Social Committee teaches Van Rompuy a lesson

Staffan Nilsson, EESC President (left) and EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy, discuss vividly during the plenary session of 16-17 January 2013. (EESC photo library)

Staffan Nilsson, EESC President (left) and EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy, discuss vividly during the plenary session of 16-17 January 2013. (EESC photo library)

During this months’ European Economic and Social Committee’s plenary session, EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy and EESC members held a very important debate on the current guidelines of the European Council and future efforts to reinforce the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Obviously the EESC members wanted to cover the gap of total absence of any reference to such matters, whenever the main EU decision-making bodies, like the Council and the Commission are tackling burning issues like the austerity programmes.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body of the European Union, regrouping employers, workers and other interest groups.  As a principle EESC tries to contribute and strengthen the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of the European Union by enabling civil society organisations from the Member States, to express their views at European level. It is questionable however if it arrives even remotely to influence the EU decision-making procedures.

Of course this is so not due to any eventual shortcomings of the EESC proper, but rather it must be attributed to lack of willingness of the EU heavyweights to really hear the voice of people, as expressed by real economy men and women in the employers and workers organisations.  So, as a rule the views expressed by the EESC are not only neglected by the main EU institutions, but they are also poorly reported by main stream media.

Returning to EESC’s last plenary session, the main theme on the agenda was nothing less than the social dimension of the entire package to reshuffle the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Incidentally the most important part in that package is the austerity programmes imposed on a number of EU countries. On the other side of the fence an entirely different and overly generous policy is followed, when it comes to the needs of the banking industry. Huge piles of money are reserved for bankers by governments and the monetary authorities (European Central Bank).

As a result in the fifth year of this crisis, brought about by bankers, every citizen knows very well that the EU dignitaries have only words to offer, when it comes to problems like unemployment, social exclusion, unequal opportunities and the quickly degrading quality of a wide range of social services. It was exactly like that when Van Rompuy intervened in EESC’s last plenary session.

According to the press release of the EESC the President of the European Council said: “One thing we must never lose sight of when implementing our economic policies is the social dimension”. He then highlighted a range of aspects such as employment, social protection, education, public health, the challenge of an ageing population and the fight against poverty and exclusion.

Of course after some minutes he left to attend his other business. Fortunately the experienced members of the Committee didn’t miss the opportunity to be heard by the President of the EU Council. Unanimous in their assessment, the presidents of the three EESC Groups (employers, workers and various interests) recalled the pressing obligation for national governments to take responsible decisions also towards European institutions to enter into a genuine dialogue with European citizens, who felt that their needs and demands were not sufficiently taken into account and, in spite of encouraging statistics, failed to perceive any improvement in the situation. They urged the European Council to think beyond growth and stability, putting solidarity first.

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