Newly appointed ESC chairman urges greater NGO involvement

As one of the pioneers of social dialogue in Greece, the new chairman of the Economic and Social Committee (ESC) Nikos Analytis has a vision of it as a strong pillar for enhancing the country’s democratic process and social cohesion. Within the framework of the significant role which the Constitution ascribes to the ESC for social cohesion, Analytis wants to see greater involvement on the part of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). «The ESC can play a leading role in promoting social cohesion through the institutional participation by citizens’ organizations in decision-making and policy implementation,» he told Kathimerini in an interview. Democratic partner «Citizens’ involvement through NGOs is complementary to and helps in the deepening of democracy. In the rest of Europe, such organizations have multiplied and become highly dynamic. In Greece, we don’t know them well and frequently ask ourselves: Which are they, where are they, how do they operate and who are their representatives? «We usually receive replies to such questions when the international organizations – Doctors Without Borders or others supporting immigrants, for instance – accuse us of something. And then we are upset…» He stresses that the ESC is well suited to encouraging the growth of NGOs. Analytis explains that the institution of Economic and Social Committees in Europe began in the 1950s and was adopted in the founding Treaty of Rome of the European Economic Community. It was recently transplanted to Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. The main task of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is to provide formal opinions to the European Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers. It is also empowered to express opinions on its own initiative. Aims The Greek ESC was founded in 1994 and is formed from three groups: employers, wage earners and public servants, together with «other categories» which represent farmers, self-employed professionals, local government organizations and consumers. The dominant principle of the ESC is obtaining the equitable treatment of the three groups and their full independence from central authority. The ESC aims to promote social dialogue and the formulation – as far as possible – of commonly acceptable positions on issues of concern to broad or particular sections of society. «Democracy is both complex and difficult. You must rely on organizations, agencies and other forms of citizens’ participation. ESCs play no decisive role and neither vote in nor challenge parliaments – the best form of democracy we know. It is an additional outlet for societal bodies, which jointly participate in social processes parallel to parliamentary representatives, a ‘thickening’ of democratic representation.» To the rather rhetorical question «How necessary is the ESC?» Analytis believes it is up to the ESC itself to make itself necessary and useful, make politicians feel it represents society and its opinion is the result of a fermentation of views. «The more we achieve this, the more useful we’ll be,» he stresses. The role of the media is crucial, through publicizing its potential. In the first nine years of its life, the ESC has issued 100 opinions – 62 on draft bills and other texts sent by the government and 38 on its own initiative – with a view to «solving difficult socioeconomic problems with the minimum of social friction,» as the ESC’s last chairman, Professor Andreas Kintis, wrote. Targets «Society is changing and those organizations that stay put simply exist for their chairmen to survive. This is not our vision… Social cohesion does not merely mean we are good in the social or religious sense. In the European context, social cohesion ultimately has a positive economic result. It is one of the best bases for economic development,» says Analytis. Referring to the EU’s Lisbon target of becoming the best and most competitive economic group by 2010, he argues it is no mean feat. «We may not achieve it in 10 years; we will do in 15. However, this cannot be achieved at the cost of the disintegration of society. The economy must serve society, not the reverse. We would like the ESC to contribute to this, by finding common ground with NGOs. We do not wish to usurp their role but help them in their philosophy and principles.» The ESC’s methods are to approach the government and political parties. «If the majority agrees with our logic, then I think we have a correct starting point. We neither wish to engage in confrontations nor pretend we are ‘somebodies.’ But, I repeat, the media must help us.»