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Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission: Strategic Objectives 2000-2005 — “Shaping the New Europe”’ (2001/C 14/25) At its plenary session of 2 March 2000, the Economic and Social Committee decided, under Rule 23(3) of its Rules of Procedure, to draw up an opinion on the above-mentioned communication. In accordance with Rules 11(4) and 19(1) of its Rules of Procedure, the Committee set up a subcommittee to prepare its work on this subject. The sub-committee adopted its draft opinion on 30 August 2000. The sub-committee instructed Mr Gafo Fernandez to submit the draft opinion to the plenary session. ´ At its 376th plenary session held on 19 October 2000 the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 59 votes to seven with one abstention. 1. valuable contribution through exploratory opinions, hearings or other means. In this context the Committee would refer to its opinions on civil society organisations and on the partnership between the Commission and NGOs and the possibility of creating an observatory within the Committee.


1.1. In presenting the Commission’s strategic objectives for 2000-2005 to the European Parliament on 15 February 2000, President Prodi told the House that the Commission intended to publish a White Paper on governance by July 2001. This White Paper will explore two main avenues:


The Commission proposals

decentralising responsibility within the EU, and 2.1. Strategic objectives 2000-2005

modernising the work of the Commission and re-establishing consistency.

In view of the importance of this subject and having consideration to its role in the European Union, the Committee would, as a matter of principle, wish to be involved from the beginning in the conceptual formulation of this document.

The Committee proposes that the White Paper highlight relations between Community institutions and bodies and civil society organisations, as well as framing future political issues and improving decision-making procedures to make them more participatory. It is also time to launch a debate on how civil dialogue should be structured so as to include all interest groups while avoiding confusion with social dialogue. In this context the Committee would draw attention to its own way of managing conflicting interests, relying on dialogue and expertise to find a compromise.

2.1.1. The Commission paper setting out its strategic objectives is intended as a strategic policy document which aims to identify what it sees as the main challenges for the immediate future and the areas in which it seeks to achieve substantial changes. It deliberately does not concern itself with the methodology by which these changes will be brought about. This will be the subject of a series of annual communications which will deal with matters of operational modality within the framework of the five-year plan.

2.1.2. The Commission aims to achieve an ever closer union between peoples, based on shared values and common objectives. It is pushing forward with political integration by establishing an area of freedom, security and justice and by developing common foreign, security and defence policies. It has a vision of a Europe which can show genuine leadership on the world stage.

1.2. Highlighting its own specific remit, the Committee wishes to be consulted on the problems which the Commission is currently seeking to address in the course of drawing up the White Paper and on which the Committee could make a It believes that Europe will need strong institutions which answer to new forms of democratic governance. To this end, it will seek a new synergy between all of the European Union’s democratic bodies as part of a broader improvement of European governance. It wishes to strike a new balance

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between action by the Commission, the other institutions, the Member States and Civil Society. To ensure success, it intends to work in close partnership with the other European institutions and through a careful division of labour with the Member States.

European stability and prosperity. To this end, it will pursue its enlargement strategy; this inevitably has major implications for European institutions and policies.

2.1.3. The Commission will pursue four strategic objectives in the period under review: — — — — Promoting new forms of European governance A stable Europe with a stronger voice in the world A new economic and social agenda A better quality of life for its citizens The Commission also sees a need to establish genuine strategic partnerships with the countries on the periphery of the enlarged Europe. At the same time, it feels that Europe must enhance its role as a partner in solidarity with the developing countries and refocus its activities to combat poverty not only within the EU but also in those countries. The weakness of the international system, the escalating number of conflicts, increasing poverty and the spread of organised crime are all seen as demanding decisive action from the EU. The Commission’s objective is to make Europe a global actor with a political weight commensurate with its economic strength. This will involve, inter alia, developing a genuine common foreign policy and civilian and military capabilities in a common defence and security policy.

2.1.4. The complex challenges which lie ahead call for new forms of European governance. It sees this as being the responsibility not only of the European institutions but of Member State governments and parliaments and regional and local authorities. The Commission confirms its strategic interest in the reactivation of the Millennium Round and the reform of the World Trade Organisation. It aims to maximise the potential and minimise the undesirable side-effects of globalisation. Authorities in the Member States are part and parcel of European governance but this is not perceived by the people, who have little sense of ownership over the structures which govern their lives. Few people distinguish between the institutions and most believe that European and national policies are worlds apart.

