7 November 2019

Luca Jahier: “We need a dream for a positive future”

Report on the EESC Conference on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law | 05.11.2019 in Brussels

The EESC Conference on “Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law: Trends in the EU from a Civil Society Perspective“, which took place in Brussels on 5 November 2019, aimed at finding ways for deepening the inter-institutional dialogue, seeking to include civil society organisations. Civil society is the voice of European citizens, their values and concerns, and needs to be involved in the political dialogue at the highest level. Democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law are intrinsically linked and cannot exist without broad participation and citizens trust in the political institutions. In order to maintain the valuable peace within the EU, as we have known it for the past decades, we need to ensure that a bottom-up approach infiltrates the institutional architecture to make the voices of all citizens heard equally at the highest level.

Fatigue of liberal democracy; rise of authoritarianism; shrinking space for civil action; growing hate speech; threats to journalists and human rights defenders – numerous challenges were brought up at the EESC Conference on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law, leading many participants to highlight that Europe is facing challenging times. But besides addressing concerns, the conference more importantly sought to find solutions. Some panellists and attendants acknowledged that the time to raise awareness has passed and it is now time for action. Luca Jahier, the President of the EESC emphasised in his opening speech: “We need a dream for a positive future”. Linking his priorities to the European Commission’s agenda for the next five years, he said that this future needs to be based on the ‘European way of life’, which means according to our values and our culture. And who is better placed to define these values than European citizens themselves? The gap between leadership and citizens needs to be filled, if we want to maintain our European values and prevent a collapse of our peaceful societies.

Civil society organisations have been facing many challenges recently, ranging from unintentional restricted access to funding due to tax legislation, to intentional stigmatization by governments who seek to silence any scrutiny performed on them. It is therefore urgent that the European institutions, which can play a critical role in empowering civil society and therefore citizens, rethink the way in which they can involve citizens more directly in the political process. Prevention was ared line throughout the discussions. As put by the founder of Coruptia Ucide, a Romanian NGO fighting against corruption, “the most efficient way to beat a storm is to avoid it”. Although some member states are already in a further phase of worrying trends, the wave of authoritarianism can still be prevented in most member states. This is where the EESC can – and should – play a role as convener of civil society and as bridge between civil society and European institutions.

The EESC has identified this duty and established the Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group in 2018, which provides a forum for European civil society organisations to meet with each other and share insights. This enhanced institutional architecture is a welcome reaction to the current dissonance between people and politics. The FRRL Group is tasked with performing country visits to all member states, no matter the state of decline in any of the interdependent concepts of democracy, fundamental rights and rule of law. These country visits will provide the EESC a clear view on the state of play of democracy across the EU and therefore allow them to highlight trends, give a voice to civil society organisations and include them in the inter-institutional dialogue.

by Hanna Hanses, Philanthropy Advocacy

The issues discussed at the EESC conference are also at the core of Philanthropy Advocacy (the joint DAFNE and EFC initiative to promote an enabling space for philanthropy in a wider civil society context). Philanthropy Advocacy has been raising concerns around the decline of European core values such as democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights in parts of Europe also from a philanthropy and civil society space perspective.