ODRAZ Director for Direct: Withdrawal of money from European funds is not the only purpose of Croatia’s EU membership
“I have a feeling that the European Union in Croatia is mostly talked about through the prism of withdrawing money from European funds, as if that is almost the only meaning of Croatia’s EU membership,” a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) told the Direct website, also the director of the association ODRAZ-Sustainable Community Development Lidija Pavić-Rogošić. However, the work of this European body is largely reflected in the development of sustainable policies on the economy, social dimension and environmental protection in the EU, and then in Croatia. However, his work is almost invisible to Croatian citizens.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is conceived as an EU body that, by advising the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, supports European policy and legislation to better reflect the economic and social reality and needs and desires of citizens.
Bringing the European Union closer to its citizens
It is a forum that contributes to strengthening democratic legitimacy and efficiency by enabling civil society organizations from member states to express their views at European level.
“Its task is also to promote the development of the EU with the greatest possible involvement of various stakeholders in order to bring the Union as close as possible to the citizens. The EESC provides an institutional platform for organized civil society for advocacy, information, expression and dialogue,” said Pavić-Rogošić in an interview with the Direktno portal.
The members of the EESC are representatives of associations of entrepreneurs, then trade union centres representing the interests of workers and finally a group classified as “Diversity of Europe”, within which our interlocutor operates within the EESC.
The idea is to represent the interests of the various social, professional, economic and cultural organizations that make up civil society in the Member States through this group. Members come from consumer and environmental organizations and associations representing gender equality, youth, minority and socially vulnerable groups, people with disabilities, the voluntary sector, as well as the health, legal, scientific and academic communities and farmers’ organizations, the liberal professions, the social economy, Pavić-Rogošić tells us.
The committee has 329 members from all 27 EU member states, and each country’s representation is roughly proportional to its size.
Nine representatives from Croatia
Given that there is no unified method of selecting members of the Committee for all member states, the Croatian Government has determined that the first group includes representatives of the Croatian Employers’ Association, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts. In the second group, they are the Independent Croatian Trade Union, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Croatia and the Matica of Croatian Trade Unions.
Our interlocutor is the director of the association ODRAZ-Sustainable Community Development and is a member of the third group, together with representatives of the Association of Public Health Andrija Štampar and the Association Zamisli.
It should be reminded that at its session on June 4 last year, the government appointed nine Croatian representatives to the EESC for a five-year term. These are Violeta Jelić (HOK), Dragica Martinović Džamonja (HGK), Davor Majetić (HUP), Marija Hanževačka (NHS), Anica Milićević-Pezelj (SSSH), Vilim Ribić (MHS), Danko Relić (Association of Public Health Andrija Štampar ), Svjetlana Marijon (Ideas) and Lidija Pavić-Rogošić .
Croatian representatives have been participating in the work of this Committee since Croatia’s accession to the EU, and its members, says Pavić-Rogošić, are active in the country and have initiated, organized or participated in a series of meetings on topics such as rural development, poverty reduction, food waste prevention etc. Unfortunately, he says, during 2020 it is mostly done remotely and it was not possible to organize live public events.
Sustainable economic and social development and environmental protection
“The European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the Commission have an obligation to consult the EESC on many issues. The EESC, however, gives its views not only on these mandatory consultations, but also on its own initiative, on any topic related to EU public policies that it deems necessary. The EESC also prepares studies and exploratory opinions, when the Commission, Parliament or the Council requests that the EESC consider and make proposals in areas of particular importance to organized civil society.
The EESC thus prepares about 200 opinions a year and covers all topics related to EU public policies and areas important for sustainable economic and social development and environmental protection,” explained our interlocutor.
As the EESC is an advisory body, the Commission, the Council and Parliament should consider the recommendations and views expressed in EESC documents, but do not necessarily take them into account.
“It can be said that the Committee participates in the decision-making process in the EU, but does not have ‘formal voting power’ like the European Parliament or the Council of the European Union. The more proactive the EESC is in directly promoting its opinions, the more it gains in the visibility of its views and opinions and the greater the chance that the Committee’s opinions will be taken into account,” said the Croatian EESC representative.
The EU is more than a fund
“I have a feeling that the European Union in Croatia is mostly talked about through the prism of withdrawing money from European funds, as if that is almost the only meaning of Croatia’s membership in the EU. Thus, the role of civil society in the EU context is most often reduced to the preparation and implementation of European projects. The possibility of participating in the process of defining EU public policies and management processes at European level is discussed in the context of politicians and representatives of public bodies, and the possibility of participation of civil society organizations is hardly mentioned.
However, the example of the EESC, an EU advisory body that brings together national representatives, shows that the social partners and other civil society organizations have their place in the EU’s legislative and governance system,” said Pavić-Rogošić.
The possible weak interest of the media in the activities of associations and other civil society organizations is stated as a possible reason why not much is known about this EU body in Croatia, “although they play an important role in various aspects of people’s lives and local communities.”
“There are a lot of interesting and useful activities going on in the EESC and I believe that as a member of that body I have a responsibility to inform associations and other stakeholders about what is happening there and about the opinions that are available in the Croatian language. These opinions can be useful to associations engaged in certain activities, but also to students and individual professionals.
Therefore, I publish EESC news and information on adopted opinions with links to Croatian versions of documents on the ODRAZ website. This requires a lot of extra work, but I think it would be a shame if our citizens were not informed. Recently, for example, the winners of the EESC award for civic solidarity during the pandemic were announced, the award was given to a Croatian organization and I certainly think that the general public should have been informed about it, “said our interlocutor.
Some information is also transmitted by the Office for Non-Governmental Organizations, but, as he says, so much is happening in parallel in the EESC that one person should only deal with it. He adds that EESC news is regularly updated on the Committee’s website and social networks, which have a significant number of visits.
A policy reflection forum
He says it is difficult to summarize what is currently the focus of the EESC’s action “because there is really a lot going on in parallel”.
Each group and expert section has its own work program and priorities, but it revealed to us what topics of discussion were in the last plenary sessions with external participants.
“In February, Dubravka Šuica , Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, participated, with whom we discussed the Conference on the Future of Europe and the involvement of citizens and civil society organizations in the process, which should begin soon. The debate with Johannes Hahn , Commissioner for Budget and Administration, revolved around the EESC resolution ‘Involving organized civil society in national recovery and resilience plans – What works and what doesn’t?’.
In January, the Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa , presented the priorities of the Portuguese Presidency, and with Maroš Šefčovič , Vice-President of the Commission for Interinstitutional Relations and Forecasts, we discussed the European Commission’s Work Program for 2021. Sustainable development in the Mediterranean ‘for which I was rapporteur. This document was the basis for discussion during the EUROMED summit, during which representatives of economic and social committees and other civil society organizations from all Mediterranean countries gather every year. “
The Committee certainly serves as a forum for thinking about EU public policies, strategies, programs and the future, and in its work it cooperates with other EU bodies, other European organizations and networks, universities and research institutes, cultural institutions and the media. What the EESC is thinking about today could certainly become part of the official EU policy, concluded Pavić-Rogošić.