|Type||Advisory body to the European Union|
|Purpose||Represent employers, employees and various interest groups|
|Headquarters||Jacques Delors building, Brussels, Belgium|
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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body of the European Union (EU) established in 1958. It is an advisory assembly composed of "social partners", namely: employers (employers' organisations), employees (trade unions) and representatives of various other interests. Its seat, which it shares with the Committee of the Regions, is the Jacques Delors building on Belliardstraat / Rue Belliard 99 in Brussels. Once known by the acronym "EcoSoc", the body is now referred to as the "EESC", to avoid confusions with the United Nations ECOSOC.
The European Economic and Social Committee was established by the Treaty of Rome of 1957 in order to unite different economic interest groups to establish a Single Market. The creation of this committee gave them an institution to allow their voices to be heard by the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. The EESC declares itself to be "a bridge between Europe and organised civil society".
It is mandatory for the committee to be consulted on those issues stipulated in the Treaties and in all cases where the institutions deem it appropriate. The Treaty of Maastricht considerably enlarged the committee's domain. Its influence now extends to matters such as social policy, social and economic cohesion, environment, education, health, customers protection, industry, Trans-European Networks, indirect taxation and structural funds. On certain issues the EESC works in partnership with the Committee of the Regions.
In latest years the committee has taken up the challenge of civil society, opening up its forum to representatives of all sectors, developing two complementary missions:
It is mandatory for the committee to be consulted on those issues stipulated in the Treaties and in all cases where the institutions deem it appropriate. The EESC may also be consulted on an exploratory basis by one of the other institutions, and under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure may issue opinions on its own initiative. Around 15% of its opinions are own-initiative opinions.
Own-initiative and exploratory opinions often raise the awareness of decision-making bodies, and of the commission in particular, about subjects which have hitherto barely attracted their attention, if at all. Exploratory opinions drawn up at the request of other institutions before the commission has even drafted its proposals enable the various components of organised civil society represented within the EESC to express the expectations, concerns and needs of grassroots stakeholders.
The Committee adopts on average 170 opinions a year on a wide range of subjects concerning European integration. It therefore plays an active role in the processes of shaping Community policies and preparing Community decisions.
Currently, EESC membership numbers 329 (same as the Committee of the Regions). The number of members per EU state varies according to the population of each state (see table below for state-by-state membership figures; the breakdown is the same for the Committee of the Regions). Members of the EESC are divided into three groups of equal number, employers, employees and a third group of various other changing interests such as: farmers, consumer groups, professional associations and so on.
Members are appointed by the council (by qualified majority) following nominations made by the government of the respective Member State. However, once appointed, the members are completely independent of their governments. They have a renewable term of office of five years. The President of the EESC, elected for a 2+1⁄2-year term, is Christa Schweng (since 28 October 2020), and the previous presidents were Luca Jahier (2018-2020) Georges Dassis (2015-2018) and Henri Malosse (2013-2015).
Selected own-initiative opinions include:
In a report reviewing 50 years of the EESC, C.S. Dimitrioulas cited Jacques Delors as saying that EESC contributions from 1958 to 2008 on civil and social matters were "remarkable". Dimitrioulas commented: "Thanks to its membership and unique role in the EU’s institutional framework, the Committee will in future have special responsibility for making a reality of participatory democracy and for working towards the development of structured dialogue between organised civil society and Union institutions."
In 2012, the European Foundation stated that the EESC had undoubtedly performed good works in its time, but it had outlived its usefulness and should be dismantled. The modern EU is replete with advisors: Commissioners have their DGs, MEPs have their own researchers, and the ad hoc national ministers attending the Council of Ministers have both their own advisors and the services of COREPER. The vice president of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, Derk Jan Eppink, also stated in 2012, "Over the last eight years, the budgets of the EESC and CoR will have increased by some 50 percent, reaching €130 million and €86.5 million, respectively. There are around 50 officials at each committee with a minimum salary of €123,890, and six officials at each committee earning over €180,000". He stated that there is no information on whether or how the COR and the EESC opinions had influenced legislation and that neither committee had been successful in fulfilling its mandate to "engage participation" from citizens.
The EESC has fought such criticism with arguments of its own. Staffan Nilsson (then EESC president) said "It's very strange that Liberals, who also ask for transparency and for the development of society, would try to discuss the idea of cancelling the only body that is for people who are not politicians."
Far from being sidelined as critics hoped, the EESC was reinvigorated by the Lisbon Treaty, which has confirmed the EESC's role and influence. According to proponents of the EESC: "Indeed, significant prospects for the development of participatory democracy are opened through Article 11 of the new Treaty on the European Union, which lays the foundations for the future establishment of a genuine structured civil dialogue at European level alongside the political dialogue between the EU and its Member States and the social dialogue with the social partners, thereby ensuring sustainable participation of organised civil society in the European political process. In this context, the EESC has a particular responsibility in bringing participatory democracy to life. In view of its membership and role, as laid down in the Treaties, and in partnership with the other institutions, the Committee's purpose is to be even more in the future the means of developing participatory democracy and civil dialogue at Union level."
In October 2020 reappointment of a Polish business representative Jacek Krawczyk for another five-year term of the EESC president became a target of harsh criticism as the EESC faced pressure to better prevent harassment in the organization. Mr. Krawczyk was himself accused of psychological harassment and is prosecuted by Belgian authorities. Besides that, the conduct of Jacek Krawczyk has been investigated by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF. MEPs therefore rejected the EESC’s 2018 financial accounts over its failure to deal with the issue of harassment. According to the words of MEP Tomáš Zdechovský, who led the budget discharge procedure, the EESC was not able to answer questions regarding its various mistakes and take measures which would make MEPs believe that this particular institution is able to protect the interests of European citizens.
Overall usefulness of the EESC has also been questioned recently. While the number of administrative staff has decreased from 727 in 2013 to 668 in 2019 and the number of opinions has gone down, the annual EESC's budget has continued to grow. Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský said, that “very few lawmakers are reading the opinions of this committee. The impact is close to zero.” He also described the EESC as “a zombie committee that lost its purpose but still lives on.”