On the 5th of November 2021 Sif Holst was a panelist on the EESC debate: “Civil Society Organisations: key actors for the Future of Europe”. A number of conclusions were reached during the conference:
· Civil society organisations are guardians of the common good
· Civil society organisations are enablers of democracy and fundamental rights
· Civil society organisations should seize the moment and participate in the building of Europe of tomorrow
Sif Holst spoke on her experiences with civil dialogue at national and European level and had the following remarks:
Civil society is more important than ever before, we have seen it during the pandemic, where civil society has played a unique role in supporting everything from vulnerable groups to the small business forced to a lock-down. We see it in the climate crisis, where civil society develop new solutions and ensure the engagement of society.
But in an ever more professionalized society, we do need to be mindful how we engage civil society and how we can support them in their vital work. Even a volunteer effort is rarely free, there are often transportation costs, the cost of offering some coffee and maybe some food to the volunteers, it costs to have a secretariat and often a secretariat is needed to coordinate the volunteer efforts, to apply for and ensure the handling of projects funds and very often a near professional lobby set-up is expected in order to answer hearings, participate in meetings or lobby your national or European politician.
A special attention should be paid to engagement with vulnerable groups. Volunteers with a disability often face extra barriers, inaccessible information, inaccessible public transportation, lack of the necessary support, other groups might risk exclusion due to for example limited transportation in rural areas, difficulties participating due to small children or other career-responsibilities, gender bias or stigmatization. If we want to engage a diverse section of our society, we need a diverse approach.
Besides these issues, a central point from me is that all engagement should be meaningful. If we ask volunteers (or civil society staff) to use their time to engage, it should be because it is important. It might not be possible to use all input but asking input from civil society should never just be a matter of ticking a box. I think that many of us have tried using resources in order to attend a meeting or submit input for a hearing and knowing that no-one will likely ever pay attention to your input, and that is devastating.
Read more on the debate here