“Europe & ESS, the time has come!” – Lille 12 January 2018

Introduction by Ripess Europe (Patricia Coler and Jason Nardi)

Solidarity Economy is a movement that aims to transform the current social and economic system into one based on cooperative and solidarity short and direct circuit exchanges that connect individual needs with those of the community. It puts dignity in front of any profit. And the common good and public interest before the private, individualistic one.

It’s based on practices of relocalising value supply chains, production, exchange and use of goods and services that meet the economic and social needs of local, territorial and international communities. It promotes economic democracy, social justice, environmental awareness, gender equity and a pluralist, multicultural approach. Social Solidarity economy is already happening through thousands of citizen initiatives, solidarity practices and collaborative networks all over Europe and the world.

For Ripess Europe, meeting the challenges of today’s Europe means that there has to be a much more open and plural economy that recognizes and gives space to the SSE, the full and effective participation of citizens in the economic and democratic regulations, cooperation by and between territories. An economy that goes beyond the traditional division in 3 sectors : private, public and social – where all have the same obligations and responsabilities towards the people and the planet.

The European Union is going through a historic moment: facing major social and political challenges, its member countries must overcome these challenges to build a common future. Growing inequality, higher risk of poverty and social exclusion that affects an adult out of 4 (http://www.eapn.eu), wider gap between the wealthy and the rest, extension and new forms of precarious work, lack of access to quality food, housing, health… and moreover, reduction of the democratic arena.

The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission very recently solemnly proclaimed the the European Pillar of Social Rights, in three parts: Equal opportunities and access
to the labour market, Fair working conditions, Social protection and inclusion. But it is not enough. It is rather in the form of prevention or reparation to the damages of the Market economy than to foster real transformation that is based on fundamental rights and solidarity. For everyone, including those who are not European citizens.

It is urgent to build a new ambition and a development policy of the European Union for 2020-2030, in which SSE has a much more central place. Concepts such as increase in general wellbeing rather than economic growth, the inclusive dimension of a community, as well as social justice should be discussed in the European development agenda, in order to characterize and develop cross-cutting mechanisms linked to the sustainable development goals the United Nations (SDGs) in the Agenda 2030.

We need to articulate our European reflections with what is happening at the international level. In our actions, there is a progressive structuring of actors of the SSE in a constellation of cooperating networks, who are in fact realising the development objectives in their territories, through increased dialogue with local authorities, socially oriented private enterprises, new forms of hybrid organisations, such as community cooperatives and commons-based initiatives.

So we need a new European legal framework not only for social enterprises, but to enable and promote the territorial and intersectoral networking and cooperation.

But this is not the formation of new lobbyists to defend special interests, or to become the delegates and providers of services in lieu of the public power. It is rather to understand that SSE initiatives participate more widely in the definition of issues, diagnostics, practical solutions and necessary regulations for the social transformation of our societies in more resilient and fair ones.

It is therefore a social innovation based on a strong democratic solidarity that we are calling for, which is imprinted with alliances between the solidarity initiatives and the public authorities to define the common and general interest, based on different values than maximising profits and promoting competition for vested interests.  These other bases can be the care for one another, our environment and the future (ecological and cultural transition), the redefinition of ways of leading (in the sense of defining, doing, evaluating) the actions of general interest, the accompaniment required among practitioners to claim territorial projects, co-constructing them, supporting them.

Our common area of work and observation of practices leads us to believe that it is fundamental to have a transversal approach to SSE and recognize the diversity of the movement of the initiatives.

In this context, it is essential that the organised, citizen-led initiatives be able to work with the public local authorities networks that are also progressing. We need to train together, build together knowledge and potentialitiy on the laws of the SSE, the local policies, the conditions of implementation of practices etc.

This must be done at a European and international level, but also at the very local level of the SSE actors, in order for them to participate in the changes to operate in the territories and their transitions.

As part of the European agenda, it is essential to be able to precisely develop and engage the European structural funds in support of these collective transitions. They are decisive. This must be done at a European and international level, but also at the very local level, where SSE actors actively participate to rethink the territories and their transitions. But if they reinforce territorial and cooperation projects, they must take account of the stage in which we are today: one of a multitude of small and even very small structures who act in these economic forms and as democratic gesture.

Today it is this diversity that helps create a new Europe. So beware of the required fineness of devices that must support all this multitude rooted locally, who look at Europe to have a common enabling policy that will allow them to operate and create new welfare and wellbeing – without being forced in a competitive market, that destroys the very means of livelihood.

Do the first demand in this document is to “consolidate the role of SSE Networks as drivers of sustainable economy at Global, European and National Levels”.

It is therefore fundamental to not give in to the isomorphism, that is inventing apparently new solutions which are but those of the Market, which do not really change the form of our economies.

To do this, we are convinced that it is necessary to promote real process of co-construction of public policies at the European level.

The GECES, of which Patricia Andriot and Denis Stokkink reminded us this morning presenting the final report and its recommendations, is an interesting space and we hope that the next renewal will see our application as network of more than 40 SSE networks accepted, but it cannot identify the process of co-construction which must be established in the long term, in a transversal way and taking into account a variety of actors.

This co-construction cannot only rely on consultations, but must have new forms of deliberative democracy at different levels, from citizen-led participatory budgeting to urban and rural regeneration in the perspective of commons and relocalisation of a fair economy.