The opinion of the European Committee of the Regions
Author: Delia Postiglione
The Action Plan for Social Economy is expected to be published before the end of the year by the European Commission, in line with the requests of the European Economic and Social Committee, the Social Economy Intergroup of the European Parliament, the Expert group on social economy and social enterprises (GECES), and several EU governments and European networks committed to the development of the social economy, such as Social Economy Europe.
Now more than ever, it is crucial to remark on the potential of social economy – with its 2.8 million businesses and organisations in Europe, employing 13.6 million workers or around 6.3% of the EU workforce – in boosting the European recovery and rebuilding a society centred on collective well-being and high-quality jobs. The key to social economy success in making an actual difference is the diversity of its forms, which all merge in the ability of to provide cross-sectoral services when facing economic, social, educational and environmental challenges. Indeed, the social economy is an omnium-gatherum that has proven to be able to have an impact at all levels of the society, from tiny realities to international scale passing through local and interregional initiatives.
In this perspective, the social economy can be also considered to be giving a contribution to the cohesion strategy, one of the most important European policies to work for the “Unity in Diversity”, the economic and social convergence among Member States, maintaining the heterogeneity core of the EU and raising the level of trust throughout the Union. As a matter of fact, the European Committee of the Regions has adopted an opinion on the Action Plan for the Social Economy last Thursday, in accordance with Article 307(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
Reported by Mikel Irujo Amezaga – a member of the CoR since 2016 and Minister of Economic and Business Development of Navarra Region – in cooperation with SEE Director, Víctor Meseguer who was appointed as an expert. The 10 pages opinion is made of 6 sections of policy recommendations and proposals divided into 51 action points to foster social economy contribution to EU development.
But how can it be concretely done?
Firstly, the opinion underlined that social economy principles and values make it compatible with the social, economic, and environmental EU goals for a just transition. The Committee also highlighted that promoting interregional cooperation on the social economy is a way to create trans-national clusters and cross-border synergies. In this view, the inclusion of social economy in the European Cluster Collaboration Platform will make creating fruitful alliances easier. Additionally, the social economy thematic platform within the European Smart Specialisation Platform is a useful tool to let European regions come together and share experiences or tested procedures. Finally, the Committee called for the Commission support to strengthen the impact of the European Social Economy Regions initiative (ESER), a powerful social economy community of practitioners across Europe generating regional and local partnerships.
At the same time, the opinion mentioned that social economy can be also a vector for rural development, the improvement and the fair exploitation of local resources as well as the fight against depopulation. This is because economic enterprises and organisations are businesses that never relocate since they are strongly committed to local communities. In these terms, social economy can foster employment of vulnerable or marginalised people who strive to enter the labour market. In order to endorse that, the Committee called for cooperating with the industrial ecosystem of the social economy which includes public authorities, vocational training centres and universities.
Moreover, the opinion pinpointed some other steps to be taken towards the harness of social economy potential such as:
· The necessary development of a European legal framework to provide social economy with a common definition and a transparent taxonomy of investment.
· The selection of a European Capital of Social Economy each year, through a democratic and transparent process involving the Committee of the Regions, the EESC and the GECES.
· The improvement of the role of the Cohesion Funds – in particular the ERDF and ESF – in supporting social economy projects in order to assure enterprises and organisation of easier access to finance and market.
· The strengthening of the GECES role with a working group engaging local and regional authorities.
· The boost of social economy visibility through several tools like an online platform to support enterprises, organisations and entrepreneurship, a campaign to promote collective entrepreneurship and to raise awareness, a guide to public social economy policies.
· The promotion of social economy entrepreneurship education through trainings providing specific skills, Erasmus+ programme and the Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills and Knowledge Alliances, and the stimulus to Social Economy Business Schools as innovative solutions to social economy specialisation.
· The monitoring and the support of suitable European social economy policies through the Commission’s task force and continuous dialogue.
Currently, social economy actors play a crucial role in developing different regional ecosystems in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, and the Republic of Slovenia.
Last June, Ucomur and Ucoerm have signed the 5th Pact for the Social Economy which is based on a budget of 24 million euros bound to create 5.000 job opportunities and 1000 enterprises in the Spanish region of Murcia between 2021 and 2024. In the Belgian region of Wallonia, Economie Sociale is an outstanding example of intersectoral cooperation on a shared site project started in 2017 to bring together local social economy players and put at users’ disposal useful information and news about social economy businesses. Emilia-Romagna is one of the Italian leading regions in terms of entrepreneurship and economic dynamism registering the highest number of active social economy organisations for a total of over 470 thousand people involved in different projects and an official regional register for cooperatives and third sector organisations, including volunteering organisations.
The Action Plan for Social Economy will bring change on a small and large scale, at local and cross-national level, in all the sectors that impact and influence our lives making them fairer to the world around us, making them more human. The Action Plan is almost here. A new future as well.