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. Nevertheless, some initiatives were already taken to support a different approach to entrepreneurship and local partnerships with social economy enterprises while implementing some key EU objectives, namely quality employment creation, sustainable and inclusive growth, social cohesion, social innovation, promotion of entrepreneurial culture and much more.
THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
It is above all DG Growth (Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs) and DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion that deal with issues related to social economy. Within the last EU Commission mandate, under Michel Barnier, former Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, also the prior 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 aimed 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” was conceived to give funds investing specifically in ‘social undertakings’ a higher attractiveness and to increase thus private investment in this type of enterprises. The Regulation was finally adopted by the European parliament and the Council on 17th April 2013.
An important 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 the formers DG Market, DG Employment and DG Enterprise in the framework of the implementation of the Single Market Act (April 2011). The communication proposed11 main actions to promote social economy and social entrepreneurship in the wider sense. This led to the recognition of the importance of alternative forms of enterprises, such as cooperatives and mutual societies, as a cornerstone of EU economy.
A sort of evaluation of the achievements produced by the Social Business Initiative was the Strasbourg conference “Social entrepreneurs: have your say!”, in January 2014. During that conference, three Commissioners –Barnier, Tajani and Andor – had an occasion to listen the point of view of social entrepreneurs and react. The Conference was concluded by the “Strasbourg declaration”, a programming document to trace the road for the upcoming Commission.
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.
Support to social entrepreneurship also figures among the main investment priorities of the Regulation on European Structural and Investment Funds (reg. 1303/2013) and on the related regulations on European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund. These regulations are presently implemented through partnership agreements between member states and the Commission.
The proposal for a regulation on a European Union Programme for Social Change and Innovation (PSCI), published in October 2011, suggested to include, among the main priorities of the programme, social entrepreneurship and, in particular, improved access to finance for social enterprises. Such proposal was then embedded in the programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI programme), which foresees a special fund devoted to the creation of financial instruments to support social enterprises. The implementation of the programme was entrusted to the European Investment Fund, which provides support to intermediary financial bodies in order to foster investments in social economy enterprises.
In 2009, a call for proposal regarding the establishment of satellite accounts for cooperatives and mutuals at European and national level was published. Although some member states developed experimentations in this field (eg. Spain), a EU-level regulation is still to come.
Another initiative, farer in time, but which proved of great importance for social economy all over Europe, was 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 (only one that was actually implemented)
- 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.
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.
Social Economy has been considered a key topic by several Council’s Presidencies.
At its meeting on 7 December 2015, almost twenty years after the first mentioning of social economy in a Council conclusion, the Council for Employment and Social Affairs adopted the proposal of the Luxembourg Presidency for Council conclusions on “The promotion of the social economy as a key driver of economic and social development in Europe”. The Council, after inviting member States and Commission to “establish and further develop European, national, regional and local strategies and programmes for enhancing the social economy”, focuses on four main areas of intervention: awareness, recognition and education; social innovation; regulatory environment; access to finance.
Before that, in November 2014, the Italian Presidency of the Council of the EU organised the Rome conference. The title “Unlocking the potential of the Social Economy for EU growth” reveals the aim of that conference, whose principal outcome is represented by The Rome Strategy , a key document with important policy recommendation to EU institutions in order to increase the promotion of the Social Economy sector.
THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
On 15 September 2016, the plenary session of the European Parliament has approved the report entitled ‘How best to harness the job creation potential of SMEs?’, aimed at supporting SMEs in their efforts to combat the unemployment and youth unembployment rates, since SMEs provide about two thirds of all private-sector employment in the EU. The text highlights the fact that cooperatives in industry and services have shown better resilience since the 2008 crisis than other enterprises in the same sectors. It also recognises business transfers to employees under the form of a cooperative as successful types of business transfers, as well as the way in which micro and small enterprise collaborative networks under the cooperative form reinforce sustainability and employment.
On 11 December 2014 the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament has formally approved the list of Intergroups for the current legislative term (2014-2019): Thanks to the support of more than 80 MEPs from 6 different political groups the Social Economy Intergroup figures among the 28 groups. The former REVES President, Jens Nilsson, was elected as Co-President.
The European Parliament’s Social Economy Intergroup which had first been established in 1990, provides a follow-up of resolutions and positions 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. In addition, it provides an important platform of exchange between MEPs and civil society.
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 COMMITTEE OF REGIONS
Also the consultative bodies of the European Union have become active with regard to social economy.
In its plenary session of 3 and 4 December 2015 the Committee of the Regions adopted its opinion “The role of the social economy in restoring economic growth and combating unemployment” (rapporteur: Luis Gomes, PT, EPP).
This opinion is the first since a number of years (almost 13) in which the Committee of the Regions takes a clear position in favour of the social economy and partnerships between local/regional authorities and the social economy.
During the last months of 2015 the REVES secretariat closely followed the CoR’s work on this document and was consulted several times.
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
The European Economic and Social Committee established a specific social economy category.
On October 2015 the European Economic and Social Committee held a conference on “Refugees’ labour market integration: Obstacles and initiatives to maximise potential”, which focused on the employment of refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection as a way to contribute to the social security and to the economy as a whole, and at the same time a mean to help European countries to address demographic decline, ageing populations and shortages on the labour market, benefiting both the refugees’ concerned and the host societies.
During the summer 2015, the European Economic and Social Committee organised the closing event of the Social Enterprise project, named “Social Entrepreneurship: Make It Happen! – A Renewed Commitments and aiming to give a synoptic view of the work which have been carried out by the EESC project group as well as to present the results.
Furthermore, this event gave the opportunity to renew the commitment taken after the Strasbourg Declaration and to promote, at the different levels, the development of a more favourable ecosystem for Social Enterprises in order to fully unleash the potential of the sector.
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.
Please click HERE to find out the REVES position papers and recommendations about a number of thematics.