EESC should go back to basics and promote European integration, says its President Georges Dassis

Brussels, 13/11/2015 (Agence Europe) – The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) should go back to its primary role, namely expressing the views of civil society and advising the other European institutions on the best ways of encouraging European integration, which could include drawing up a plinth of European social rights, as desired by the European Commission. “We have to have a concrete message.” And what could be more concrete than establishing a minimum European income financed by an EU fund or building a European platform of social rights? he asks.

This is how the new EESC President, Georges Dassis, described the Committee’s role to this newsletter on Thursday 5 November. The difference between Dassis and his predecessor, Henri Malosse, is striking in more than one regard. While the latter, a French representative of entrepreneurs, wanted above all to give the EESC greater visibility through his personal initiatives (see EUROPE 11418), the new president, a Greek trade union activist since his teenage years, prefers to withdraw from the limelight so as not to overshadow the EESC’s traditional work.

I don’t want a programme for the president, but a programme for the EESC because I don’t think that an institution is healthy if people pay attention to its chair who wants to publicise himself.”

This desire to make a break with the old style of chairmanship is not purely formal, because it is a desire to go back to basics, to the traditional work of this EU body, which is mainly “advisory” as the new chair points out. This means that the EESC is there to encourage ever greater “economic had social cohesion.” This objective should be pursued through the EESC’s traditional work – particularly the drawing up of opinions on all areas relating to European policy – which some see as rather daunting, but which Dassis sees as crucial.

It is for this reason that when asked about his programme, he replies by listing opinions, his aim being to be a kind of spokesperson for the Committee, whose views are legitimised by the expression of opinions approved in advance by a majority of its members. Georges Dassis therefore calls for a sharp increase in the EU budget, for investment in research and development to be encouraged, along with investment in education and re-industrialisation that can be reconciled with the imperatives of the fight against global warming.

But there is one idea that he seems particularly keen on, which is that politicians should pay more attention to the situation of the citizens living in the EU. One reason for this is that he is “sick” of the rising popularity of xenophobe populist parties “inspired by Nazism” that have found fertile ground in the “unacceptable social situation” experienced by many EU citizens today.

“We have to have a concrete message.” And what could be more concrete than establishing a minimum European income financed by an EU fund or building a European platform of social rights? he asks.

The European Commission is planning to begin work on the establishment of a European platform of social rights in the first half of 2016 (see EUROPE 11404), and he thinks the EESC is probably the best placed to play a key role here. Dassis says the EESC could draw up a plinth as this is within its competences and history has shown this with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

There needs to be a focus on “things that aren’t working,” such as the services directive or the directive on the secondment of workers, two examples of legislation that he says are “almost opposed” to the principle of “harmonisation in progress,” because they “legalise social dumping.”

The aim is still to show that the EU exists for its citizens, because “European integration cannot be done with populations living in dire poverty or with citizens fearing that the European Union will lead to a further reduction in their living standards.”

His views may seem to some to be stuck in the past, as the UK demands a new Union and there is disagreement on the subject of immigration, but he is not planning to call for greater solidarity within the EU, because the member states “that are doing better should realise that this is largely because of the existence of the EU.” Is this wishful thinking? “It is not a question of being blindly optimistic, but rather of declaring oneself to be optimistic in order to fight to turn optimism into reality,” he said at the end of the interview. (Original version in French by Jan Kordys)

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