2.1.6. Europe must become a globally competitive economy built on knowledge and innovation and on a strategy of sustainable development. It sees the under-utilisation of resources as Europe’s greatest weakness and feels that its potential needs to be released; nowhere is this more evident than in the field of employment. To manage European governance will require strong institutions, a collective vision and a driving force but it also calls for democratic control and the full involvement of citizens. It sees itself as providing the vision and the driving force. The Union needs a new economic and social agenda in order to build a competitive and inclusive knowledge-based economy which promotes strong and sustained growth, full employment and social cohesion. The Commission pledges itself to providing open government and accountability. It believes that civil society has a crucial role to play in this context. The delegation and decentralisation of day-to-day executive tasks will be a key feature of the new form of European governance. The Commission sets out the following priorities for coordinated action at European and Member State level: — to aim for full employment; to create a new economic dynamism by economic reform in the labour, product and capital markets aimed at stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship; to make pensions safe and sustainable through a combination of employment-generating reforms, increasing the revenue base and reviewing retirement systems in the light of the new demographic and health situation in Europe;

2.1.5. European governance must provide the EU with the means to assert itself with a single voice in the world, notwithstanding its institutional arrangements and three-pillar structure.

— Europe is seen as the focus of geopolitical shifts which are, at once, a threat and an opportunity. The Commission’s objective is to stabilise the continent and share the fundamental European values; its ambition is to export



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to develop a European strategy for fighting social exclusion, reducing poverty and the disparities between Europe’s regions and territories; to review the quality of public expenditure and the longterm sustainability of public finances; to stimulate European research; to encourage investment in human capital; to develop and strengthen the European model of agriculture in order to increase the competitiveness of this sector, secure its sustainability and promote vital rural areas. The European Union has been a successful endeavour, built on the vision of those who took the first steps in the early 1950’s. Critical to that success has been the continuous evolution of the strategies and policies which have taken the European Union through the second half of the 20th century and into a new millennium.

— — — The aspirations for the European Union continue to advance. The Committee therefore welcomes the formal statement of Strategic Priorities for the New Europe in the next five years as an introduction to the longer term perspective.

2.1.7. The Commission believes that the EU must speed up the process of establishing an area of freedom, security and justice. It points out that problems of crime and personal safety no longer stop at national borders and that the people of Europe expect their rights to be protected and enforced wherever they are in the Union. The Commission sees a need for a decisive collection reaction to the ongoing degradation of the environment. It considers that this calls for a sustainable development strategy reconciling environmental development, social progress and sustainable economic growth. The Commission notes that European citizens are insisting on higher food safety standards. It intends to take forward the proposals in its White Paper on Food Safety and on the creation of a European Food Authority. It will also seek to bolster public and consumer confidence in electronic commerce. The Commission intends to propose the creation of a truly integrated European transport area through the creation of a single airspace and the development of transEuropean networks. To this end, it will exploit new technologies to further development of an intelligent and multimodal transport system. It will also propose the setting up of a European Air Safety Agency and improve safety standards and training in the maritime sector. Having set the strategic priorities, this naturally leads into a consideration of the framework of governance which will facilitate their achievement. Much of the remainder of this Opinion tries to anticipate how the governance of the European Union needs to adapt, change and improve. The form of European Union governance must naturally, or as naturally as possible, relate to the functions which apply to the whole Community and be closely linked to the other aspects of governance at national and regional levels. The development of new forms of European governance is therefore a derivative of the acceptance of agreed objectives on what that governance, at different levels (Community, Member State, and provincial, regional and local level) is expected to achieve. It also interacts with the degree of subsidiarity or centralisation of the respective functional responsibilities. The debate about European governance is, therefore, much broader than a debate about the role of the Community institutions. In this setting, the other three strategic objectives create the focus for the discussion on governance. The Committee welcomes these more ambitious aspirations with their implications for all the citizens of Europe. They set a challenge, of achievement, integration and co-ordination around common goals, for all of the institutions and agencies at every level.


