The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has just started a new term of office. New members have been appointed, a new presidency has been elected, and new ideas are coming to the fore.
However, some things are not new but rather the development of work that has been ongoing for a while. The European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (ECESP) is one such project.
Established in 2017 in response to the first Circular Economy Action Plan, this platform is a unique example of interinstitutional collaboration between the EESC and the European Commission.
In 2016, in the EESC opinion "Circular Economy Package" (NAT 676) for which I was rapporteur, I have drawn attention to the fact that the Circular Economy is an exciting, practical means of driving the change we need in our economic systems. It is truly systemic change in practice. I proposed that the ECESP be established, back in 2016.
“We wanted to reach out to those stakeholders who are beyond the Brussels bubble. At the EESC we have the structures to bring together people who are active in this space from all over Europe, and we wanted to use those facilities to good effect", he added. The partnership with the European Commission raised huge interest in the Platform, with over 1 000 participants attending the first annual conference which launched the Platform.
The two institutions decided to form a smaller, more focused Coordination Group of active stakeholders who would take ownership of the Platform and drive it forward. This would ensure that it was truly driven by those active in the field rather than merely providing a space for the few to voice their views.
With almost 200 applications for the 24-person Coordination Group, it was immediately clear that there was a need for a coordinated platform for this topic. The first term of office of this Coordination Group came to an end this year and a new term has just started. With over 50% of its member's new arrivals, it illustrates the way that the stakeholders active in this space are constantly changing and evolving.
The EESC is constantly negotiating consensus between its members and adopting positions through its reports, known as opinions. This work feeds into the institutions' legislative process. The role is enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, which establishes the EESC as a consultative body to the EU institutions.
The work at the EESC goes beyond this, however, and the ECESP is a perfect example. We are the voice of civil society, but we don’t just listen to our members, we reach out to the networks that each member represents. And with the ECESP we reach networks that are not represented by a member of the EESC. This means we can truly represent the full range of stakeholders, and fulfil our role.
The work of the ECESP is all published online and is recognised beyond the EU as an example of best practice in how to implement circularity effectively.
The EESC has, like everyone else, adapted to the travel restrictions imposed due to COVID‑19. The first meeting of the ECESP coordination group, on 18 November 2020, was wholly remote.
In a new development, the European Investment Bank and the European Environmental Agency attended as observers, showing a keen willingness to be partners and to work with the stakeholders. Connecting with what is happening at grassroots level can be a huge challenge for the EU institutions and powerful bodies. The EESC has used its resources and networks to facilitate this type of connection.
It is not just a matter of writing reports and holding meetings: the EESC takes its role in connecting citizens to the EU structures very seriously. The Circular Economy is one topical example of how this is happening.
By Cillian Lohan
Cillian Lohan is Vice-President in charge of communication for the first half mandate of the EESC 2020-2023. He is the second Irish member to become Vice-president of the EESC. Appointed through the Irish Environmental Pillar, he has been an active member of the EESC since 2015. He is a leader in the field of the Circular Economy, and was the first chair of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, which he helped to establish.
He is an experienced delegate to United Nations initiatives such as the Climate COP negotiations and the High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals.
As CEO of the Green Economy Foundation, he has overseen a range of ambitious projects, including the planting of over a million trees in Ireland and the establishment of a wildlife reserve in Tobago.