Working towards a more inclusive and balanced European Semester: a model for civil society and trade union involvement

29 Jan 2014, keywords :

This week (29 January 2014) CESI organised a breakfast seminar together with Eurodiaconia on enhancing engagement of civil society and trade unions in the European Semester, the EU’s cycle of economic policy coordination. The breakfast was hosted by Jean Lambert MEP and Marije Cornelissen MEP (Greens), both champions of a more inclusive and balanced European Semester which engages all stakeholders. CESI was represented by Klaus Heeger, Secretary General who called for enhanced engagement through simplification.

Working towards a more inclusive and balanced European Semester: a model for civil society and trade union involvement

Jean Lambert MEP moderated the discussions on the European Semester, calling for concrete proposals for participants. She emphasised that given the turnover of the European Parliament (50% and upwards), civil society and trade unions needed to have demands and proposals for guidelines ready for the next mandate of both the Parliament and the Commission, following the elections in May (22-25 May 2014).

For Marije Cornelissen MEP, the European Semester was flawed from the start, focusing too much on economic policies and not enough on social policies. Disparities between Member States in terms of engaging civil society and social partners need to be addressed, with more consistency behind how relevant stakeholders are consulted. Ms Cornelissen called trade unions an important means of securing public support behind the European Semester, but expressed disappointment in how the social partners have dealt with the processes.

A fundamental part of the problem for CESI’s Secretary General, Klaus Heeger, is the lack of understanding and complexity of the European Semester. In order to be able to ‘sell’ the idea of the European Semester, or at the very least communicate how it works, the processes and structures of the EU’s economic policy cycle needs to be simplified.

The wider topic of stakeholder engagement was central to the intervention from Heather Roy, Secretary General of Eurodiaconia. Not only do stakeholders need to be properly engaged in the European Semester, but what is meant by stakeholder needs to be properly defined.

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Jean Lambert, Green Member of EMPL, chaired the breakfast seminar

The European Commission had a chance to respond to some of the proposals and criticism, represented by Jean-Paul Tricart from the Social Dialogue Unit in DG Employment, Social affairs and Inclusion. Mr Tricart conceded the failure of the communication campaign from the Commission but stood by and defended the content behind the processes, applauding Member States for coming together to act in concerted and coherent manner in economic policy coordination.

Pervenche Berès, Chair of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee at the European Parliament, intervened in the debate, urging civil society and trade unions not to give up on engaging in the European Semester. Ms Berès expressed her feelings that social dialogue in the process was not genuine and needed updating.

As policy coordinator at the European Anti-Poverty Network, Sian Jones provided her experience in the European Semester, calling civil society involvement not an add-on, but something which the EU and society needs, in order to be accepted by citizens. Coming from a national perspective, Katharina Wegner from the Diakonie Deutschland Brussels Office noted that bringing together differing traditions of civil society engagement will be a challenge.

The event was attended by 30 participants working at the EU Institutions, trade unions and civil society across Brussels. CESI sees this as the start of a wider debate on how the European Semester should evolve in the future to improve understanding, enhance engagement and promote inclusion in economic policy coordination by all related stakeholders at both the EU and national level.

The full programme can be accessed here.

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