The European Commission has been working on promoting social economy actors since 1989, when its communication “Business in the Social Economy sector: Europe’s frontier-free market” was launched.
Currently, the Commission continues to work on boosting social economy enterprises and organisations all over our European Union, a work that is led by the Commission’s Directorate General (DG) for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs and DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.
In December 2019, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen requested, in her mission letter to Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, the development of a European Action Plan for the Social Economy, that will be presented in 2021.
There are two Commission’s units leading the work on social economy: the Social Economy unit in DG Grow, whose head is Ulla Engelmann, and the unit on Job Creation, whose head is Ann Branch. These two units chair and convene the meetings of the European Commission Expert Group on Social Economy and social enterprises and the meetings of the European Commission Internal Taskforce on Social Economy, formed by units from over 20 Directorates General, that aim to ensure that the ambition to boost the social economy across the EU and beyond is transversal: a project of the whole European Commission.
Commission Expert Group (GECES)
The Expert group on social entrepreneurship (Groupe d’experts de la Commission sur l’entrepreneuriat social – GECES) was set up in 2011 for a 6 year period, in line with the European Commission’s communication on the Social Business Initiative: Creating a favourable climate for social enterprises, key stakeholders in the social economy and innovation.
GECES was consulted by the Commission on the development, set up and implementation of all the actions mentioned in the SBI and the further development of social entrepreneurship and social economy.
In 2018, the Commission renewed the expert group and changed its name to Expert group on social economy and social enterprises. Social Economy Europe is a full member of the European Commission Expert Group on Social Economy and social enterprises, alongside with eight of its members.
These are the individuals representing SEE and several SEE members:
● Víctor Meseguer, representing Social Economy Europe
● Pedro Bleck Da Silva, representing AIM
● Filipa Farelo, representing CASES and the Portuguese State
● Diana Dovgan, representing CECOP
● Sébastien Pereau, representing ConcertES
● María Orejas, representing the European Foundation Centre
● Patrizia Bussi, representing ENSIE
● Włodzimierz Grudziński, representing FEBEA
● Ana Umbelino, representing REVES
The Expert group on social economy and social enterprises has two working groups:
● Working Group on the role of clusters and similar forms of business cooperation in fostering the development of social economy
● Working group “Social Investments and Skills”
A bit of history on EU policies for the social economy
At European level, in 1989 the European Commission published a Communication entitled “Businesses in the Social Economy sector: Europe’s frontier-free market”. In that same year the Commission sponsored the 1st European Social Economy Conference (Paris) and created a Social Economy Unit within DG XXIII Enterprise Policy, Distributive Trades, Tourism and the Social Economy. In 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1995 the Commission promoted European Social Economy Conferences in Rome, Lisbon, Brussels and Seville.
The Commission aims for a level playing field in which social economy enterprises can compete effectively and fairly, without regulatory discrimination and taking into account their particular needs. To promote a highly competitive social market economy, the Commission has addressed the issue in the following initiatives:
● Social Business Initiative (COM(2011) 682 final)
● Social innovation policy making
● Single market act 1 and 2
● Small business act
● The flagship initiative, the Innovation Union
● The Communication, ‘business in the social economy sector: Europe’s frontier-free market’ (1989).
Currently, the Commission has a diversity of programmes aiming at supporting social economy enterprises and organisations across Europe, such as the European Social Economy Regions.
Council of the European Union
In December 2015 the Council of the European Union (Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council configuration – EPSCO), adopted historic Council Conclusions on ‘The promotion of the social economy as a key driver of economic and social development in Europe’. These Conclusions, unanimously adopted by 28 Member States, were promoted by Luxembourg’s Presidency of the Council and by the former Luxembourgish Minister for Labour and Social Economy, Nicolas Schmit, currently EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights.
For the first time in the EU’s history the EU 28 agreed on a generic definition of social economy enterprises as “a universe of organisations based on the primacy of people over capital that include organisational forms such as cooperatives, mutual, foundations and associations as well as newer forms of social enterprises5 and may be regarded as vehicles for social and economic cohesion across Europe”. Furthermore, a roadmap for the social economy was included in the text with concrete commitments and recommendations to Members States, the European Commission and social economy enterprises.
