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European Court of Auditors

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Dear president Murphy,
Dear members of the European Court of Auditors,

It is my pleasure to be here with you today and to present some of the EESC priorities to you. I would like to start by expressing my gratitude for the very good cooperation between our institutions. I strongly believe that both our institutions have an important role to play in supporting the EU to face the pressing challenges ahead of us.

Since October 2020, I am the president of the European Economic and Social Committee. We represent the voice of organised civil society at EU level – those accounts to 90 million voices of businesses, workers, farmers, NGOs – civil society at large. My Presidency motto is “United for the future of Europe”. Unity is the guiding principle of my work. My mandate has been shaped by unforeseen crises: first the Covid-19 pandemic, now in addition the consequences of the war in Ukraine. I strongly believe that we can only success by working together for Europe’s future. I am working towards a Europe that is prospering economically, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. We also need to make sure that WE ALL can thrive and live in an open, values-based society.

Last week the European Commission presented its autumn economic forecast. Although not coming as a surprise, it clearly shows that Europe is at a turning point. The shocks unleashed by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine are denting global demand and reinforcing global inflationary pressures. The EU is among the most exposed advanced economies, due to its geographical proximity to the war and heavy reliance on gas imports from Russia. The energy crisis is eroding households’ purchasing power and weighing on production. Growth is set to significantly contract 2023 and inflation is predicted yet to peak before gradually easing.

The positive news come from the labour market, the strongest in decades and likely to remain resilient. Given the current extraordinary high level of uncertainties, I am afraid, we must not take this for granted either. Against this background, we all must prioritise. I was pleased to see that many of the priorities from your work programme for 2023 match ours. We both decided to focus on the economic recovery plan, energy, the climate, and the rule of law – to name a few.

In my view, the European Court of Auditors is instrumental to ensure that the EU’s budget is protected and used in the best and most appropriate way. The EU is making huge investments and they must be in a sustainable and resilient future – not to fill pre-existing budget holes from Members States. Under my mandate, I am aiming for the EESC to have a stronger impact in the EU policy-making process. This depends on the quality and timeliness of our work. We also must be proactive. To this end, we are engaging in close dialogues with other institutions.

The Committee considers it essential to ensure good governance, vigilance against corruption in the management of funds and democratic accountability. The EESC recognises the potential risk that Member States could use the Recovery and Resilience Facility’s resources for budgetary expenditure that is not linked to the current Covid crisis or to the impact from the war in Ukraine. Therefore, we recommend that their targeted use be subject to strict control.

The EU must bring the benefits of sustainable and inclusive growth to all European citizens and businesses through upward convergence and a strong Single Market. Europe must be strengthened to face the current and future challenges. The growth in consumer prices is particularly dangerous because it erodes purchasing power and leads to a deterioration of the social situation of households and negatively affecting living standards. Inflation also impedes competitiveness and triggers a faster monetary policy response than expected. The EESC is aware of the enormous difficulties involved in the current circumstances in implementing an economic policy that simultaneously aims to reduce inflation and ensure economic growth, employment and the sustainability of public finances in the medium and long term.

It is, however, crucial that we do not lose sight of our common goals. Amidst the high level of uncertainty, ensuring a recovery that helps Europe to be more resilient and sustainable than it was before remains the highest priority for the EU. In the Committee’s view, we should encourage European institutions and national governments to speed up the implementation and enforcement of the national Recovery and Resilience Plans (RRPs), as well as the associated investments and reforms.

I deeply believe that the end result of any policy process is improved if the social partners and the civil society organisations are involved at all stages of the process. It improves transparency and accountability, it adds relevant information and dialogue, and it increases the probability of success in the implementation of the policies. During the design phase of the plans, the EESC observed that the involvement of organised civil society was largely insufficient in a majority of Member States, and was generally seen as a mere formality without any real capacity to influence the content of the plans. With regard to the implementation, and as the Court of Auditors also underlined in its report on the Commission’s assessment of national RRPs, we identified a number of weaknesses in the process for the successful implementation of the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

As you highlighted, we believe that these weaknesses are mainly related to insufficient administrative capacity to implement and monitor the recovery and resilience plans and control structures at the national and local levels. For this reason, many social partners and civil society organisations insist on greater involvement not only of themselves but also of local and regional communities. These best practices have proved that the actual implication of civil society organisations and social partners, also through the involvement of the national Economic and Social Councils, are bringing added value to the implementation process.

