By Jason Nardi, Ripess Europe

On 9 December 2021, the European Commission adopted a new action plan on the social economy, along with other very important measures that are intended to place social economy at the center of a new model of “social and productive Europe” for the next decade. The social economy – as defined by the EU institutions – includes almost three million organizations employing 13.6 million people – articulated in very different forms, such as cooperatives, social enterprises, foundations, associations, benefit societies, social enterprises united by some distinctive elements: the prevalence of social purpose and utility over profit, the reinvestment of profits or part of them in activities of collective or general interest and open and participatory governance systems.  They span a diverse and very wide range of economic sectors and it is time we have a common recognition across the whole European continent.

But is the plan really promoting and supporting a Social Solidarity Economy with a strong transformative potential to change the Market and Growth led economy into something different or is it just some form collateral support to a third sector, to social or more responsible businesses, with some social and green colouring?

The Commission proposes to act in three areas: Creating the right conditions for the social economy to thrive, Opening opportunities for social economy organisations to start up and scale up and Making sure the social economy and its potential are recognised.

The Social Economy Action Plan could trace a significant political turn in terms of new forms of taxation, facilitated paths in the state aid system, financial support, innovative procurement and public purchasing schemes (though not as ambitious and supportive as we had hoped), homogenization of company models and the legislative framework among member states.

But the potential political implications of the initiative can be grasped above all by putting together the entire set of initiatives that the Commission has been taking in recent months, from the  recognition of the SSE and “Proximity Economy” among the fourteen industrial clusters on which the “industrial renaissance” rests and the consequent release of the “Transition Pathway, to help the green and digital transitions of the social economy in dialogue with public authorities and interested parties.The Commission seeks public views on the transition pathway through an EU survey open until 28 February 2022”.

In addition, the Directive on platform (gig economy) workers approved recently, the initiative on Social Innovation Clusters and especially the Data Governance Act with which, among many other things, the Commission introduces the principle of data altruism and establishes data cooperatives, recognizing the importance of social principles and organizations in the good and proper management of data as a commons.

While we still need to analyse more in depth all of these elements, starting from the Social Economy Action Plan itself… we can certainly say that the fact that the European Commission has put together a whole set of elements for a strategy to promote the Social Economy (though we would prefer the use of the now internationalised Social Solidarity Economy – extensively used by the United Nations and many other international institutions) – is a big step forward. The ambition to mainstream SSE principles to the whole economy though should remain central and should look at the EU’s external action as well – including how the EU trade and economic diplomacy could change in the same direction – starting with the Competition rules and new Common Agriculture Policy, which – with few exceptions –  go in an opposite direction.  And in many cases, the translation of the Next Generation Europe into the National Recovery and Resilience Plans is business as usual.  If there is something the Covid-19 crisis (and the climate and financial ones as well…) should teach us is that we can no longer continue in the same way, the time is up.

The next important appointment is the Social Economy, Future of Europe conference in Strasbourg (17-18 February 2022), organised by the EC under the EU French Presidency.  It is important that we have our voices heard and participate (online and in presence) in many bringing the experience and expectations of the SSE movement.