Voices Stronger for Social Economy in Europe

A manifesto for the development of social enterprise in Europe was the outcome of a gathering of over 2000 voices from the European social economy to identify new policy priorities for the European Union Commission and Parliament.  

The Strasbourg Declaration, comprising of 10 key points for governments and public bodies across Europe to implement, is the result of Social Entrepreneurs: Have Your Say! a major participatory event on social entrepreneurship recently hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Commission in Strasbourg, France.

The event brought together social entrepreneurs, academics, policy makers, financing providers and social activists to debate the growing role of social enterprise in the region.

The Strasbourg Declaration will build on the Social Business Initiative (SBI), launched in 2011 in the context of the EU 2020 strategy and designed to enhance the framework for social entrepreneurship by raising awareness of the needs of social entrepreneurs among policy makers.

Among the action points included in the declaration:

  • Stronger engagement with the social enterprise community in the co-creation of new policies to support social enterprise, suited to the local context.

  • Fully support the growth of social enterprises and help them build capacity. For example through legal frameworks, access to finance, business start-up and development support, training and education and public procurement.

  • Boost cooperation between social enterprises across borders and boundaries, to share knowledge and practices.

  • Public and private players must develop a full range of suitable financial instruments and intermediaries that support social enterprises throughout their life-cycle.

  • Further research and national statistical collection for a better understanding, recognition and visibility of the sector, both among policymakers and the general public.

  • Look at growth and value creation from a wider perspective, by including social indicators and demonstrating positive social impact when reporting social and economic progress.

"Europe can no longer permit itself to miss the target. Its core business is – should be – active solidarity and strong common policies, namely in the fields of industry, energy and entrepreneurship, especially social entrepreneurship," President of the European Economic and Social Committee, Henri Malosse said.

The social economy is an important pillar of the European economy, representing some 10 per cent of GDP. More than 11 million workers or 4.5% of the active EU population are employed in the social economy. One in every four new businesses set up each year is a social business, rising to one in three in France, Finland and Belgium.

Among those attending were representatives of the UK’s Social Economy Alliance, lobbying for EU commitment to removing barriers to the growth of a more social economy.

“It is the first time the social enterprise movement and its collaborators from the 27 member states have had the opportunity to promote our work in this comprehensive fashion,” Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK and spokesperson for the Social Economy Alliance, said.     

“We need European officials to recognise its importance in building resilient social markets, and get firm commitment from the EU Commission to embed support for social enterprise and to build social value into all the work of the new Commission after EU elections later this year.

“The UK’s Public Services (Social Value) Act has received support from many European countries, and spawned similar legislation in Europe and beyond. Now it’s time for Social Value to be embedded in EU institutions.”

“There is widespread support for small businesses, and many ordinary citizens are looking to shop locally, or to buy in ways that protect and promote society. Too often, EU legislation, or the fear of it, prevents businesses, government bodies and therefore consumers from supporting particular kinds of businesses. But in order to protect the environment and to nurture deprived communities, we need to find ways of supporting local, more circular economies and using business to promote a better society.  This is a very important issue for Europe,” Holbrook said.  

The European Parliament recently updated EU rules on public procurement introducing new provisions allowing for environmental, social considerations and innovation to be taken into account when public contracts are awarded.

 

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