General comments The (second) strategic objective is variously stated as either ‘A stable Europe with a stronger voice in the world’ or ‘Stabilising our continent and boosting Europe’s voice in the world’. Neither of these phrases adequately conveys the important conclusion that Europe, (meaning in this case the Community, its Member States and all the wider institutions), has a responsibility to use the strength of its position and resources to take a global view of the issues affecting the lives of citizens both in Europe and elsewhere. The issues are much more significant than the ‘stabilising of our continent’ or ‘having a stronger voice’.

3.1. Strategic objectives 2000-2005 3.1.1. The Economic and Social Committee welcomes the Commission’s initiative to shape up to the challenges of taking the Union into the twenty-first century and equipping it to counter the threats and exploit the opportunities with which it will be confronted in the years ahead.

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16.1.2001 This strategic objective is misleadingly described. As a result the issues identified as a focus for the next five years, whilst they are necessary and acceptable, are somewhat too restrictive.

elections in some countries and the emergence of extreme right-wing political parties whose racist agenda masquerades under the banner of patriotism. The other (third and fourth) strategic objectives can be seen as focused on the agenda as it may directly affect citizens within Europe. The Committee see them as being interdependent, one on the other.

3.1.4. As the Commission itself has acknowledged (1), the European Union today is in crisis and that crisis is one of relationships between institutions and citizens. There is a need now to tackle this problem constructively and efficiently. The people of Europe are fundamentally in favour of the European ideal but they are concerned that Europe has lost its ability to deliver the benefits which they desire. These benefits include sustained economic growth, full employment, a just political agenda which will promote the objectives of economic development and social cohesion, protection from criminal activity, security from external attack, peace and prosperity in the neighbouring countries, a clear and forceful role for Europe as an economic power in the process of globalisation, a coherent and effective foreign policy and a pivotal role in developing the less-advantaged nations of the world. It is the case that European citizens do not understand the mechanisms of the European Union; the process of European legislation is highly complex and needs greater transparency. In the absence of this transparency, an atmosphere of distrust has arisen which must be dispelled. In the twenty-first century, the electorate is no longer prepared to put a blind trust in the ability or the good faith of decisionmakers at any level, whether it be global, European, national or even local. The majority of people have no problem with Europe; they have simply turned their backs on its institutional face. In the introduction the Commission states that it wants to ‘go further and find a new synergy between all the European Union’s democratic bodies, as part of a broader improvement of European governance’. The Committee considers that its own potential — which derives from the fact that it has its finger on the pulse of peoples’ needs as economic players and members of society — is still not used adequately and early enough in the Commission’s socio-economic initiatives. Because of the risk of confusion arising from any ambiguity, the Commission might have made an explicit reference in the description of these two strategic objectives to the distinction between the setting of the many policy objectives, which are identified and for which there would be agreed aspirations regardless of questions of competence and subsidiarity, and the operational mechanisms, which will require different degrees of harmonisation and co-ordination within the multiple levels of the framework of governance. For example, and as one of many that might be quoted, the objective of making ’pensions safe and sustainable’ is laudable and critically important. It is, however, an aspiration for the setting of European standards which is an operational responsibility of the Member States. Similarly, the integration of the ‘new’ economic agenda calls in a larger part for European Union developments which must be related to the evolving social agenda, which lies more heavily (but not only) with Member States. Setting the strategic priorities for Europe needs explicit clarity on how the priorities become objectives and within which institutional setting.

3.1.2. The ESC agrees with the Commission that the reform of the relationships between the institutions must be accompanied by a courageous administrative reform of the institutions themselves. The EEC was conceived as an association of relatively wealthy Western-European states, committed to democratic principles, and the Treaty of Rome was drawn up in that context. The challenge of adapting to the admission of a large number of much less wealthy countries, many of which have been subjected to totalitarian regimes for the last half-century, will require major alterations to Community rules and regulations.

3.1.3. The Committee endorses the Commission’s view that one of the greatest, most urgent, most compelling and most difficult challenges is to overcome the disenchantment of European citizens with the European project, a reaction which is manifested both in the disappointing turnout at European

3.1.5. Another reason for popular unease is that many people feel disquiet about the pace of the changes occurring in society. These changes require political leaders to take decisions which the current institutional set-up makes it extremely difficult to take with the requisite speed. Moreover, the public is not always able to understand and accept the changes. European citizens are united by common aspirations and ideals, including a desire for closer cooperation, but they are divided by different national traditions, customs and cultural heritage. Progress towards political union can only be made if

(1) CdP (99) 750.



