What role for civil society organisations?

First of all, huge congratulations to our Secretary General, Piotr, who was elected President of the European Social Platform at the General Assembly in Brussels on April 4. I know that Piotr will do a fantastic job and will really make the platform even more visible in Brussels and beyond.

The ambassador spoke first and determined that the Finnish Presidency would not concentrate just on the 6 months but would be trying to influence the next 5 years in the EU. The focus is on sustainable growth, security and climate. In terms of sustainable growth, the Finns want to see an improved functioning of the single market but with a more holistic approach interlinked with the social dimension. They believe, as I think all members of the Social Platform and members of Volonteurope also do, that economic well-being underpins growth and part of this well-being is the skills agenda and life-long learning. In terms of transition to climate neutrality, they see opportunities, challenges and perhaps some painful solutions but they are determined to break down the policy silos.

Antero went on to talk about social protection and its connection to the expectations of citizens whom, he believes, are disappointed in the EU. We need a new common direction, more cooperation and a focus on what we have in common. There are some legal instruments which need updating; the social security coordination rules where agreement will be difficult to reach, the promotion of womens’ membership of company boards, the anti-discrimination directive in terms of social protection, health care and access to goods and services, gender equality. There are a number of high level events being planned, including on 18 and 19 September a conference on economic well-being which comes just after the Social Platform’s own flagship conference in Helsinki on 16 and 17 September.

Pasi talked a bit more about the concept of the economy of well-being and the role of citizens and civil society organisations at the heart of policy making. People have to be at the centre and there has to be investment in economic well-being for economic growth. We need more evidence and data around how well-being contributes to economic growth and special attention given to people who are not experiencing economic growth.

In the Social Platform and in other EU networks, including Volonteurope, we believe that there is a clear role for civil society organisations in developing and contributing to the idea of the economy of well-being. Whether through promoting volunteering, advocating on behalf of vulnerable groups, ensuring that the voice of civil society is heard, or campaigning for social justice, in our different networks and organisations, we can all weave in the idea of the economy of well-being and promote it as an alternative to a focus on individualism, competition and profit. It chimes well with sustainable and inclusive growth, also a focus for the Finns.

It was clear from this expose of the plans for the Finnish Presidency that it will be an interesting and challenging 6 months. During these crazy days of Brexit, it really does give you hope to hear such forward thinking and such an emphasis on the social pillar, anti-discrimination, minimum income, better use of legal instruments, and stopping misuse of the public procurement directive, as priorities from the Finns during their Presidency.

Oonagh Aitken
President, Volonteurope