Daniel Gueguen

A century ago – I mean in fact the 1980s and 1990s – the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) was an EU Institution with great influence. Closely involved in the initial reforms of the CAP and in the drafting of Directives (in particular food law) that helped create the Internal Market in 1993; a major actor in social dialogue and Social Europe; the EESC was a recognised player at the time.

30 years ago: ‘the place to be’!

For a professional lobbyist, the EESC was once ‘the place to be’. Thanks to a very open system, lobbyists could be appointed as experts for a councillor or even for a rapporteur and be authorised to express views in plenary session (all the while being paid for this job, by the way). These were happy times.

Having access to this illustrious Institution was a great asset for lobbyists. But on top of this, the views expressed by the EESC had authority and were followed by the Commission, Council and European Parliament. Even in working meetings within the EESC’s specialised sections, the Commission was represented at least by a head of unit, but most often by a Director.

A long slide towards indifference

Under Jacques Santer, things started to deteriorate (this was around 1995-1997). Unlike Jacques Delors – a man who really knew how to listen and have dialogue – his successor did not live up to the required standard. During Santer’s short reign, the EESC began a long slide towards eventual marginalisation.

The Treaty of Amsterdam, intended to promote a ‘Europe of the Regions’ (and therefore benefit the Committee of the regions-EESC partnership), turned out to be a failure – at least on this point. EESC action was discussed neither during negotiations on the Treaty of Nice, nor during talks on the Treaty of Lisbon. Truth be told, it is hard to recall the EESC ever putting pressure on the negotiators to re-strengthen its role.

Moreover, it is surprising to see the former EESC President Henri Malosse, a staunch European, currently calling for the EU to be re-energised. But why did he not do this when he was President? Is the EESC doomed to maintain such a low profile?

Now a member of the REFIT Platform on a par with BEUC and BUSINESSEUROPE!

Recent media reports tell us that the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee are now members of the ‘Stakeholder Group’ within the REFIT Platform which – along with the Member States and the Commission – is responsible for suggesting how EU legislation can be improved.

This will involve an ‘ex post’ evaluation aiming to take certain legislative texts or EU policies considered outdated or ‘unfit for purpose’, and modernise them. The goal is a noble one, although this Platform – introduced by the Better Regulation package of May 2015 – seems to be an extremely cumbersome way of achieving a result that is quite hypothetical.

And so with REFIT, the EESC is effectively relegated from the status of EU Institution to the category of stakeholder – yet another stage in the progressive decline of the EESC’s inter-institutional influence.

Observers all agree on one thing: with an annual budget of €130 million, the European Economic and Social Committee must either radically transform or disappear. The European powers being in a fragile state in 2015 and 2016 for various reasons internal and external, it is especially regrettable that advisory institutions such as the EESC accept their marginalisation. This, despite having the human, financial and media resources to influence EU affairs and to be a bringer of solutions, like they used to be.

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  1. It is significant that in your excellent analysis you mention the decline since the 1970s and 1980s. The Consultative Committees have reached the same crisis as the European Parliament had in the 1970s just after the accession of UK, DK, and Ireland. The Council took no notice of the Parliament in the amendments of Commission proposals. The Council ruled behind its closed doors as an intergovernmental agency with the Commission becoming its secretariat.
    Then some brave MEPs took the Council to Court on a matter of procedure. Council had not even waited to receive the EP amendments before deciding. The outcome was that EP’s role was reconfirmed and Direct Elections to EP followed (but only partially in line with the Treaties.)
    The EESC and CoR have treaty-based rights which have never been tested in Court. That is why they are being continuously downgraded. Yet they are legal institutions that MUST have a say on certain aspects of EU law. And they should and can be elected — which would give them kudos and real democratic legitimacy.
    This was foreseen from earliest treaty, that of Paris, 1951. (The text is repeated in later treaties.) But the Council did a manoeuvre that Schuman and Reuter, treaty architects, classified as
    “une solution dont l’ingeniosite masque difficilement l’illegalitee” !!
    The Council “reinterpreted” the articles. It has continued this illegal process every since (selecting the CC members in Council as they did in the past for the EP when it was not elected).
    No one in the Consultative Committee has had civil courage equal to that of the 1970s generation in the EP that demanded the Council should respect democratic elections in the Treaties.
    The Consultative Committees should represent organized collectivities, business associations, European trade unions, European consumers’ associations and for the CoR democratic representation of cities, rural communities and islands etc.
    Such legitimate associations, in a public listing, are to elect their own membership of the Consultative Committees. Thus they would not only have greater viability, legitimacy and expertise but have the trust of the European people.

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