I would like to start by offering my heartfelt congratulations on this auspicious opening of the 14th term of the EESC. On behalf of the European Commission, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all the new Members as well as those who have a significant experience of being the EESC members (246 out of 344 members stay).
Honourable Members, you have elected a President whose experience and commitment to our common European project is clear. I would particularly like to underline his commitment to driving forward the Europe 2020 strategy as a cornerstone project for Europe. Everyone knows how deeply and whole heartedly Mr Nilsson has been involved, as the President, in the activities of the Lisbon strategy observatory and now in the high-level steering Committee on Europe 2020.
Mr. President, let me thank you for your speech which had both vision and substance. I fully share the views and commend the engagement.
Let me start by emphasising the importance of partnership with social partners at national, regional and local level. The Commission sees the EESC as having a crucial role in this. We should continue the active exchange of good practices, benchmarking and networking, something that has proven to be an extremely useful way to foster a culture of ownership and dynamism so far.
Let me develop more on the Europe 2020 strategy and the crucial role of the social partners with in respect with it. I would like to recall this highly successful conference and a constructive discussion that took place one month ago on the involvement of the EESC and the national ESCs. The Europe 2020 strategy is the EU's overarching project for this decade. Your initiative, your concrete recommendations and your full engagement in the implementation of the strategy is central to its success.
In particular, I welcome your active support for national ESCs (Economic Social Council) and their equivalents to play an active role in the drafting National Reform Programmes and later on, in the implementation of the reform programmes and in pursuing the national targets. As you know, we are putting in place a new “European semester” to give a consistent and clear rhythm to the process at EU level - you will be key to ensuring that this meshes effectively with the national level as well. To effectively implement the Europe 2020 strategy, we need everyone on board: Member States, European Institutions and social partners, to move ahead on our common reform agenda.
I would like to thank you for the work you have already accomplished under the Lisbon strategy observatory. I particularly welcome your wish to integrate the Europe 2020 strategy as a horizontal issue in your work. In this context, I support your intention to maximise the support of the organised civil society to the implementation of the strategy, through the new Europe 2020 steering committee set up by the EESC. We count on a convergence of views and the active support of social partners both at the European and the national level.
Let me also to emphasise that the Commission also attaches great importance to the participatory democracy principles and to the consultation processes now enshrined in the body of the Treaties. I share the concern of the outgoing President SEPI that we must try to counter a prevailing public attitude characterised by a certain passivity and even hostility towards public participation in democracy. And I agree what he said in his powerful farewell address: "We have great potential for involving people in democratic decision-making". I also very much welcome the interest that the EESC is taking in the citizens' initiative. This initiative, introduced by the Lisbon Treaty is widening up the sphere of public debate, allowing citizens to participate more intensively in the democratic life of the Union.
To conclude, let me highlight that civil society plays a key role in policy development and policy implementation, and nowhere more than in our efforts to secure a full economic recovery. We need to seize the momentum and act now. We need to realise the Europe 2020 strategy and put Europe on the right path for our future growth. The Commission stands ready to work with you in this process and counts on your support and your ideas.