Worker co-ops and social economy sector respond to EU State of the Union speech

The speech did not make any references to the upcoming Social Economy Action Plan, due to be unveiled in December

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen delivered her annual State of the Union speech on 15 September, in which she emphasised key priorities for the year ahead.

While co-ops were not mentioned, several announcements will likely impact the sector, such as a new programme to enable young people to work in another EU state and proposals for a new new European Care Strategy and a Social Climate Fund to tackle energy poverty.

Ms Von der Leyen did not make any references to the upcoming Social Economy Action Plan due to be unveiled in December.

Responding to her speech, Social Economy Europe, which represents co-ops and the wider social and solidarity economy, said it welcomed the EU’s progress around vaccinations and its post-Covid-19 recovery plan.

The apex also highlighted that the EU has provided instruments to protect workers during the pandemic, such as the temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE), available for member states that need to mobilise significant financial means to fight the negative economic and social consequences of the coronavirus outbreak on their territory. Other positives for SSE are the fact that 2022 will be declared the EU year of Youth and the announcement of a care strategy for Europe.

However, SSE feel that the social economy still lacks visibility and support and says it was disappointed that the upcoming Social Economy Action Plan was not mentioned during the speech. The plan is due to be unveiled by European commissioner for jobs and social rights, Nicolas Schmit, in December.

“From SEE we believe that the European Commission supports the social economy, as part of Commissioner Schmit’s engagements, but doesn’t fully seize the potential of social economy – co-ops, mutuals, associations, foundations, social enterprises and other legal forms that are specific to each member state – to lead an entrepreneurial, social innovation and democratic revolution in Europe,” said Víctor Meseguer, director of Social Economy Europe.

“There’s no doubt the social economy is moving forward and conquering new spaces in the EU policy ecosystem (e.g. its important role in Europe’s industrial strategy), but a lot remains to be done.”

The European confederation of industrial and service co-operatives (CECOP) has also urged the EU “to deliver policies to build a social and inclusive Europe.” CECOP welcomed the announcement that 2022 will become the ‘European Year of the Youth’, but said “the EU needs to ensure that these proposed actions are inclusive and reach especially the most vulnerable parts of European Societies”. The apex also called on the European Commission to “use this European Year of the Youth to promote co-operative entrepreneurship among young people to create quality work opportunities for young workers.”   

CECOP is also looking forward to contributing to contributing to shaping the European Care Strategy, which it thinks “could prove to be a much-needed instrument to improve the accessibility to care and the working conditions of care workers.”

On the issue of tax avoidance, CECOP said it welcomed the efforts taken by the EU and its international partners to introduce comprehensive legislation on a fair minimum taxation of enterprises.

“Tax avoidances are causing harm in many ways: On the one hand, it is money missing that could be reinvested in building strong and resilient communities. On the other hand, it creates unfair advantages for predatory companies. We cannot compete with enterprises that don’t contribute their fair share. Therefore, we need strict EU laws that fight tax avoidance,” said CECOP President Giuseppe Guerini.

CECOP also added that while the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights will be important, it will not be enough to “overcome the social challenges of inequality, discrimination, and social exclusion in Europe”. The apex also emphasised that “new policies on the digital transition provide ‘a clear direction to markets and investors alike’ but must not ignore the social impacts of the digital economy on communities and workers alike.”

“Innovation and digitalisation in the European Union are not only driven by investors and multinationals. The EU’s policies need to acknowledge the importance of cooperatives in ensuring responsible control and ownership of the new digital economy,” said the secretary general of CECOP, Diana Dovgan.

CECOP said it would continue to advocate for the improvement of workers’ rights, especially in the digital economy.

Agnès Mathis, the director of Cooperatives Europe, also said: “We welcome the focus on the digital challenge and climate change but this needs to be backed with concrete actions. That is why we look forward to for example the upcoming Action Plan for the social economy.” Cooperatives Europe, which represents 84 member organisations from 33 European countries across all business sectors, believes the social economy provides the best answer to the current global challenges and adds that co-operatives can “lead a fair and sustainable growth”.