European Social Economy Conference in San Sebastian, 13-14 Nov. Press Release

November 13th and 14th, the European Social Economy Conference “People, Planet, Action” took place in San Sebastian (Spain) in the framework of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The conference was fruitful, and attendees were enthusiastic about the various exchanges and commitments that took place.

13th November

On 13th November, the conference started with the official opening and welcome by Joaquín Pérez, State Secretary for Employment and Social Economy in the Government of Spain who stressed Spanish engagement in Social Economy nationally and internationally by pushing for the UN resolution on SE.

In his welcome speech Eneko Goia, Mayor of San Sebastián, explained the importance of SE in the Basque country with more than 61450 people employed in the SE. He was followed by Elena Pérez, Regional Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Security of the Basque Government who highlighted the creation of the Cutting-edge Hub de Vanguardia on SE of the Basque country which aims to become a reference in Europe for new models of collective entrepreneurship.

SEE President, Juan Antonio Pedreño stressed that Social Economy employs 14 million people in Europe guaranteeing the access to decent jobs, promoting reindustrialization and reducing inequalities. The target we have is to reach 22 million jobs in Social Economy by 2030. Our president stressed the importance for this model to be represented wherever public policies that impact SE are being debated.

SEE President also explained the SEE main points for the European Union Elections in 2024:

•    Pursue the Social Economy Action Plan
•    Renew the Social Economy Intergroup
•   Advocate for the appointment of a Commissioner for Social Economy


The EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, addressed an inspirational speech and stressed that Social Economy guarantees prosperity, innovation and solidarity. In his words: “We cannot manage the transitions just looking to GDP!”

A plenary session followed on “Social Economy Action Plan and UN Resolution on SSE: a toolbox to scale-up the Social Economy” was moderated by Víctor Meseguer, Special Commissioner for Social Economy of the Spanish Government.It focused on how social economy is emerging and growing as an alternative which is more socially and environmentally sustainable model for society and economy. 

Rosa Lavín, President of EGES and of the Confederation of Cooperatives of the Basque Country (KONFECOOP)  mentioned the necessity for cooperative organizations to be present in places of decision and governance.

Ricardo Rio (Rapporteur on the opinion on social economy framework conditions and Vice Chair of the Committee of Region’s Commission for Social, Education, Employment, Research and Culture) addressed the crucial role of SE at local and regional level.

To Joaquín Pérez, State Secretary for Employment and Social Economy in the Government of Spain, SE demonstrated that economic efficiency and social justice are intrinsically intertwined being also a good example of democratic participatory for the mainstream economy. 

Oliver Röpke, President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), highlighted the commitment of the EESC to further advance Social Economy in the European Union and how Social Economy is a solution to tackle pressing issues like affordable housing. He also pledged for SE organizations and enterprises, members states and local authorities to grasp the opportunities provided by EU funds.

On her part, Katrin Langensiepen, Vice-President of the European Parliament’s Social Economy Intergroup, explained that the German government is going to work alongside the European Commission to improve the state aid regulation for social innovation.

Commissioner Nicolas Schmit talked about the Social Economy Action Plan and encouraged to scale up the European ecosystem at global level.

Mia Seppo, Assistant Director General for Jobs & Social Protection International Labour Organization (ILO), highlighted that there are 3 fundamental things to achieve the action: Youth, women and funding. 

The day continued with the following simultaneous workshops: 

•    European Year of Skills: Transformations for the Future of the Social Economy

•    Transition pathway: Driving the green and digital transition of social economy

•    Scaling-up the Social Economy through innovation, access to finance & access to markets

•    Youth and Social Economy: common values

•    Social Economy Visibility

SEE participated in the workshop on European Year of skills moderated by Ilana Gotz from Euricse which gathered Giuseppe Guerini, President of CECOP and EESC member who presented the EESC opinions on the topic of skills; SEE Director, Sarah de Heusch, who explained the objectives of the Pact for Skills and the specific commitments of the Large-scale Skills Partnership (LSP) for the Proximity and Social Economy ecosystem that SEE & Euricse co-coordinate; Alessia Sebillo, Executive Director of DIESIS, who presented the baSE project (in which SEE is partner); Corine van de Burgt, President of ENSIE, who presented bWISE project and Gerardo Gutiérrez from the State Public Employment Service of Spain (SEPE) explained how the Spanish government is using ESCO classifications to monitor employment evolutions and needs in terms of skills

All interested social economy actors that are not yet members of the LSP are invited to join through the following link.

After lunch, the participants in the conference could enjoy different visits to social economy organisations and enterprises: Basque Culinary Center, Gureak, Grindel,  Hotel Ilunion, Ideko/DanobatIkerlanKatealegaia,  Leinn and Mondragon

The visits were a good way to learn about social economy experiences in the Basque Country, which has a world-wide reputation for have built strong cooperative ecosystems.

At the end of the day, the Denon Artean Award took place. It is organized biannually and recognizes the work of people and institutions in favour of cooperativism. 

This year, the winner was the European Commission, and it was Commissioner Nicolas Schmit who received the prize as representative of the European Commission.  

After this heartfelt ceremony the attendees could enjoy the impressive concert of the Cooperative Symphony Concert.

