The Economic and Social Council (ESC) is “the civil parliament” of Bulgaria. It unites a variety of Bulgarian civil society organisations of similar interests.
The Economic and Social Council is the “bridge” between citizens and the national government. Its mission is to support such “bridging” so as to facilitate the communication between the society and the national government.
The establishment of the Economic and Social Council as a new institution of civil dialogue in Bulgaria marks a new phase of organised civil society development in Bulgaria.
The ESC is a “consultative body expressing the will of civil society organisations regarding the economic and social development”. This is the definition of its status under the Economic and Social Council Act approved by the National Assembly (the Parliament) in 2001.
The Council was established as an active body at its first plenary session on 10 December 2003. It started its third four-year mandate in April 2012.
The active operation of the ESC has strengthened its position as a standing institutional form of consultations, dialogue and information to the civil society. The Council expresses and protects civil society interests by communicating agreed statements and proposals submitted by its members to the executive and legislative authorities. In this relation, the ESC adopts opinions, resolutions and analyses and organises public consultations on key economic, social, education, demographic, health or other issues.
One of the commitments Bulgaria took prior to its accession to the European Union was to create a democratic civil society institution of such kind, which the country had successfully implemented.
The Economic and Social Council has become a reality in Bulgaria owing to the political and public consensus on the place, role and significance of an institution of such kind as an independent civil parliament. Its development builds on all the experience, traditions and attainments in the field of social dialogue that has been going on in the country as of the time the democratic changes started. The understanding, confidence and support of all social partners in Bulgaria to such new model of civil dialogue that evolved into a new phase and broader form of the social dialogue was vital for its start and successful progress.
Bulgaria’s first step on the harder yet better way to a wider civil dialogue was a move of a new quality. In response to the EU membership requirements, in most of the new Member States the existing national social dialogue structures, such as the National Tripartite Council in Bulgaria, were transformed into economic and social councils. In Bulgaria, however, was built a new institution of a new type.
There are no representatives of the state within the ESC, unlike the tripartite councils the members of which are at the same time representatives of the government. This makes it a consultative body fully independent of the executive and legislative authorities.
There is a differentiation in Bulgaria between social dialogue and civil dialogue as regards stakeholders, procedures, discussion issues and goals.
There is a legal and institutional framework of social partnership at any level in place in Bulgaria. It is tripartite at the national level, between the government on the one hand and the organisations of trade unions and employers on the other hand (with the National Council of Tripartite Collaboration). At the branch level, it is bipartite between trade unions and employers’ associations. Discussion issues cover specific economic and social parameters in which the organisations are interested, whereby their goal is to come to an agreement on such parameters.
Civil dialogue extends the social dialogue, builds on it and brings it to a broader level. It is performed between civil society organisations and also between the latter on the one side and the state authorities on the other side, concerning matters of interest to large social groups. In the European practice, it is regarded as a form of participatory democracy. It is not focused on reaching agreement on specific indicators. Its goal is to identify the national economic and social development policies. Its structures submit proposals that shall be acceptable to the society as a whole.
Civil dialogue is an integral part of the European social model, the values of which are fully shared by Bulgaria. The new modern European government concept assumes consulting, engaging and ensuring support of the civil society structures, but of these which are directly affected by the executive and legislative authority acts. Organised civil society and civil dialogue are regarded in the EU as a key factor of government action and decision effectiveness.
It is of utmost importance for the ESC to find the most adequate national model of the practical civil dialogue development as a form of participatory democracy.The ESC in Bulgaria continuously demonstrates that effective civil dialogue is only possible on the basis of equality, consensus and mutual consideration of the interests of each organisation.
The main goal of ESC’s operation is to enable different representatives of organised civil society to feel free to state their views whereas unanimity on matters of common interest is encouraged. The ESC’s mission is to promote civil society organisations access to and involvement in the process of decision-making on strategic economic and social issues.
The Council acts in favour of a more active dialogue and consultations between civil society organisations and the President of the Republic, the Parliament and the Council of Ministers concerning the country’s economic and social policies. It is the standing institutional and legally approved form of civil dialogue. Furthermore, it ensures agreement of action and close cooperation between partners.
The operation of the ESC is guided by four ruling principles: independence, consensus, equality and cooperation with other state and civil society organisations.
The first guiding principle is the Council’s independence of the executive, legislative and any other authority. None of its members represents the Parliament, the government or any other state institution.
The consensus principle is the key of the success the ESC has in the country. Under the Economic and Social Council Act, Council resolutions shall be adopted by at least 75% of the members present at the meeting while Presidents Board decisions shall be taken by unanimity. This fact highlights again the huge responsibility the ESC has in expressing civil society will and interests by achieving common consensus-based position of all civil society organisations involved in it.
The third operation principle is equality between the three groups: employers, trade unions and the third sector. It is based on equal quotas within the ESC and also on the requirement of consensus that disables disregard of any of the groups.
The fourth principle binds the ESC’s operation with collaboration with state authority institutions and with other civil society organisations that are not represented in the Council.
In implementation of the above principles and its main goals and tasks, the ESC develops and adopts opinions, resolutions and analyses on draft-laws, projects or approved national strategies, programs and plans on the country’s social and economic development or on topical issues in that aspect.