This afternoon the EESC’s plenary session hosted European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht for a debate on trade growth and development and on the role of civil society in that context. At the beginning of his speech, the text of which is available here, Mr De Gucht argued that the Committee ‘symbolises the participation of civil society in European policy making. This interaction is an important manifestation of public accountability. Without consultation with EU citizens, we are unlikely to respond to challenges in a fully relevant way. Indeed, the organised civil society organisations that you represent are a valued connection to what people are feeling on the ground. This is particularly important for trade policy given that so many people are affected by our choices – both in Europe and around the world. For that reason I take the objective of stakeholder involvement very seriously. I am very proud of our civil society dialogue, which for 12 years has been providing us with valuable input on our negotiations and diplomacy.’ The Commissioner went on to provide an overview of the Commission’s trade policy strategy. In the ensuing exchange EESC members emphasised the growing importance of the civil society aspects of the EU’s trade relations and, in his response, the Commissioner acknowledged this.