Even though much still needs to be done to raise the awareness of EU decision-makers in different institutions on the contribution of social economy to society and its added value, a few initiatives were already taken to support a different approach to entrepreneurship and local partnerships with social economy enterprises.
At the European Commission, it is above all DG Enterprise and Industry (Unit Crafts, small businesses, cooperatives and mutuals) and DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities that deal with issues related to social economy. Recently, under Michel Barnier, Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, also DG Market and Services started working more in depth on this type of enterprise.
With its proposal on a Regulation on European Social Entrepreneurship Funds (EuSEFs), issued on 7 December 2011, the European Commission aims to improve access to funding for "social businesses" by making fundraising by specific investment funds for social entrepreneurship more effective. The designation "European Social Entrepreneurship Fund" is supposed to give funds investing specifically in 'social undertakings' a higher attractiveness and to increase thus private investment in this type of enterprises.
The hitherto certainly largest initiative for the promotion of social economy/social entrepreneurship was launched, on 25 October 2011, with the publication of the European Commission's communication "Social Business Initiative - Creating a favourable climate for social enterprises, key stakeholders in the social economy and innovation". It was developed by DG Market, DG Employment and DG Enterprise in the framework of the implementation of the Single Market Act (April 2011). The communication proposes 11 main actions to promote social economy and social entrepreneurship in the wider sense.
Together with the communication, the European Commission published a staff working paper which provides an overview of initiatives taken by the EU, as well as by the OECD, ILO and ITC, with regard to social entrepreneurship. The implementation of the Social Business Initiative is followed by the multi-stakeholder expert group on social business GECES, established by the European Commission in May 2012. REVES is part of this group.
Support to social entrepreneurship also figures among the main future investment priorities of the proposal for a Regulation on the European Social Fund (see, for example Art. 3-1c and article 3-1d) and the proposal for a Regulation on the European Regional Development Fund (see Article 5 (9)). Both proposals were published by the European Commission in October 2011 (with a modified version of the ESF proposal issued in March 2012) as part of the legislative package concerning EU cohesion policy 2014-2020.
The proposal for a regulation on a European Union Programme for Social Change and Innovation (PSCI), published in October 2011, suggests to include, among the main priorities of the programme, social entrepreneurship and, in particular, improved access to finance for social enterprises.
In 2009, a call for proposal regarding the establishment of satellite accounts for cooperatives and mutuals at European and national level was published.
Another initiative, which proved of great importance for social economy all over Europe, represented the EQUAL programme. Financed through the European Social Fund and concluded in 2008, this programme lent support to projects fighting discrimination and social exclusion. EQUAL contained a specific strand on business creation and social economy.
In 2002, the European Commission tabled, together with proposals for accompanying directives on employees involvement:
- a proposal for a Council Regulation on the Statute for a European Cooperative Society;
- a proposal for a Council Regulation on the Statute for a European Mutual and
- a proposal for a Council Regulation on the Statute for a European Association.
The Council , in 2003, adopted the Statute for a European Cooperative Society. The other proposals and related directives were withdrawn by the European Commission in 2006, as the legislative process did not progress.
A proposal for a regulation on the Statute for a European Foundation was published by the European Commission in February 2012.
Also in February 2012, the European Commission launched a study on the situation of mutual societies and their cross-border activities.
The European Parliament recognized the social economy and called for its support in a number of reports, such as the European Parliament resolution "Towards the statute of the European Cooperative Society with regard to employee participation" (13 March 2012), the European Parliament resolution on the Financial, Economic and Social crisis (6 July 2011), the European Parliament resolution on the Future of Social Services of General Interest (5 July 2011), the European Parliament resolution on a Single Market for Enterprises and Growth (6 April 2011), the European Parliament resolution on a Single Market for Europeans or the European Parliament resolution on Unlocking the Potential of Cultural and Creative Industries (12 May 2011).
In February 2009, the European Parliament already responded to requests to better integrate social economy in EU policies and strategies by adopting an own initiative report on Social Economy, the Toia report.
Apart from advocating a better recognition of social economy at local, national and European level and the creation of a level playing field with other enterprises, the report also endorses the promotion of local partnerships. In article 21, for example, it recommends that Member State support of social economy enterprises should be interpreted as a genuine investment in creating solidarity networks that can strengthen the role of local communities and authorities in developing social policies. Moreover, article 22 stipulates that ( ) most social problems should be approached through local solutions, in order to deal with practical situations and problems; ( ) in order to be effective, such action requires strict rules on coordination, which means a high level of cooperation between public authorities and social economy enterprises.
The European Parliament's Social Economy Intergroup, which had first been established in 1990, provides a follow-up of the Toia report and other resolutions and stimulates the work of the European Parliament in the area of social economy. It facilitates cooperation of different members of the Parliament (MEPs), coming from different political groups, on social economy and acts as a driving engine of important policy initiatives such as the aforementioned Toia report on Social Economy. In addition, it provides an important platform of exchange between MEPs and civil society.
The social economy intergroup works closely together with the newly created intergroup "Public Services/Social Services of General Interest (SSGI)" that is also sensitive to issues regarding the social economy (however, attention: social economy does not only include SSGI, but produces also other goods and services; not all providers of SSGI are social economy operators - social economy can therefore not be set equal with SSGI!).
Also the consultative bodies of the European Union have become active with regard to social economy:
In 2008, during the European conference "Key factors of success in promoting social cohesion: Contribution of partnerships between local authorities and organisations of social interest", organized by REVES, Luc Van den Brande, at that time President of the Committee of the Regions, highlighted, in his opening speech, the importance of partnerships between local/regional authorities and social economy and possible actions in the future.
In 2002, the Committee of the Regions had adopted an opinion on Partnerships between local and regional authorities and social economy organisations: contribution to employment, local development and social cohesion. It further reiterated its point of view and commitment in the Declaration of Prague (2002) and the Declaration of Krakow (2004).
The European Economic and Social Committee established a specific social economy category.
An EESC opinion on Social Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise presented by rapporteur Ariane Rodert (SE), was adopted in October 2011. In May 2012, the EESC adopted an opinion on the proposal for a regulation on European Social Entrepreneurship Funds, which had also been prepared by Rodert.
Also in various other opinions, the EESC called for a level-playing field, support and non-discrimination of social economy enterprises. Examples are the Opinion on the communication of the European Commission "Towards a Single Market Act..." (2011), the Opinion on the European Foundation Statute (2010), the Opinion "What role and perspectives for Africa's social economy in development cooperation" (2010) or "Diverse forms of enterprise" (2009), to name just a few.