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it takes proper account of national differences. The problem is less one of anti-Europeanism than of Europeans with very different visions of the future. In evolving a European strategy it is essential to take account of the fact that Europe’s diversity of peoples and cultures is a source of richness and strength rather than of division and mistrust.

3.1.6. There is a general wish in Europe for democratisation of the decision-making processes, the transparency of public administration and the involvement of the Civil Society. A European Civil Society is undoubtedly emerging and is in the process of organising itself at a European level, even if it is at present largely unstructured and unfocused. The problem with the emergence of this Civil Society is that it has no institutional rooting. The other elements of organised Civil Society need to take their place alongside the established organisms of the civil dialogue, such as the economic and social partners. The Commission has said that its document is strategic in nature, deliberately eschewing any discussion of the methodology by which it will implement the policy objectives which it has set out; this will be the subject of a series of annual documents dealing with the operational implementation of its five-year plan. The ESC respects this position and will not seek to comment on matters of methodology in advance of the publication of these annual documents. The ESC would expect to be asked for an opinion on these annual documents when they are published and would welcome being consulted in the course of their preparation; it also declares itself available to issue own-initiative opinions on their subject matter. The challenge must be to secure the effective participation of this Civil Society in the governance of Europe. Europe functions according to a pyramidal system which creates, among other things, a top-down approach. There is a need to integrate the Community processes into the European society of the twenty-first century rather than, as at present, attempting to integrate organised Civil Society into the Community process. The institutionalised process of decision making must be shared both with the social and economic actors and with the other members of organised Civil Society. The process of dialogue between the governors and the governed must become bottom-up rather than top-down. There is a need for a renewal of the methods and tools of democracy.

3.1.8. From whatever perspective one views the current situation, it is manifest that there is an urgent need to rebuild the confidence of the citizens of Europe in the processes by which they are governed. One way of achieving this is by involving organised Civil Society more closely in the decisionmaking process. Another essential element is for Europe to be seen to be delivering tangible benefits to its citizens. Moreover, it is necessary that these benefits should be relevant to the concerns and preoccupations of the citizens themselves.

3.1.9. It is necessary to view the European Union as resting on three pillars; the economic pillar, the political and administrative pillar and the pillar of Civil Society. The economic pillar is the foundation on which the other pillars rest because, without economic prosperity, Europe will not have the wherewithal to develop the policies and to create the structures which it needs or to fulfil the objectives which the Commission has set for itself. The political and administrative pillar consists of the European institutions and the Member State authorities on national, regional and local levels. The Civil Society comprises all the elements of society as defined in the ESC opinion of 22 September 1999 (1). The Committee is ready and able — drawing on its long experience and in cooperation with major civil society organisations — to frame and present to the Commission proposals for effective forms and methods of participation.

3.1.7. It must also be recognised that there is an uneasy division of power and responsibility between European institutions, particularly the Commission, and the Member States. The Commission document makes clear its determination to set the agenda for the political future of Europe but the ultimate legislative power in Europe resides mainly in the Council, which is composed of representatives of the Member States, which may have different priorities for the European project. The extension of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) and full application of the co-decision process between the European Parliament and the Council would alleviate this problem to an extent.

(1) ‘Civil society is a collective term for all types of social action, by individuals or groups, that do not emanate from the state and are not run by it. (...) Civil society organisations include: — the so-called labour-market players, i.e. the social partners; — organisations representing social and economic players, which are not social partners in the strict sense of the term; — NGOs (non-governmental organisations) which bring people together in a common cause, such as environmental organisations, human rights organisations, consumer associations, charitable organisations, educational and training organisations, etc.; — CBOs (community-based organisations, i.e. organisations set up within society at grassroots level which pursue memberoriented objectives), e.g. youth organisations, family associations and all organisations through which citizens participate in local and municipal life; — religious communities. OJ 329 of 17.11.1999, point 5.1 and 8.1.’

