human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

The Future of Europe

with a social economy vision

During the last European Day of social economy enterprises, held in Brussels on the 4th of June 2018, at the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Commission’ Head of Unit for job creation, Ms. Ann Branch, stressed that “social economy is experiencing a fascinating moment”. The truth is that in the last 5 years, social economy has unceasingly gained political and social visibility as a way of doing enterprise that replies to the growing demand of citizens and consumers for a more responsible and sustainable economy.

Let me share with you some of the milestones achieved by the social economy in terms of an increased political, institutional and social recognition.

In 2014, the Italian Presidency of the Council of the EU organised the conference “Unlocking the potential of the social economy for EU growth”, and released the Rome strategy on social economy, with policy recommendations for EU Institutions and Member States.

In 2015, the European Parliament’s Social Economy Intergroup was re-established with the support of 80 Members of the European Parliament from 6 political groups. Moreover, under Luxembourg’s Presidency of the Council, historic Council Conclusions on “The promotion of the social economy as a key driver of economic and social development in Europe” were approved by the 28 EU Member States, and a group of six Member States (France, Luxembourg, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain) adopted Luxembourg’s declaration on social economy, committing themselves to have a regular political dialogue to promote the development of the social economy all over Europe.

In 2016, the European Expert Group on Social Entrepreneurship (GECES) published its report on “Social enterprises and the social economy going forward”, calling for a European Action Plan for the social economy; following this report the Commission launched its “Start-up and Scale-up Initiative” with a chapter dedicated to the promotion of social economy in Europe, that has served as basis to implement more than 30 actions to support social economy enterprises and organisations.

In December 2016, under the Slovak Presidency of the Council, 10 Member States adopted Bratislava Declaration on “Social Economy as key player in providing effective answers to current societal challenges in the EU and the world”.

In 2017, 10 Member States adopted Madrid Declaration “The social economy a business model for the future of the European Union”, that also called for “a European Action Plan adequately financed, which will promote the social economy enterprises in Europe and boost social innovation”.

To conclude, in 2018 the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council organised an EU conference on social economy, held in Sofia, and the Global Social Economy Forum, held in Bilbao, gathered 1.700 social economy actors and institutions from all over the world.

In the meantime, a growing number of national, regional and local public administrations have designed and are implementing a new generation of public policies for the social economy and the European Economic and Social Committee has consistently worked to put social at the centre of the European Union’s agenda.

All this increased political and institutional visibility, because today Europe and the rest of the world face a decisive moment, at which disruptive trends and challenges (such as climate change or the transformations related to the ongoing debates on the future of work) oblige us to face an unavoidable ecological, economic and social transition.

In this context, the 2.8 million social economy enterprises and organisations existing in Europe -cooperatives, mutuals, associations, foundations, social enterprises and other forms, that are united by shared values and features-, representing 8% of the EU’s GDP, are determined to shape a future based on a truly sustainable development.

Social economy creates and preserves high-quality jobs for all. Currently employing more than 13.8 million people in Europe, it contributes to social cohesion and protection, supporting the social and labour inclusion of vulnerable people and providing quality social services of general interest. It fights against climate change, boosting circular economy and a citizens-led transition towards renewable energies. It also ensures territorial cohesion, local and rural development and ethical and inclusive finance; and fosters an active EU citizenship, and social and technological innovations at the service of the people.

Therefore, from Social Economy Europe, in view of the upcoming 2019 EU elections, we have presented our policy paper “The future of EU policies for the social economy: towards a European Action Plan”. This paper aims at becoming basis for a future European Action Plan for the Social Economy, that -over the last years- has been consistently requested by the social economy sector, the European Parliament (and its Social Economy Intergroup), the Council of the EU and the EESC, among other key actors and institutions. This Action Plan shall serve to boost the visibility of social economy enterprises and organisations; support them to generate social and technological innovations; improve their access to finance and EU funding; remove the legal obstacles impeding their ability to grow and operate in the Single Market on an equal footing with other types of companies; as well as inspiring public authorities from the EU and its neighbouring countries to promote the growth of the social economy as a driver of economic and social progress for all.

Nelson Mandela said that “it always seems impossible until it is done”. I am confident that together, all social economy actors, will achieve a policy framework that allows our enterprises and organisations to grow and unlock their full potential to provide innovative solutions to the main economic, social and environmental challenges of our time.

About the author
Juan Antonio Pedreño is the President of Social Economy Europe. He holds a BA in Chemistry (specialized in industrial chemistry) at Granada’s University (Spain). He is an expert on social economy and co-operatives.

Social Economy Europe (SEE) is the voice of social economy enterprises and organisations in Europe. SEE members are the European organisations of mutual and cooperative insurers, non-profit healthcare players, health mutuals and health insurance funds; industrial and service cooperatives; foundations, associations of general interest, work integration social enterprises, paritarian institutions of social protection, ethical banks and financiers, and the European Cities and Regions for the social economy. At national level, SEE represents the national social economy organisations of France (ESS-France), Italy (National Third Sector Forum), Portugal (CASES), Spain (CEPES) and Belgium (ConcertES).