and proposals in this opinion, the Committee supports such an approach and trusts that the Commission will be guided by it and opt for it when drafting the White Paper.

6.2. Finally, the Committee reiterates its readiness to meet the challenges of the new governance concept and to makes its contribution to institutional reform. Thus on 19 December 2000 its Bureau decided to lay down operational measures that would help the Committee to be an even more effective representative of and institutional broker for organised civil society in its dealings with the organisations concerned and the Community institutions. In this context, the President of the ESC indicated on 29 November 2000 that the Committee needs an external "corporate identity(35)".

The Committee believes that a medium-term strategy should be drawn up in cooperation with the institutions and European bodies representing organised civil society.

The Committee is convinced that the following specific initiatives would accelerate the developments desired by all interested parties:

1. "Forum for civil society": this is the Committee's unofficial title for the platform it wishes to set up to provide ongoing support for open dialogue and exchanges of opinion and experience between civil society organisations, whether or not they are represented on the Committee. The Committee would very much like to see the European bodies send their representatives regularly to these meetings.

2. Exploratory opinions: these already provide the Commission with an effective instrument for decentralisation; Committee analyses of topical issues carried out for the Commission could replace green papers and lighten the Commission's workload.

3. Hearings: experience has shown that hearings enhance the Committee's expertise and are also a good way of improving responsiveness to grassroots concerns. The Committee will therefore continue to expand in this area and also organise hearings in Member States whenever possible.

4. Strengthening organised civil society in the Member States: the Committee would also like to promote the further development of social and civil dialogue structures in the Member States where necessary, by stepping up its cooperation with existing Economic and Social Councils and similar institutions. The Committee advocates and supports the establishment of advisory institutions representing organised civil society in those Member States which do not yet have them.

5. Measures relating to enlargement: the Committee is supporting the applicant countries not just by developing consultation mechanisms based on the Community model(36), but also by increasing the involvement of existing civil society organisations in its discussions, or in its information strategy. In this context it will also try to set up more Joint Consultative Committees.

6. Dialogue with organised civil society in other regions with which the EU maintains relations: the Committee will step up this dialogue, or where necessary initiate contacts (on behalf of the Commission)(37).

7. Role and contribution of organised civil society to the dialogue about the future of Europe: from the Committee's point of view, it is evident that "good governance" must also be the leitmotiv for all efforts in the framework of the "post-Nice process", and it will discuss this in detail in a separate opinion.

The specific proposals set out above are examples and in no sense exhaustive; they represent a first step towards enhancing the Committee's role in the context of the governance concept. The Committee believes that the long-term success of governance depends on a medium-term consensus being reached on certain key concepts and processes, e.g. in relation to civil dialogue (participants, objectives and procedure) or the ongoing shaping of European civil society. This will require the development of criteria agreed with all those concerned, procedural rules and "monitoring". The Committee is willing to make an active contribution and to take on specific tasks in this area.

Brussels, 25 April 2001.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Göke Frerichs

(1) SEC(2000) 1547 final of 11.10.2000, p. 7.

(2) See Article 257 TEC, as amended by the Nice Treaty: "An Economic and Social Committee is hereby established. It shall have advisory status. The Committee shall consist of representatives of the various economic and social components of organised civil society and, in particular, representatives of producers, farmers, carriers, workers, dealers, craftsmen, professional occupations, consumers and the general public".

(3) OJ C 329, 17.11.1999.

(4) OJ C 117, 26.4.2000.

(5) OJ C 268, 19.9.2000.

(6) OJ C 14, 16.1.2001.

(7) OJ C 14, 16.1.2001.

(8) Pierre Calame and André Talmant, "L'Etat au coeur, le Meccano de la gouvernance", Desclée de Brouwer, Paris 1997, p. 19. Taken from the Commission Forward Studies Unit, "Developing new modes of governance" (Working Paper 2000).

(9) From SPEECH/00/313, "Science, Technology and Society in the 21st century".

(10) Kielmannsegg in Jachtenfuchs/Kohler "Europäische Integration", Leski and Budrich 1996, p. 54.

(11) OJ C 329, 17.11.1999, "The role and contribution of civil society organisations in the building of Europe".

(12) Kielmannsegg in Jachtenfuchs/Kohler "Europäische Integration", Leski and Budrich 1996, p. 54.

(13) "Accroître l'efficacité et la légimité de la gouvernance de l'Union européen" (Forward Studies Unit, CdP(99) 750).

(14) OJ C 367, 20.12.2000, p. 26,"Towards an EU Charter of Fundamental Rights".

(15) Without prejudice to the tasks entrusted to the social partners in Articles 137 and 138, TEC.

(16) OJ C 268, 19.9.2000, "The Commission and non-governmental organisations: building a stronger partnership".

(17) Commission Communication: "An open and structured dialogue between the Commission and special interest groups" (SEC/92/2272 final); "Communication concerning the application of the Agreement on social policy presented by the Commission to the Council and to the European Parliament" (COM(93) 600 final); "Study of the representativeness of management and labour within sectoral European organizations - Open procedure" (OJ C 228, 7.8.1996, pp. 24-25); "Communication from the Commission on promoting the role of voluntary organisations and foundations in Europe" (COM(97) 241 final).

(18) In 1987 already, Delbrück characterised this situation as "committee hypertrophy" - Wessels, "Verwaltung im Mehrebenensystem" in Jachtenfuchs/Kohler-Koch, Leske and Budrich 1996, p. 176.

(19) Roland Bieber: "Die Demokratie und Entscheidungsfähigkeit in der EU" in "Direkte Demokratie und EU".

(20) "Verwaltung im Mehrebenensystem", Wessel, in Jachtenfuchs/Kohler-Koch, Leske + Budrich 1996, p. 176.

(21) President's inaugural address, 29.11.2000.

(22) OJ C 139, 11.5.2001.

(23) PRISM initiative (Progress Report on Initiatives in the Single Market) of the Single Market Observatory (www.esc.eu.int/omu_smo/prism).

(24) Adoption scheduled for July 2001.

(25) Cf. Meeting of representatives of EU/Latin America/Caribbean civil society (June 1999) and EU-India Civil Society Round Table (January 2001).

(26) These currently exist for Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and one is soon to be set up for Slovakia.

(27) OJ C 268, 19.9.2000.

(28) Articles 137 and 138, TEC.

(29) OJ C 268, 19.9.2000.

(30) i.e. matters relating to social negotiation under Articles 137 and 138 of the Treaty.

(31) One example of structured civil dialogue would be ESC participation in informal Council meetings in these areas.

(32) OJ C 329, 17.11.1999: "The role and contribution of civil society organisations in the building of Europe".

(33) "Resolution on participation of citizens and social players in the Union's institutional system", paragraph 11.

(34) The latest example is the hearing of organised civil society held by the Committee, at the request of and in collaboration with the Commission, on 26 and 27 April 2001, on the subject of sustainable development.

(35) The prime importance of such a measure was also made clear in the President's inaugural speech on 29 November 2000: 'The ESC should, in the near future, press ahead, with the support of all concerned, with the process of promoting an internal awareness of the distinctive nature of the Committee; this process must be backed up by a corresponding process of external promotion of this distinctive character in order to enable us shortly to reach a conclusive agreement on the Committee's role, the reason why it exists and the purpose of its activities in a period marked by rapid change and in the light of the large number of new tasks to be assumed by the Committee. We will be able to achieve this goal if we avoid getting bogged down in ideological debates and concentrate on the challenges facing us'.

(36) See for example the Warsaw Conference, 7-8 December 2000.

(37) See the EU-India Civil Society Round Table (January 2001).

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