The European Economic and Social Committee (Eesc) organised the 2nd European day of Social Economy Enterprises (SEEs) on the 28th of June in its headquarters in Brussels. The goal? Gather a critical mass to persuade the European Commission to include a fully-fledged action plan for See in its 2018 work programme. During the event, over 130 social economy representatives called on policy makers to scale up their efforts to enable the development of the social economy. A participatory event, it featured workshops participated by social economy stakeholders with the objective to create synergies and explore needed measures.
Michael Smyth, Vice-president of the Eesc, opened the sessions. He highlighted how the committee has worked on social economy for more than 10 years, creating synergies together with the European Parliament and the European Commission to promote the social economy agenda. As a matter of fact Smyth highlighted: “Social economy enterprises’ contribution to social integration, but also to territorial cohesion and even to new economic models is getting more and more important. Social economy enterprises have become crucial, not only because they contribute to quality job creation and inclusive growth, but because they play a role in shaping the future of Europe”. And he also called for a long term roadmap for the social economy and to make it a real part of the Commission’s Work Programme for 2018. Nicolas Schmit, Minister of Labour, Employment and Social and Solidary Economy of Luxembourg, highlighted the importance to promote economy in a very tangible way to address three key challenges: climate, the digital revolution and social issues. At the end of the opening session of the event Oliver Röpke, President of the EESC’s Permanent Study Group on SEEs concluded: “The European Day of Social Economy Enterprises is your day”. Röpke invited participants to actively contribute to “shape together the future of Europe”.
In the second part of the event 4 case studies of innovative and successful start-ups from across Europe were presented: PermaFungi: a Brussels-based urban agriculture project to produce mushrooms and compost from coffee grounds while creating sustainable jobs for low-skilled people. In 2016 Permafungi grew 3 tons of mushrooms and recycled 16 tons of coffee grounds. It has so far created 9 jobs. Solidarity Salt: a project launched by two Greek women entrepreneurs to improve the living conditions of migrant women and at the same time develop the local economy in Greece. Gourmet sea salt is extracted from Greek salinas and packed in handmade bags together with a note telling the story of the woman who has made the bag. Hop Hop Food is a user-friendly digital platform using pictograms and geolocation to link people who have too much food and people who can consume it or are in need of food. While there are numerous start-ups with a commission-based B-2-B or B2C business model for sharing food, this will be the first C-to-C platform working for free. The project, which will be launched in Paris end of 2017, aims to combat food waste, which totals 90 million tons in Europe while 43 million Europeans suffer from food poverty. 6zero1 is a social economy enterprise incubator operating in Luxembourg, supporting entrepreneurs in their efforts (training, funding and advice) to develop economically viable activities.
These success stories inspired the workshops, in which participants discussed the potential of SEEs to develop new economic models, promote the integration of migrants and boost territorial cohesion.
Participants agreed that policy-makers have an important role to play in creating a favourable environment for the social economy to flourish, and urged them to create a EU legal framework for SEEs, reinforce public-private partnerships and ensure increased and easier access to funding. The workshop also made specific requests for policy-makers, from the need to protect SEEs by creating a level playing field and putting an end to abuse of mainstream enterprises, to the need for better EU migration policies to facilitate early access to the labour market and involve the media in sharing positive stories ; finally the workshops called for a project at EU and local level to disseminate the good practices of pro-bono activities for the social economy by involving companies.
In the closing session Rait Kuuse, Deputy Secretary General on Social Policy, Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia, spoke about the role of social enterprises: “ When talking about social enterprises, I feel that different stakeholders might attribute different meanings to it. I understand that we speak about development of the society, but not only; it is also about strengthening the society by reducing gaps in its functioning and building new solutions with eyes open towards innovation. Innovation is the key to change; it is in my opinion the necessary precondition to answer the challenges of ever changing environment we face today”. Jens Nilsson, Member of the European Parliament, called on the Commission to show more will in developing an overall EU action plan for the Social Economy. Sławomir Tokarski, Director of DG GROW, European Commission, highlighted how “Social economy is not another economy. It is part of the economy” and “We need to develop a pragmatic approach so that the social economy can become a credible means to helping the European Union recover from recent hardships”. Emmanuel Verny, Vice-president of Social Economy Europe, defined social economy as “a European success, with over 2 million enterprises and organisations, that employ about 14,5 million Europeans and represent 8% of the European Union’s GDP”. The sessions were closed by Martin Siecker, president of the EESC’s Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, who concluded: “ Social economy has become part of the economy. Social economy is not just an economic model in itself; it is the solution to recover from the crisis, to create quality jobs and to make Europe more resilient, more competitive, without anybody being left behind”.