(Source: European Economic and Social Committee)
In its resolution on the involvement of organised civil society in the implementation and monitoring of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) the European Economic and Social Committee calls for clear rules to effectively involve social partners and civil society organisations in the Member states’ strategies to bring the economy back on track.
Under the EU’s recovery instrument NextGenerationEU, the Member States have to submit so called national recovery and resilience plans in order to benefit from the support of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). The RRF is the EU’s biggest ever financial support program, worth 560 billion euro. The RRF Regulation makes it clear that organised civil society should be involved sufficiently in the implementation, monitoring and adjustment of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans. The Economic and Social Committee has now evaluated for the second time how this is done in practice in the Member states. The result is mitigated: Whereas overall the consultation of social partners and civil society organisations has improved, their involvement and impact remains often insufficient. The Committee therefore calls for mandatory rules on the consultation of civil society at national level, and ultimately for a reform of the European Semester process.
Opening the debate, EESC president, Christa Schweng, insisted on the need for solid long-term solutions to the new challenges that the EU is facing with the post-COVID recovery and the war in Ukraine. She acknowledged that the Recovery and Resilience Facility is a step in the right direction for making Europe more resilient and autonomous. However, she pointed out that involving organised civil society in the reforms set up in the National Recovery and Resilience Plans is a must for improving the quality, the transparency and the implementation of new policies.
The consultation by the EESC was carried out between October 2021 and April 2022 across all Member States via the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). In total, 23 national contributions were received. During the debate, the rapporteurs of the resolution presented the highlights, showed some replicable good practices and made recommendations for increasing the involvement of organised civil society.
Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, European Semester Group vice-president, shared some of the key findings of the consultation. The final content of the NRRPs is generally assessed positively by organised civil society. However, despite its critical dimension, the social dimension is often underdeveloped. The results also show that at the level of implementation, it is possible to identify good practice cases where there is close, transparent and constructive cooperation between the different stakeholders, although it is by no means the majority of cases.
ESG president, Javier Doz Orrit, then presented the main recommendations: We suggest establishing a European legal norm that regulates the participation of the social partners and organised civil society in the European Semester. He also called on the Member States to urgently remedy the situation and to comply with the rules laid down in the Recovery and Resilience Facility, and the European Commission and Parliament to enforce compliance. He stressed that a new energy strategy for the EU urgently had to be approved, and that a new financial instrument was needed.
Finally, ESG vice-president, Luca Jahier, shared some good practices. He mentioned Austria, France, Luxembourg, Spain and Sweden as good examples of close and constructive cooperation between stakeholders. Spain, Czechia, Estonia, Finland and Italy have launched a portal with transparent information for the public. Meanwhile, Portugal has created a national monitoring committee to better involve organised civil society. In Italy, a Permanent Round Table Partnership was established at government level, with specific working groups that monitor the direction and quality of NRRP implementation.
Jahier closed by saying that the lack of effective and quality participation of organised civil society in the economic governance of the EU will not be resolved in a satisfactory manner until there is a reform of the European Semester which guarantees this via a directive or a regulation.
Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, who also took part in the debate, highlighted the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the global economic recovery and the EU. He stated that to address any future shocks, and support the economy to cope with higher energy prices and other consequences of the war, it is essential to maintain stability, strengthen resilience and lay the ground for a solid fiscal position. We plan to give the EU a more reliable, secure and sustainable energy supply, cutting our dependence on Russian fossil fuel imports. To get there, we depend on the support of social partners and civil society as a key link between Europe’s people and its institutions.