CDES member Paulo Simão on the significance of the Brazilian Council for Economic and Social Development
Mariek de Valk
Brazil’s President Lula da Silva created the Brazilian Council for Economic and Social Development on his first day in office. In setting up the council, he generated the support he needed to tackle the country’s problems. But what will happen when Lula steps down after two terms? Member Paulo Simão on the significance of the CDES.
What did President Lula wish to achieve by founding the CDES?
“President Lula founded the CDES six years ago, when he entered office. He wanted to encourage dialogue on policy issues with many different groups in civil society – not only employers and employees, but also organisations representing women, indigenous peoples, churches and the disabled. All of civil society is represented in the CDES.
Initially, the media were against us. For the first two years, they dubbed us ‘the president’s friend’. Fortunately, they’ve now changed their minds. They were impressed by our advice and started to talk to our members. They saw that we actually make valuable recommendations to the Government and the business community. Gradually, they revised their opinion of us. But that’s no guarantee that the CDES will survive. Next year, a new president will be elected, and he may have very different ideas about the council.” What does the CDES do?
‘We advise the president on a broad range of policy issues. We are divided into five theme groups: infrastructure, energy, social monitor, education and the social safety net. The council is an advisory body. That means that we don’t take any decisions. That’s up to the politicians. We never vote on matters, we simply continue discussing until we are all agreed. One example of a project that I'm particularly proud of is ‘My Home, My Life’, which supports people who live below subsistence level. We prepare our advice in the theme groups, which include expert members from Brazil and abroad. That makes it easier for us to reach consensus.
The CDES has a plenary meeting four times a year at which we adopt the advisory reports. About 90 percent of the members attend these meetings, including President Lula, of course. He considers these meetings so important that he clears the relevant dates in his diary for them. Generally speaking, the Government asks us to advise when it wants our opinion on a particular topic. It adopts about 80 percent of our advisory reports and recommendations.” It sounds like a very harmonious system.
“We don’t have any problems, and our relationship with the Government is also trouble-free. Conflicts within the CDES itself are few and far between. The members are on a friendly footing with one another and the president respects all the different groups. We also don’t have any financial problems. The work of the CDES is not expensive, and the members receive only a travel allowance. We don’t do it for the money.” What is the relationship between the social partners like in Brazil?
“Employers and employees have a good relationship, and it’s getting better every year. There is the occasional strike – that’s only natural. But little by little, the social partners are getting to know and understand each other better. That’s also true of the other civil society groups. It’s very important for our relationship with one another. Discussions in the CDES have given us a firm basis for various social accords.” The CDES has concluded a cooperation agreement with the Dutch Social and Economic Council. Why is that?
“We are looking to cooperate with other councils, so we’re very happy about the agreement with the Dutch Social and Economic Council. We signed it in July in Budapest, at a meeting of economic and social councils from around the world. We have agreed to keep one another informed, to share our knowledge, and to engage in discussions about relevant topics. The plan is to organise a round-table meeting every two years on a topic that affects both councils. We’ve also concluded similar agreements with the Belgian economic and social council and the European Economic and Social Committee. We’re eager to learn from others and to discuss macro-economic problems that are having a global impact.”
|Social and Economic Councils Worldwide |
Social and economic councils and similar institutions are active around the world. The councils that operate in Europe consult one another regularly. Furthermore, there is a worldwide federation of social and economic councils, known as the AICESIS. Its aim is to promote the exchange of experience between councils worldwide and to encourage the establishment of social and economic councils in other countries.
How do all these different councils work? Part 3: the Brazilian Economic and Social Council (2009).