Social economy actors assess SEAP implementation at anniversary event

The sector, which includes co-operatives, is estimated to include 2.8 million social economy entities across the EU that employ 13.6 million people

Social Economy Europe, along with the European Parliament’s Social Economy Intergroup, marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the Social Economy Action Plan (SEAP) at the European Parliament in Brussels on 7 December.

Designed to boost the social economy and create jobs, SEAP was presented on 9 December 2021 by the commissioner for jobs and social rights, Nicolas Schmit. The plan aims to create conditions for the social economy to thrive and gain recognition, opening opportunities for organisations to launch and scale up.

The sector, which includes co-ops, contains an estimated 2.8 million social economy entities across the EU, employing 13.6 million people.

Schmit said the pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine and the economic crisis had also shown the importance of strong social economy actors. SEAP is “a starting point”, not “the end of a process”, he added, with an important step forward in the form of an upcoming Council recommendation on developing social economy framework conditions. This will look at issues including public procurement and taxation.

Related: Co-ops respond to EU’s plans to boost its social economy

Another important step, according to Schmit, will be the launch of the Social Economy gateway, a platform for social economy actors featuring information on EU funding, policies, training and other initiatives.

Juan Antonio Pedreño, president of SEE, said his organisation had grown from nine to 23 members. “Together we are stronger,” he said, inviting participants to Donostia-San Sebastián, the social economy capital for 2023 in Spain.

Joaquín Pérez Rey, Spain’s social economy secretary, said SEAP has laid the basis for the development of the model on the continent, and claimed the Commission was on target for the year’s SEAP objectives. Going forward, he thinks it must reflect on common European legislation for Europe and the need to guarantee access to financial services for the sector. Spain, where the social economy contributes 10% to GDP, is developing a new social economy strategy.

Speaking on behalf on Sven Giegold, secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, social entrepreneur Elsemann Katrin described her country’s initiatives to support the social economy as part of a federal strategy based on the SEAP. Measures include modernising co-op law, providing better access to markets through public procurement reform, designing financial support programmes that meet the needs of social economy actors, extending traditional business support to social enterprises, and running awareness campaigns to boost female entrepreneurship. The strategy will be adopted in spring.

Angela Achitei, manager of the ADV Romania Foundation, said her national sector struggled with a lack of facilities,  low awareness and difficulties in accessing markets. To address this, her organisation runs an accelerator which has helped 48 social enterprises launch in Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.

ADV also recently joined partners to launch the Romanian Alternative Financing Institution Dedicated to Social Enterprises, the country’s first non-banking financial institution with private capital dedicated to the social economy.

Tax is another issue, said Achitei. Last year, ADV and its affiliated social enterprises paid €1m (£880,000) in VAT and taxes. She hopes the SEAP will help governments understand the benefits of a strong social economy and implement changes to support the sector.

Giuseppe Guerini, president of the European confederation of industrial and service co-operatives (CECOP), warned that SEAP should drive infrastructural changes rather than become a sectoral policy of the Commission. He agreed on the need to revisit tax, adding that the social contribution of the sector should be recognised across EU member states.

Petro Darmoris from Social Economy Ukraine said his country has a vital resource, human capital, and social economy actors continue to provide jobs and pay tax during the war. He wants to see a social economy action plan for Ukraine.

“The EU can help us with expertise and experience and assistance in getting financial support for social economy development in Ukraine,” he said. “The social economy is crucial for a sustainable future of Ukraine, so let’s move forward together.”

Isabelle Rondot, from mutual insurer VYV, urged greater recognition of the specific types of enterprises within the social economy. Politicians should facilitate access to European programmes to finance innovation, and recognise the public interest role of the social economy, she added.

Vesna Agic, CEO of Mozaik Foundation and Philanthropy Europe Association (Philea) board member, reiterated points made on tax policy and access to finance. She hopes the gateway will enable social economy actors to communicate, exchange and allocate resources.

Hubert Gambs, deputy director-general, DG GROW – Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, European Commission, responded to some of the issues raised. He mentioned the upcoming council recommendation on developing the social economy framework, due to be delivered in 2023, which will invite policymakers to better adapt policy and legal frameworks to the social economy. 

The Commission is also preparing a legislative proposal on cross-border associations in the Single Market. In terms of access to markets, public and private procurement, he said the Commission is reinforcing its efforts to foster the exchange of good practices.

Earlier this year the European Commission launched a call for proposals to enable a social economy B2B market, encouraging local and regional partnerships between social economy entities and mainstream businesses. He thinks social economy actors also need support with skills development, and the Commission’s new partnership for digital skills can help.

He added that since the launch of SEAP, over 400 stakeholders have created a transition pathway for this ecosystem. “Together, they have identified 14 action areas, bringing together 30 concrete actions, to really make the social economy and unavoidable actor of this transition.”

Claude Gruffat, MEP (Greens/EFA, FR) and co-chair of the intergroup, raised the issue of employee ownership conversions, particularly when owners wish to retire. He also called for specific protections of products made in the EU that are fairly traded, and support for an ecological transition.

Elena Perez, deputy minister of social security and labour in the Basque Country, Spain, referred to the role of the social and solidarity economy in rebuilding her nation after its civil war. She invited participants to next year’s social economy event in San Sebastian.

Concluding the event, Victor Meseguer, director of SEE, encouraged the social economy actors to seize the opportunities brought by the SEAP to scale up and grow. “Let’s do it together and we will go further,” he said.