Social economy actors met in Strasbourg on 5-6 May 22 to discuss the sector’s role in the future of Europe.
Organised by the city of Strasbourg, the conference brought together over 1,000 social economy stakeholders, including representatives from Social Economy Europe (SSE) and Cooperatives Europe, to engage them with the implementation of Social Economy Action Plan (SEAP) unveiled by commissioner Nicolas Schmit in December 2021.
“The Social Economy Action Plan was born in December and the baby now has a big family around him”, said Commissioner Nicolas Schmit. He encouraged Europeans, EU Institutions, member states and other local and regional public authorities, and social economy stakeholders to contribute to SEAP’s implementation.
During a plenary on the implementation of the SEAP, SEE president Juan Antonio Pedreño mentioned the importance of having an enabling legal environment for the sector to thrive.
“The main objective for the social economy now is to grow and scale up, making the most of this momentum it is going through,” he said. “We now have the opportunity to provide solutions to some of the issues our society is facing and the SEAP acknowledges them.
“In fact, in its 39 proposals on how to address the biggest challenges we are facing, the SEAP mentions these social and economical issues. I am sure that scaling up with be key for the social economy to grow. There are countries in which the social economy represents 10% of the GDP but in others it accounts for only 0.5-2%.”
Mr Pedreño added that the social economy could not grow without appropriate political and legal frameworks – such as the Social Economy Law in his native Spain, which he sees as a big step forward.
“We have the challenge of creating these legal and political frameworks in those countries where there are none, The SEAP explores these possibilities,” he said. SEE will publish a policy paper with recommendations on SEAP implementation next month, he added.
The plenary also featured commissioner Nicolas Schmit (Jobs and Social Rights), social economy leaders Deirdre Garvey (the Wheel), Angela Achitei (ADV Foundation), and Diana Ghinea (Coompanipon).
On day two, participants heard from Giuseppe Guerini, president of the European Confederation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CECOP), who said access to finance is crucial for small and medium-sized enterprises. He called for a European guarantee fund for SMEs and a social and environmental supporting factor in the European banking system to guarantee loans to SMEs.
The two-day event was organised by the French Presidency of the Council, the European Commission, the EESC and the Committee of the Regions in cooperation with EU and French social economy networks SEE, ESS-France, CRESS Grand Est, REVES, RTES, Le Labo, SSE International Forum, SOGA, FEBEA, FAIR and PLS.
During the Summit social economy stakeholders including co-operative federations have launched the Social Economy and Proximity Skills Alliance, a joint declaration for the upskilling and reskilling of social economy and proximity employees and entrepreneurs supported by over 90 key stakeholders including several co-operative federations. Established under the EU Pact for Skills, the pact was developed by the Social Economy and Proximity Alliance – an initiative led by Social Economy Europe (SEE) and European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) in co-operation with the European Commission and with the participation of several other partners, including the European Confederation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CECOP).
“CECOP wholeheartedly welcomes this new initiative that focuses on the upskilling and reskilling of social economy workers. Today, skill mismatch and skill development are one of the key challenges of the labor market and particularly affect SMEs. In particular, it is important to invest not only in workers’ specialised skills but also in their training on democratic governance of the enterprises,” the apex said in a statement.
The Social Economy Summit preceded the Conference on the Future of Europe, which delivered its final report on 9 May – including recommendations made by citizen’s panels, such as facilitating the construction and repair of social housing, using models such as co-operative association, rental, and purchase.