In the course of its more than 40 years of existence, the EFTA Consultative Committee has been put in charge of an increasing number of tasks and responsibilities, and has consequently strengthened its role in the consultation process of the Association.
The Consultative Committee is now a vital platform for dialogue and consultation between the EFTA social partners and the EFTA authorities. By giving input to the work of the Standing Committee of the EFTA States and the EFTA Ministerial Council, the Committee aims to raise awareness of the social and economic aspects of the EFTA free trade agreements and the EEA, and of the role of the social partners; to take part in the shaping of the EFTA and EEA agenda; and to influence policies that affect the social partners.
The Consultative Committee attaches great importance to a number of economic and social issues related to the EEA and EFTA's third-country relations, focusing among others, and in more depth, on the strategy behind the third-country relations, EEA enlargement, EFTA participation in EU programmes, growth and jobs, the internal market, energy and environment, labour market policies, migration, the social agenda, and neighbourhood policy. It is important for the Committee to look at the possible impact of new EU developments, policies and processes on EFTA and the EEA. On certain issues, the Committee appoints special rapporteurs who function as experts and coordinators. The Committee writes opinions and resolutions which are presented to the EFTA authorities and EEA bodies. It also produces working papers as basis for discussion on new, emerging issues of relevance to EFTA and the EEA.
The Consultative Committee usually holds 4-5 internal meetings yearly, in addition to the annual joint meeting with the Standing Committee of the EFTA States. Biannually, the EFTA social partners meet with the EFTA Council at Ministerial level – in the spring with Ministers from all four EFTA States and in the autumn with the Ministerial Chair. Informal policy consultations with relevant working groups under the Standing Committee structure also take place.
Annual meetings with the EFTA Parliamentary Committees ensure a fruitful exchange of views between social partners and parliamentarians in EFTA. The two Committees organise a joint conference every two years, with the most recent one, in October 2008, focusing on international trade and climate change.
The co-operation between the social partners in EFTA and in the EU has been strengthened considerably through the close contacts between the EFTA Consultative Committee and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Informal cooperation between the two institutions began already in 1975, but was later formalised by the EEA Agreement, which entered into force on 1 January 1994 and established the EEA Consultative Committee. This body consists of an equal number of representatives from the EFTA Consultative Committee and the EESC.
The members of the EFTA Consultative Committee are designated by the Member States, and chosen from the social partner organisations, i.e. trade unions and employers’ organisations in the four EFTA countries. Each country can send six representatives to the EFTA Consultative Committee. The European organisations ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) and BUSINESSEUROPE may send one observer each. The Consultative Committee elects a Chairperson and two Vice-Chairpersons, chosen from among its members with a term of office of two years.