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3.1.10. The ESC recognises the need for it, in common with other European institutions, to adapt to the challenges which Europe is now facing. It is aware that this will require changes within the Committee as well as a reorientation of its relationships with the other institutions. The Committee recently adopted an opinion (1) which mooted the possible establishment, within the ESC, of a ’Civil society observatory’ to introduce initiatives for developing the civil dialogue and enhancing the Committee’s role as a forum for developing the participation of organised Civil Society representatives in the democratic process. The opinion also posited the need for a new paradigm for government itself, stating that, ‘The classical view that the State is sovereign as a service provider must be superseded by a cooperative relationship between the State and Society. The public expects from the State not only that rules and regulations are observed but also that services are provided properly and efficiently.’ It held that a modernising policy by the State must be focused more on decentralised cooperation networks and give greater prominence to economic efficiency and efficacy, including greater efficiency in administrative implementation and weighing the economic case for alternative methods of application.


Specific comments The opinion proposed the following agenda for the Lisbon Summit: — — — adapt the social model(s) to the new paradigm; achieve mass training in information society technologies; popularise and facilitate the growth of the enterprise culture; help established companies to convert to the new paradigm; adapt education and training to the new paradigm; harness sustainable development for innovation and growth.

4.1. Strategic objectives 2000-2005

4.1.1. The Committee sees the Presidency Conclusions of the Lisbon European Council as being a development of the Commission’s strategic objectives in setting the agenda for transition to a competitive, dynamic and knowledge-based economy, modernising the European social model and overcoming social exclusion.

— 4.1.2. The Committee notes with particular interest the ‘new open method of coordination’ and the appeal made to the social partners and the rest of organised civil society to take part in implementation of the policies through different forms of partnership formulated in Lisbon.

— —

4.1.3. In its opinion on ‘Employment, economic reform and social cohesion — towards a Europe of innovation and knowledge’ (2) the ESC developed the idea of a ‘new paradigm’ for achieving growth without inflation through: — maximising economic development while minimising social exclusion and conflict; providing a competitive economy while sustaining a competitive social model; optimising the utilisation of new technologies in a strategy which is sustainable for the social and natural environment and resources; securing sustainability with the development of a participatory culture and an appropriate corporate culture based upon a creative approach to life-long learning and solidarity.

4.1.4. To a large extent, the Lisbon Summit dealt with these issues and in a manner consistent with the Committee’s opinion. In doing so, it took the proposals contained in the Commissions document on its strategic objectives 2000-2005 to a new level. In the process, it marked a completely new and fresh approach to policy-making in Europe, with the European Council taking the lead. It showed governments taking responsibility for the formulation of economic policy. The Commission document makes it plain that the Commission sees itself as the source of Europe’s collective vision and the driving force for change, as well as its executive arm. However, the recent Lisbon European Council exercised its role to the full setting the political agenda.

(1) OJ C 268 of 19.9.2000. (2) OJ C 117 of 26.4.2000. The European Council’s new prominence reflects the determination of the governments to remain sovereign in matters of policy. In this context, the Lisbon decision to institute regular European Council meetings each Spring to oversee the political strategy is especially significant. Even if



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the performance of other institutions improves as a result of the changes which the Commission is proposing, European Councils are likely to play a greater role in future. This begs the question of the role of the European Parliament (EP), which is a European institution composed of directly-elected members but with limited legislative powers. Whether the EP is constitutionally or functionally capable at present of taking the role of shaping the direction of European policy is open to question but, if it is not, then it is at least arguable that this function should reside with the Council rather than the Commission and the events in Lisbon suggest that the Council is prepared to shoulder this responsibility.

be improved but that is a matter for the Member States and, in the view of the Committee, should remain so. The ESC would welcome proposals from the Member States to improve the representation of organised Civil Society within its membership but stresses that the tripartite nature of the Committee is an essential feature which must be preserved. The Committee would then serve as a forum through which the participation of organised Civil Society in the European legislative process can be given real meaning. The ESC could also exercise the role of regulating consultation processes, channelling information up from organised Civil Society to the institutions and in the reverse direction.

4.1.5. As the European Commission’s Forward Studies Unit has recognised (1), decision-making at the European level is a labyrinthine and confusing process which even experts struggle to comprehend. The fact that there may be democratic representation at the stage of formal decision (the Council) is seen to be inadequate where there are problems with both the earlier and the later stages of the process — stages which are increasingly understood to be equally determinant of eventual outcomes.