14th November

The second day kicked off with a plenary session entitled “Social economy: a strength of the European Union” moderated by Maravillas Espín, Director General for Self-Employment, Social Economy and CSR, Spain. The session started off with the presentation of the outcomes  of the workshops of the previous day. 

It was followed by a panel discussion in which Íñigo Ucín, President of Mondragon Corporation explained that SE is a fundamental asset for territories to be fair, competitive and generate collective wealth. He added that large-scale competitiveness is achieved through inter-cooperation and that technology centers play a major role.

He was followed by Juan Antonio Pedreño, President of Social Economy Europe, who explained the main challenges to which the SE is responding coincide with those of the policy area: creation of stable and quality employment, the fight against climate change, CSR, etc. In 20 EU countries SE represents between 0% and 2% of GDP, there is huge opportunity for growth there.

In her intervention, Valentina Superti, Director Grow G – Ecosystems II: Tourism and Proximity, European Commission, stressed that the SE is a key factor in promoting the green and digital transition as well as an economy that generates economic impact and employs millions of people in Europe.

Christie Morreale, Vice-President of the Government of Wallonia, Belgium, talked about how important it is to give visibility to SE since, according to a recent study, 1 in 3 Belgians do not know how to identify the services or products that depend on the social economy and 8 out of 10 want to know more about this economy.

This session was followed by the European Social Innovation Competition organized by the European Commission which this year focused on fight against energetic poverty. This prize is an opportunity  to tackle big challenges and in which SE brings solutions and great value to society. The prize was awarded to the city of Eeklo in Belgium who won 50 000€. The other finalists were ECODES and EmpowerMed.

The second plenary session of the day was dedicated to “Social Economy in the New Urban Agenda” and was moderated by Sira Rego, MEP and former Deputy Mayor of the municipality of Rivas-Vaciamadrid. 

Amongst the panelists, let’s recall Ana Umbelino, President of REVES (the European Network of Cities and Regions for the Social Economy) who explained how SE contributes to improving  the quality and the level of innovation in public policies, as it has unique expertise and privileged relations with under-represented citizens. 

Eneko Goia, Mayor of Donostia-San Sebastian explained concrete examples of unique collaboration between institutions and SE organizations and training cooperatives in the Basque country. 

Antoine Dubois, VP of Eurométropole de Strasbourg Responsable for Social and Solidarity Economy, stressed the importance of developping a system of State Aid and promote SE structures. 

Pierre Hurmic, Mayor of Bordeaux and President of the Global Social Economy Forum, explained how in his city SE is not a secondary economy, it represents 14% of employment with 39 000 jobs.

The plenary sessions concluded with the Ministerial Representatives Panel which was moderated by Jérôme Saddier, President of ESS-France, and Vice-President of Social Economy Europe. This panel was an opportunity for different ministers to explain their motivations to sign the San Sebastian Manifesto and to explain how they count on implementing it in their juridictions.

Maxime Duel, ministerial delegate for the Social and Solidarity Economy in France, started by mentioning all the added value of SE and how it should be the economy of the future, and how in difficult times it is an opportunity to reinvent economy with strong focus on social dimension. 

Christie Morreale, Vice-President of the Government of Wallonia, mentioned that Belgium will continue with the progress on SE in the EU and national agendas, also through the support to the Recommendation and the continuation of the Luxemburg Monitoring Committee.

Victor Meseguer, Special Commissioner for Social Economy of the Spanish Government, recalled that the conference was the fruit of joint efforts of the employment ministry team provided by Vice-President Yolanda Diaz. 

Mădălin-Cristian Vasilcoiu, Secretary of State for Employment and Social Solidarity of Romania, explained that Romania adopted a legislation in 2015 which has been recently amended and that they count on adopting the Recommendation by implementing a national strategy for SE.

Sven Giegold, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action of Germany took the floor to mention that Germany just started its strategy with 70 concrete measures that SE needs which will be implemented now. 

Georges Engel, Minister of Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy and Minister of Sport Luxembourg, than took the floor to speak of his engagement in SE as a driver for a fairer economy and the role of SE in social justice.

Ivanka Shalapatova, Minister of Labour and Social Policy of Bulgaria, spoke of Bulgarian involvement in SE as it is chairing the monitoring committee of Luxembourg. They also organized a conference in Sofia on SE to strengthen the notion of united EU, where solidarity democracy and people matter the most.

The panel was closed with the signature of the San Sebastian Manifesto by 22 representatives including 19 MS Governments, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and Social Economy Europe.

During that afternoon 5 parallel sessions were organized by SE organizations:

•    Social Economy Europe, Philea and SOGA: How can better Social Economy legal frameworks contribute to building digital commons.
•    Social Services Europe: How to ensure not-for-profit social service providers can fulfil their key role in the social economy?
•    RREUSE: How Public Procurement can boost the Social and Circular Economy.
•    CICOPA: Platform cooperatives and Labour rights in the digital economy.
•    ENSIE: Extra General assembly meeting and workshop on “Social Impact Measurement” organised in the framework of the Spanish Presidency Social Economic Congress.
•    Women Leaders of the Social Economy.
•    Cities and Social Economy.

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