Since 2015, the social economy has been mainstreamed in several Council decisions and conclusions, such as:
● Council Decisions on guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States
● Council Conclusions on Inclusive labour markets: Improving the employment of people in a vulnerable position in the labour market, adopted in December 2019
● Or the Council Conclusions on The Economy of Wellbeing, adopted in October 2019 under Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Monitoring Committee of the Luxembourg Declaration
Inspired by Luxembourg Declaration ‘A roadmap towards a more comprehensive ecosystem for social economy enterprises’, adopted in 2015 by six Member States – France, Italy, Luxembourg, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Spain – the Monitoring Committee (also known as High-level group of Member States on Social Economy) was created in 2016 aiming at giving continuity and following up on the agreements and progresses reached within the framework of the Luxembourg Declaration.
The monitoring committee seeks, among other functions, to set up action plans, establish priorities, rule the adhesion of new Member States and seek a multiplier effect for the employment creation and social innovation that social economy has been fostering in Europe and beyond.
The functions of the Presidency and the Secretary are borne by a Member State for a period of one year, rotating among the signatory Member States of the Luxembourg Declaration. The first presidency was that of Spain in 2017, followed by Slovenia (2018), France (2019) and Spain (2020).
European Economic and Social Committee
In its structure, the EESC has two bodies specifically dedicated to the social economy:
1. The Social Economy Category: composed of members drawn from the Various Interests’ Group and from the Employers’ Group, representing cooperatives, mutual, associations, foundations and social NGOs. Currently, its spokespersons are Alain Coheur, Vice-President of SEE and Krzysztof Balon, Secretary of the Programming Committee of Social Organisations of Poland.
2. The Temporary Study Group on Social Economy Enterprises : set up in 2015 to monitor political developments and identify measures still to be taken to create a better ecosystem for social economy enterprises. One of its objectives is also to disseminate best practices in order to raise the profile of this economic model. In its numerous positions on the topic, the EESC has consistently called for an Action Plan for the Social Economy, with initiatives aiming at ensuring the development and recognition of the sector.
The European Economic and Social Committee has not ceased in its efforts to foster an ambitious European policy promoting the Social Economy.
Since 2016, the EESC has been organising the European Day of Social Economy Enterprises every year (except 2020 due to Covid-19).
In addition, the EESC has approved a large number of opinions on topics of great relevance for the social economy and studies on “Recent evolutions of the Social Economy in the European Union” (2017) and “Best practices in public policies regarding the European Social Economy post the economic crisis “.
Social Economy Europe is member of the EESC Civil Society Liaison Group, that was set up in 2004 to provide a framework for political dialogue and cooperation between the EESC and the European organisations and networks the Group liaises with, as well as other EU institutions, on cross-cutting issues of common interest.
The Group provides a unique bridge between civil society organisations and the European institutions, enabling civil dialogue and promoting participatory democracy. It is a channel through which civil society can discuss and influence the EU agenda and decision-making processes (as envisaged under Article 11 TEU).
Committee of the Regions
The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has 329 members representing local and regional authorities from all 27 EU Member States. They gather in plenary in Brussels 5 to 6 times a year to discuss political priorities and adopt opinions on EU legislation.
The CoR has consistently been supportive of the social economy as a driver of territorial cohesion and sustainable local development.
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, EPP, PT).
In cooperation with our member REVES (European Network of Cities and Regions for the Social Economy), SEE is member of the jury of the European Entrepreneurial Region (EER): a project that identifies and rewards EU regions which show an outstanding and innovative entrepreneurial policy strategy, irrespective of their size, wealth and competences. The regions with the most credible, forward-thinking and promising vision plan are granted the label “European Entrepreneurial Region” (EER) for a specific year. SEE participates in the jury alongside with other Institutions and business organisations as SME United, Eurochambres and EURADA.
United Nations Taskforce on Social and Solidarity Economy
Social Economy Europe is an observer of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy (UNTFSSE), that was established to raise the visibility of the SSE in international knowledge and policy circles.
The UNTFSSE brings together UN agencies and other inter-governmental organisations, as well as umbrella associations of SSE networks as members and observers.
Task Force activities include organising events at UN and other international conferences, dialoguing with policy makers, preparing and disseminating publications and engaging in collaborative projects involving the UNTFSSE members and observers.
The most recent achievement was the launch of the Knowledge Hub, a platform that gathers research on the potential of the SSE for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put forward by the 2030 Agenda.
Beyond the European Union, SEE also cooperates with the Union for the Mediterranean and the OSCE to promote the social economy in other regions of the world.