4.1.7. The European project has followed a trajectory from negative integration to positive (1) integration. At the outset, the project was concerned with the removal of barriers to, for example, the Single Market, and to guarantee the four freedoms; this was negative integration. As the project progressed. However, it became clear that the completion of a genuine European Union required active intervention in more and more policy areas not strictly necessary to the first stage of European integration, centred as it was on the construction of a common economic area. To tackle the problem of the ‘democratic deficit’, reforms are required which do not aim to achieve legitimacy by focusing on the moment of decision-making but by enhancing participation at every stage of the process. The incorporation of organised Civil Society into the decision-making process is a vital component of participative democracy according to the European democratic model. It would not suffice for the Commission to consult with a few representative civil society organisations of its choosing. Nor would it improve the situation if the ‘consultation’ were to consist of canvassing support for already-established positions. For true transparency to exist, organised Civil Society must have not only the opportunity to participate but the means to measure the effectiveness of its participation. This involves a duty on the Commission to explain to those bodies which have made representations on legislative proposals how their representations have influenced the proposals or why they have not been taken up. This raises an issue which the Commission document does not address, that of subsidiarity. On the one hand, Member States recognise the advantages in sharing sovereignty in areas where there is already significant inter-dependence. But, in the context of positive integration across a growing range of policy areas, the vertical structure, faces an accountability gap that can no longer be defended on the grounds of the over-riding demands of the European project. On the other hand, in areas where there is a public demand for European action — that is, where it is readily understood to be necessary and, therefore, legitimate — the EU is perceived to be weak. In such areas as common foreign and security policy coordinated action is seen to be necessary and desirable but the EU appears to find this extremely difficult to deliver (1).

4.1.6. The ESC has a particular interest in this issue because it is the only European institution which is composed of representatives of organisations drawn from organised Civil Society. It is conscious of the fact that its representativity could

(1) CdP (99) 750. The President of the European Commission, Mr Prodi has identified the next tasks of the European Union as moving from a single market and a single currency towards a single economy and a single political structure. Such a move can be characterised as involving further progress along the trajectory of positive integration. This may be difficult for many of the candidate countries to achieve and even within the existing Member States there are some which might find this process to be politically unacceptable from a national standpoint. This raises the prospect of a ‘two-tier Europe’ with different groups of countries advancing at different speeds. There must be a question-mark over the risks and challenges raised by such a scenario.

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4.1.8. In order for European integration to succeed, it is essential to put the European citizen at the centre of the stage. One of the Commission’s declared aims is to improve the quality of life. The key to this is that it must be a better quality of life for all and in every aspect, food quality, the environment, protection from crime, employment, standard of living, promoting integration between the ethnic groups of Europe and the prevention of discrimination and social exclusion. As Mr Prodi has said, ‘Europe must be built by the citizens for the citizens’ and this must be reflected in all Commission documents. The Committee regrets that the Commission only touches on the problems in this target area, but does not really propose a strategy for action. This suggests that it (still) does not have a coherent blueprint for relations with European citizens. The Committee is ready and expects to be involved at an early stage in drawing up such a blueprint for a dialogue with citizens and cooperation with organised civil society, so that it can contribute its ideas. The Commission document makes much of the need to talk to Europe’s citizens but it is equally important to listen to them. The Commission’s watchword should be ‘To govern is to serve’. In a democratic society, the government is the servant of the people and is accountable to them for the Brussels, 19 October 2000.

way in which it exercises its stewardship; the people are not subservient to the State. The process of governance must be decentralised as far as possible. At every institutional level there are specific responsibilities and powers, which must be subject to suitable arrangements to allow for dialogue with citizens and their participation. In the organisational structure of European governance, the various levels of power are required to co-operate for the greater interest of European citizens, failing which, European integration would have no added value for democracy. 4.1.9. The ESC agrees with the Commission’s identification of the major challenges which Europe faces at this juncture. However, certain problems of a significant nature, such as the demographic situation, are barely mentioned. 4.1.10. The Commission declares its intention to make Europe a global actor with a political weight commensurate with its economic strength; if this is its objective then its first priority should be to increase that economic strength to the maximum extent. Globalisation is an opportunity but an opportunity which is not seized becomes a threat. Europe does not need dreams — it needs vision.

The President of the Economic and Social Committee

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