The kick-off online seminar with which EZA started a series of workshops about the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) took place on 22 June 2021, organized by EZA, supports by the European Union. The CoFoE is an important participative initiative of the European Commission to define the future of Europe with the input of the citizens. EZA joins this initiative and would like to prepare proposals for the conference. To prepare the EZA input this kick-off will be followed by two online workshops and a Forum.
Sigrid Schraml, secretary-general of EZA, started with an introduction about the main goals of the CoFoE and showed the platform with the different possibilities to contribute this European consultation about the future of Europe. She announced an EZA survey to learn more about the expectations of the EZA members and the follow-up with two workshops after the holidays and a conference at the start of 2022.
Luc Van den Brande, president of EZA, stressed in his speech on what is politically at stake: We are currently living in a period of multiple changes in Europe: Climate change, digitalization, managing the consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic. These are huge challenges that will determine political and social action - and workers' organizations will also have to play a major role in these processes to ensure that the changes to come go in the right direction. It will be particularly important to ensure that – as the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen says – 'no one is left behind'. The future of Europe will depend essentially on how we manage to give the most vulnerable in particular dignified work and a place that gives them the sense of being a valuable player in this Europe. A more social Europe must be the result of this big open consultation in the EU. The EZA president said that our voice must be heard.
Professor dr. Steven Van Hecke, KULeuven, teaches as academic scientist about the EU, the EU policies and explained in this meeting the first steps leading to this Conference on the Future of Europe. A key element of his contribution to this kick-off was a SWOT about the CoFoE.
At the end of his contribution to the webinar he underlined the complexity of organizing this Union and that a possible solution for the lack of hierarchy in European policy making would be to have one person chair both the EU commission and the EU council. There is an opening for this in the last Treaty of Lisbon.
An important voice from the workers organizations on the future of Europe is that of young people. Three of them took the floor to give their opinion on this topic.
Mateusz Szymański, International Department of NSZZ “Solidarnosc” was clear in his statement that the weakest suffered the most and EU must answer to this question. We need binding standards and a safe-net must be built. Invest in education and equality, support children and create high quality of work. Attack insecurity, EPSR is a fundamental pillar for a better EU and a holistic approach is necessary. EU must close the gap with the citizens and workers need to have a say in a lot of matters and that is why we must protect and promote social dialogue.
Carolin Moch, JOC Europe, talked about the experiences of young people and said that they take cross-border for granted. They only know the EU as an open space and go as student abroad. But at the same time there are a lot of problems faced by young people. The precariousness, lack of opportunities, gender inequality. They want to live in dignity, and this makes the regulations about the minimum wages important, also the youth guarantee with more focus on the quality of work and not only on the quantity. For young people is affordable housing an important issue and a social security the covers all workers, a health care system for all. For the EU, growth must first and foremost be at the service of human being, justice and solidarity. Carolin and Mateusz underlined that social rights are basic human being rights and must be delivered as a public service.
Lukas Fleischmann, communication EZA, said that it is not so quite easy to tell what is important for the future of Europe. We have sometimes too many expectations. Having the opportunity to study at other European universities gives a European spirit. At the same time, you learn that young people do not have everywhere the same opportunities even as high educated workers. There is a lack of perspective for a good job in a big part of Europe. EU must put in the middle of their efforts the support for more equal opportunities. In the field of the LGBTQ+ the EU must support non-discriminatory laws. For him is the EU the best region to live in, but the EU must fight hard for climate change and must secure the future.
During the questions and answers session a lot of topics mentioned by the speakers (treaties, social dialogue, EPSR, democracy and EU, equalities, social security, closer to the citizens, EU way of living and laws, wages, precarious situations of the young people, etc) were further discussed. One of the final points to bring EU nearer to the citizens was the need for a new narrative closer to the reality of today.