This week, on 12 September, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted a public hearing on civil society's contribution to the next European Semester cycle. A wide range of civil society organisations came together to discuss how to make their voices heard more clearly throughout the semester cycle. The discussion was rich, with many proposals on how to improve the semester process and better integrate social and environmental objectives.
Participants pointed out that compliance with the country-specific recommendations (CSRs) is low. In order to make the Semester process more effective and improve the implementation of the recommendations, citizens and CSOs need to feel that they have ownership of the process. This should be achieved by actively involving civil society organisations in all stages of the cycle, both at the national and the European level. Engaging wider civil society in the process could also improve public support for the measures resulting from the CSRs.
Despite the recent introduction of the Social Scoreboard, the social and environmental aspects of the Semester have not received sufficient attention. Anne Demelenne, member of the EESC and representative of the Belgian trade union FGTB, pointed out that whereas the Semester has very concrete and strict benchmarks for macroeconomic indicators, these are lacking for the social recommendations. Patrizia Heidegger, from the European Environmental Bureau, proposed to use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a guideline for the new semester and rename it the ‘Sustainable Development Cycle’.
All in all, it was agreed that CSOs can and should play a more proactive role during the entire Semester process to ensure the final recommendations reflect the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The EESC opinion for which this hearing was organised can be found here. Many of the issues raised during the public hearing will also be reflected in SOLIDAR’s Social Rights Monitor, which this year, for the first time, includes a section on the country specific recommendations.