Social Europe can be translated into business opportunities and much-needed job creation. In the current crisis situation, where the number of people without a job or access to economic resources is steadily increasing, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) wants to strengthen growth, employment and competitiveness, through social enterprises while creating a more inclusive society that is in line with the Europe 2020 strategy.
At the Conference Social Enterprises and the Europe 2020 Strategy: Innovative solutions for a sustainable Europe, held on 3 October in Brussels, the Various Interest Group of the EESC analysed the present and future of social enterprises in Europe. "Social enterprises have proven to be more resilient in the current crisis, and should therefore play a key role in Europe's exit strategy from the crises while contributing to a faster and fairer recovery. We call on national and European policy-makers to politically support the social economy and social enterprises, and to create a level-playing field which will unleash the potential of this key economic sector", stated Luca Jahier, President of the EESC Various Interests Group.
The social economy sector already employs more than 14 million people in the EU, which amounts to more than 6% of all workers. The social economy is a key element of the European social model, especially in times of crisis. However, social enterprises do not enjoy a level playing field with traditional economic operators. Without overcoming legal, administrative, financial and political obstacles, social enterprises will not be able to fully enjoy the benefits of the single market, despite the richness and the innovative leadership which exists at all levels of the sector.
"One billion people around the world cannot be wrong. One billion have chosen to run a cooperative business, and that's something that must be taken into account in decision-making fora” added Pauline Green, President of the International Co-operative Alliance.
"We would like to help by providing a better picture of the situation of social enterprises in the EU. That is why we are about to launch a large project with the aim of mapping social enterprises. This is in fact in response to the Economic and Social Committee’s call for an EU-wide comparison of approaches to public financing that are particularly suitable for social enterprises”, stated László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.
The European Foundation Statute and access to public procurement
The EESC is determined to defend the role of social enterprises in providing services of general interest. According to the EESC, Member States should facilitate participation in public procurements to economic operators whose principal objective is the social and professional integration of disabled or disadvantaged workers, provided that a threshold of 30% of disabled or disadvantaged workers is respected.
The EESC also urges a rapid introduction of a European Foundation Statute, the adoption of a Statute for a European Association and a review of the value and usability of a European Social Enterprises label, that would definitely add value to the sector. These would help social enterprises to operate in different EU Member States without any extra administrative burden.
Finally, the EESC demands a mobilisation of the European Social Fund post 2014 to include "investment priority" for social enterprises and a better access to other funds such as capital for start-ups and growth, notably for young social entrepreneurs. "I am convinced that cohesion policy funds can be used even better in the future, especially if they would be employed in the context of a truly integrated strategy”, concluded László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.