The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is the official body which enables the institutions of the Union to evaluate and take into account in the conception of common policies the interests of the various economic and social groups. Its 353 members are proposed by the governments of the Member States (Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom proposing 24 each; Romania15; Spain and Poland 21 each; Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Austria and Sweden 12 each; Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Croatia 9 each; Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia 7 each, Cyprus and Luxembourg 6 each and Malta 5) and are appointed for a term of five years by the Council after consulting the Commission (Articles 301 to 304 TFEU). They must provide a wide representation of the various categories of economic and social life and divide voluntarily into three groups: the Employers' Group (known as "Group I"), which is made up of representatives of industry, banking or financial institutions, transport operators' federations, etc.; the Workers' Group (known as "Group II"), mainly composed of representatives of trade union organisations; and the Various Interests Group (known as "Group III"), which comprises representatives of agriculture, skilled trades, small and medium-sized enterprises, the professions, consumer associations and organisations representing various interests, such as families or ecological movements. However, the members of the Committee are not elected by the corresponding national groups but are appointed by the governments. This is a flaw that should be corrected in the interest of the democratic legitimacy of the EESC.
The Committee must be consulted by the Council or by the Commission in certain areas provided for by the Treaty on the functioning of the EU. The Committee may be consulted by these institutions in all cases where they consider it appropriate. Furthermore, the EESC may issue an opinion at its own initiative when it considers such action appropriate (Article 304 TFEU). Whether they are requested by the Commission or the Council or issued at its own initiative, the Committee's Opinions are not binding on the institutions, a shortcoming that weakens their significance. This is a flaw of the role of the Committee that should also be corrected [see section 4.4]. However, the Committee plays the role of a forum in which the interests of the various socio-professional categories, rather than national arguments, are expressed officially and assessed. The opinions of the EESC on the proposals of the Commission reflect the concerns of economic and societal groups and provide valuable indications of the opposing arguments, of the divergences of interests and of the possibilities of reaching agreement at Union level. Furthermore, the EESC associates in the preparation of European legislation the economic operators who are ultimately the most directly concerned by the practical effects of the common policies on the European economy. For that reason the Commission often adjusts its proposals to take into account the official positions of the interest groups of the Union. In this limited way the Committee influences decisions and makes its contribution to the formulation of common policies, a contribution that could be greater if better exploited.