Sustainable democracy: six recommendations for making it happen – Civil Society Days 2019

Civil Society Organisations took over the European Economic and Social Committee agenda for two days thanks to the initiative launched by the EESC Civil Society Days Liaison Group. The 2019 edition took place on 12 and 13 June, at a historic time for Europe. Two weeks after the European elections, the plenary session and the six workshops analysed the sustainability of our democratic system from several viewpoints and came up with recommendations for transforming our system into a more sustainable and thus resilient one.

The initiative was kick-started by an interesting opening session, chaired by Conny Reuter, Secretary General of SOLIDAR and co-chair of the Liaison Group of the EESC with Luca Jahier, president of the EESC. Conny Reuter stressed how much Civil Society Organisations are the pulse of society and thus the importance of this event hosted and co-organised by a crucial institution for the democratic representation as the EESC. It is indeed by acknowledging where the pulse of society lies that we can actually revamp the pulse of Europe. For this to happen, civil dialogue – which should never be in competition with social dialogue – should be further implemented by all the other institutions as well. The variety of the CSOs represented in the Liaison Group created a diverse environment in which to discuss comprehensively the different dimensions of sustainability: social, environmental, economic and also governance-related.

The opening session also embraced the challenges posed by the lack of institutional dialogue among some of the biggest social movements that lately have been taking to the streets: the Gilets Jaunes, Fridays for Future and KOD in Poland. All of them complained about the frequent misrepresentation of their movements in the media. Unfortunately, time constraints didn’t allow for a debate on how their positions could be better translated into institutional work or how organised civil society could have a more structured dialogue with their movements, but the fact that the EESC opened its doors to their viewpoints is another encouraging message that the house is delivering to its institutional counterparts.

As Luca Jahier quoted, “imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge leads you from point A to B, but imagination let you go everywhere”. Imagination was definitely a key element of all the workshops carried out over the two day event. The organisers welcomed President Jahier’s invitation to start walking the talk and leave behind talking for the sake of it. Indeed, the Civil Society Days concluded with the adoption of some concrete recommendations, soon to be available on the EESC website, which were the result of thorough discussions in the six workshops organised by the members of the Liaison Group. The recommendations cover a wide range of solutions and policy proposals for making our democracy sustainable.

SOLIDAR co-organised with AEDH and the ECO Section of the EESC a workshop about democracy at work. Our guests and speakers were Javier Doz Orrit, EESC Member; Diana Dovgan, Secretary General of CECOP; Olivier Leberquier, President of SCOP-TI; and Aline Hoffmann, Head of the Unit for Europeanisation of Industrial Relations and coordinator of the Workers Participation Competence Centre. They all helped spark ideas in an insightful and inspiring manner that was kick-started by Javier Doz, who set the scene by introducing the packed out audience to the EESC opinion paper: Towards a more resilient and sustainable European economy, to be discussed in the plenary in June. He provided definitions and terms of reference useful for a discussion on sustainability that was then made more grounded thanks to the contribution of Diana Dovgan, who stated clearly why the cooperative model is the way forward for a participatory society and also how they contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Her intervention was followed by Olivier Leberquier, who caught the audience’s attention as he talked about how he and his co-workers responded to the threat of a relocation of the production of tea by Unilever by implementing a workers’ buyout. His story is one of 1,336 days of occupation of the workplace and a struggle against the odds, a story of overcoming hardships for the many. It makes the case for hope against a backdrop of increasingly difficult working conditions for so many people in the EU, and beyond. Some may point out that this story may be just a lone case of a happy ending. Aline Hoffmann explained, however,  in a crystal clear manner and producing  evidence that democracy at work is the way forward for better societies. Her presentation not only broadened the scope of our debate but also provided evidence for the mutually reinforcing relationship between democracy at work with civic democracy. Democracy at work is an implementation of the fundamental right to self-determination, and of the principle of bringing democracy to all spheres of life. Moreover, it makes the case for stakeholders’ interests to prevail over the shareholders’ ones, and it doesn’t imply absolute control of the company by anyone. Finally, it leads to having equality-driven company boards. Overall, it clearly helped achieve the SDGs better and faster, not least by improving the life satisfaction of those involved.

The Civil Society Days are over, but the recommendations have now to be followed-up!

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