Despite the delay in the implementation of many national RRPs, good practices were identified in some Member States with regard to the implementation and monitoring of NRRPs. We recommend better promoting the exchange of these good practices amongst Member States. A solid ex-post analysis of both the efficiency and the effectiveness of the national RRPs needs to be carried out. I know, that you are already working on it. I am convinced that the more organised civil societies and local and regional authorities were involved in the implementation of the plans, the better the results were.

There are many areas where Europe needs to reinforce its strategic economy – and in particular in terms of diversifying energy supply. The EESC has several times called to the European institutions and Member States to react quickly and united to reform the energy market, the high energy prices, overgrowing demand and energy poverty affecting people and businesses. That is why, the EU’s potential in the field of renewable energies should be deployed as much as possible. We strongly recommend massive investments in renewable energy systems as well as storage infrastructure.

Strategic autonomy in the field of energy cannot be achieved without social acceptance and ownership of the energy transition by citizens and businesses. They must be part of the solution to a green transition. In this context, civil society organisations have an undoubtful role to play to support citizens, consumers and businesses in achieving the energy transition. We have closely followed all energy related Commission proposals and in particular the REPowerEU plan. Before the crises, already in January, the EESC decided to prioritise its work on the energy transition and its role towards the EU’s strategic autonomy. We looked into the various aspects of the energy transition. Geopolitics, energy poverty, infrastructure, rural areas, climate objectives, SMEs and the social economy, carbon removal technologies: we did not want to leave anything to chance. Our conclusions and recommendations were just adopted at our last plenary in October. In December, we will hold a debate on “An economic approach to the future of EU energy policy”, as a horizontal look into the middle and long-term economic aspects of EU’s energy policy.

Extensive public and private investments are urgently needed and at a bigger scale – not only in energy but also in Research & Innovation, in education, up- and reskilling. Now, we have the chance to set the right investments and changes in motion – not only to tackle the current challenges but to create opportunities for employment and a decent life in the future.

The war in Ukraine brings many consequences that we follow closely. The EESC maintains regular contacts with Ukrainian civil society via two well-established and institutionalised channels. First, the EU-Ukraine Civil Society Platform monitors the implementation of the Association Agreement from the civil society perspective and make recommendation to the Government of Ukraine on the one hand, and to the European Commission, on the other hand. Second, the EU-Ukraine domestic advisory group (DAG) is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA).

I am also delighted to inform you that the EESC has opened the so-called Ukrainian Civil Society Hub by giving a part of its premises at disposal of Ukrainian civil society organisations based in Belgium. The Hub hosts some 30 civil society representatives and helps them to deliver on their mission in these extremely challenging times for their country. Following the Council’s decision in June this year to grant Ukraine a candidate status, we will further enhance and consolidate our relations with Ukrainian civil society. Once the negotiations are open, we will establish a bilateral joint consultative committee, which will monitor the negotiations of open chapters.

Since the very first day, the EESC has condemned in the strongest possible terms the Russian aggression against independent and democratic Ukraine, and adopted two resolutions. The first one focused on War in Ukraine, and looked at economic, social and environmental impact of this conflict in our immediate neighbourhood. The second one concentrated on the relief and post-war reconstruction, and called for granting Ukraine the EU candidate status.

Finally, I would like to share with you that the EESC has been a strong supporter of the “new push for European democracy” aimed by the European Commission. Fundamental rights and the rule of law are key priorities for us. Already in 2018, we created our transversal ad hoc Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group. The aim was to reflect the growing concern by civil society. But our wish was also to proactively propose solutions to preserve the EU founding values. We have used our country visits in all EU Member States to enable wide discussions at national and European levels. I strongly believe that in the challenging times we face, we must continue protecting our common values and strengthening participatory democracy in Europe.

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived 2500 years ago, said ‘There is nothing permanent except change”. So, let’s continue to work together to change Europe for the better. I look forward to our exchange.

Source: EESC