04 Dec 2014
TRADE AND EUROPEAN TRADITIONBrussels Daily
Trade and European Tradition of Civil Society
Speech by EU Trade Cecilia Malmström at a Civil Society Dialogue meeting Brussels, 4 December 2014
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you all for coming here today. I have been able to meet some of you over the last few weeks. And I hope to work closely with many more of you over the course of this mandate. But I am glad that we can meet in this forum. Because it contains the whole spectrum of opinions on trade policy, across our society and across our economy. It is the only place where we can have this kind of conversation. And I am convinced that this kind of conversation benefits us all.
Some may not agree. They may be tempted to dismiss the Civil Society Dialogue of the Directorate-General for Trade of the European Commission as just another esoteric EU committee. But I think they are wrong. Not only are these discussions essential to my work as a politician and to your work as a lobbyist, an activist, a campaigner or all of the above, they are also part of the long European tradition of open democratic discussion.
Civil society is an ancient idea. The term was coined by Aristotle, translated to Latin by Cicero and developed in practice in the coffeehouses and salons of the Enlightenment. But what has stayed constant throughout that history is the idea of active citizenship. The idea that being part of a democracy means understanding and having a view on the decisions that democracy is taking. In your very different ways, all of the organisations represented here are part of that long tradition. Your work is essential to the good functioning of European democracy and government, no matter what the issue that is being discussed.
Today, we are here to discuss the European Union’s policy on international trade. And let us be frank: the whole question of the role of civil society, and in particular in trade decision making, has been controversial over the years. This dialogue was set up after the wave of protests against the World Trade Organisation, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and globalisation more generally that crested in Seattle in 1999. This dialogue is our answer to the call for more transparency and oversight of trade negotiations by citizens at large. And today, this dialogue continues as we need to clarify new controversies, about new aspects of the trade policy. SEE full speech HERE