24 September 2021

European Semester reform should learn from National Recovery and Resilience Plans experience

On behalf of the EESC Liaison Group, the Philanthropy Advocacy (Dafne & EFC) co-lead Hanna Surmatz presented reflections about the reform of the European Semester process from a civil society perspective at the EESC public hearing titled “Towards the European Semester 2022 – Implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plans” which took place on 6 September 2021.

“A reform of the European Semester must consider its history, raison d’être and limitations, but it can and should certainly learn from the lessons drawn from the pandemic to address crucial issues for an economically, socially and democratically inclusive European Union.Hanna Surmatz (Philanthropy Advocacy, Dafne & EFC)

The Liaison Group’s message was clear: CSO welcome a reform of the European Semester based on the recent experience with the National Recovery and Resilience Plans. The learnings to transpose are two-fold, relating on the one hand to the process (strengthening the civil dialogue) and on the other hand to the content (broadening the scope) of the European Semester.

Panelists discussed the important progress made regarding the recognition of the importance of civil society. This was stressed in the opening remarks of Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, rapporteur for the EESC additional opinion on the 2021 Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy, by Rob Jonkman, Committee of Regions member, and by MEP Markus Ferber alike.

The European Commission represented by RECOVER Principal Advisor Johannes Lübking, as well as Bruegel Senior Fellow Zsolt Darvas also flagged the forthcoming challenges for Member States to absorb the funds and to channel them towards to proposed investments and reforms. Responding to this concern, Philanthropy Advocacy highlights the unique role philanthropic organisations could play in the implementation of the NRRP, leveraging their expertise, networks, co-funding and implementing capacities.

“It is the right time to review processes – reconstruction can only succeed if we adapt the European Semester and consider European core values, the pillar of social rights and the SDGs a guiding compass for the economic policy of the EU.Hanna Surmatz (Philanthropy Advocacy, Dafne & EFC)


PROCESS: Important moment for better implementation of civil dialogue

Whereas the RRF Regulation requires Member States to consult with civil society, the sector’s involvement in the drafting processes for the National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRP) is still far from sufficient in most Member States. This has been showcased by a study undertaken by Civil Society Europe (CSE) and ECNL, with contributions from Philanthropy Advocacy and its membership, to which a follow-up study is currently in the pipeline.

So far, the general trend is that organised civil society has not always been involved and even where they have been informed or heard, there were only few tangible results. Panelists raised concerns on the capacity of civil society to engage around consultation processes. We argue however that governance structures of the NRRP/EU Semester/other instruments under the MFF must be built in a way to ensure that civil society organisations together with social partners continue to play their key role in designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating EU policies at national level – and this in a meaningful, structured and transparent manner.

“The EU and Member States must use this opportunity to reflect on its civil and social dialogue as a step towards modernised decision and policy making with citizens at the center of it.Hanna Surmatz (Philanthropy Advocacy, Dafne & EFC)

The CSE/ECNL research report has fed into the adoption of the important EESC Resolution in February on the involvement of organised civil society in the NRRP. The EESC proposal calls for the establishment of a binding conditionality principle requiring governments to involve the social partners and other civil society organisations in planning and implementing the NRRP and other instruments under the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), on the basis of minimum standards defined at EU level. As consultation is not included in the RRF assessment criteria, its impact is limited and the EESC therefore calls on the Commission to perform a data-based thorough follow-up on the implementation of Article 18(4)(q) of the RRF Regulation.


CONTENT: Include social beyond economic targets

The EESC LG furthermore made a point of enlarging the content of the European Semester. In this regard, reference was made to European core principles listed in Article 2 such as democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights, as well as the pillar of social rights and SDGs as important reference points for a European Semester reform. Civil society organisations demand a shift of the political focus of the European Semester to ensure that people are not left behind and to strengthen social resilience and inclusion and to direct EU funding accordingly. To achieve this, The European Semester’s decision-making and policy-monitoring indicators should be enlarged to include new social earmarking and indicators. This should also reflect the key role of the social economy and of social services and include a revision of the Social Scoreboard. The European Semester should develop tools to ensure the fair share of the financing of social policies.


Next steps

Hanna Surmatz will bring the outcomes of the public hearing to the upcoming meeting of the EESC Liaison Group, taking place on 28 September 2021. Ongoing is also the work done by Philanthropy Advocacy and its civil society partner organisations on assessing the involvement of civil society in the drafting, monitoring and implementing of the NRRP. The follow-up report to the December 2020 study is foreseen for October 2021. Members of the Philanthropy Advocacy Legal Affairs Committee are currently providing input from their national contexts.




By Hanna Hanses, Philanthropy Advocacy

Hanna Hanses is Junior Manager at Dafne (Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe) in Brussels. Since joining Dafne in 2019, she has been part of the Legal Team of Philanthropy Advocacy, a joint initiative of Dafne and the EFC (European Foundation Centre). She holds an LLM International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex, UK, focusing her thesis on climate-induced displacement. She received her LLB Bachelor in Law from Ghent University, Belgium. Hanna brings with her a multi-cultural experience, having lived in inter alia the Democratic Republic of Congo, Switzerland and Belgium.