Coops Europe’s response to the EC’s Social Economy Action Plan

The apex wants clearer definitions to drive a common understanding and consistent regulation, and more attention paid to international co-operation

Cooperatives Europe has released a position paper on the European Commission’s Action Plan for the Social Economy, which was released in 2021.

The apex, which represents co-operative enterprises across the continent, made a series of recommendations while raising concerns about certain aspects of the plan.

This includes the need for a common understanding of the social economy so that a coherent set of initiatives can be built. Coops Europe says the Commission should establish clear guidelines common to all EU member states to avoid differences in implementation, or implementation “in silos” across actors.

Its paper adds that the need for clarification also applies to the definition of some entities, especially social enterprises, whose method of organisation and ownership is described as “democratic or participatory”.

Coops Europe argues that the governance pillar is just as important as the objectives or missions in other forms of enterprises.

When it comes to legal frameworks, Cooperative Europe says there are vast inequalities among member states, which remained unaddressed. Member states should therefore be encouraged to promote all types of co-op, in all sectors of the economy, through adequate legal frameworks, policy support, and financial support.

The apex also raises concerns about the lack of common understanding of the social economy, labels and certifications, which, it says, could create confusion when implemented nationally.

While the use of social clauses in the Commission’s own tendering procedures can help grow the sector, Coops Europe says “a more binding and ambitious approach was expected with specific targets and benchmarks”.

It praises the Commission’s efforts to boost the social economy in regions and rural areas but says this should also include allocating resources to well-established rural businesses in rural areas, such as agri co-ops.

The Action Plan does not pay enough attention to international co-operation, the apex warns, adding: “The actions foreseen by the Commission are limited in scope – to social enterprises – and in space to the western Balkans, the southern neighbourhood, and the eastern partnership”.

As such, it calls for actions related to international co-operation to go beyond these regions and encourages the adoption of concrete measures.