agendaNi analyses the EU Action Plan on social economy and social enterprises published by the European Commission Expert Group on Social Entrepreneurship (GECES) and put to Jean-Claude Juncker for incorporation into the European Commission 2017 Work Programme.
It is estimated that the social economy accounts for two million businesses and 14 million jobs across Europe and the emergence of a circular economy has created opportunities for the expansion of social enterprises in Europe. That expansion has enabled a growing ability to address some of the major challenges facing Europe in the form of sustainable and socially-inclusive economic growth and job creation, as well as helping to address more targeted objectives including gender equality, environmental degradation and the refugee crisis.
GECES argue that by providing an environment for the core values of the social economy and social enterprises to flourish such as democratic governance, social impact, innovation and profit reinvestment, will aid the challenges facing Europe and create a “more socially equitable society in Europe”.
This call echoes a personal willingness by Juncker to see the European Union dedicated to being triple-A on social issues as well as the conclusions of the European Council of December 2015, under the Luxembourg presidency, promoting social economy as a key driver of economic and social development in Europe.
The report centres on four key themes and a series of recommendations under each theme:
Towards increased visibility, recognition and identity
The EU Commission, member states and social enterprise organisations are required to gather and better portray data around the added value of social enterprises, encompassing research, the co-creation of an EU-wide communication strategy, sharing of know-how and building better capacity to relay the results of generated social value. A more assertive and co-ordinated social enterprise community will allow for synergies, better EU-level representation and a culture of policy co-creation. Social enterprises should be mainstreamed into the relevant polices, programmes and practices of the EU Commission and member states, as well as their local and regional authorities. This would be aided by increasing eligibility to EU funding programmes, applying social criteria to public procurement processes and inclusion of social enterprise related topics through all education levels and promoting career opportunities.
Improving access to funding
The Commission and member states should increase resources to “training programmes, incubators and intermediaries” to provide capacity building support, improving managerial skills and encouraging financial sustainability. Awareness building among the broader funding community and alleviating regulatory hurdles and mapping of existing tax incentives associated with investment, are listed as recommendations to help unlock further funding channels. Proper governance structures and the de-risking of investment and will aid public funding being used to mobilise private capital.
Improving the legal environment
Creation and development of the social economy and social enterprises will be encouraged through the provision of legal and regulatory frameworks. It is recommended that the Commission propose a soft legal measure to help member states design an adequate framework, Furthermore cross-border operations should be stimulated for mutual organisations and cooperatives to enable full use of the internal market and expand their activities. The report calls for policy-makers to increase awareness of state aid rules and their impact “on social enterprises providing services of general economic interest”.
Driving International development and growth
With the objectives of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals in mind, the Commission/EEAS should, through its next cycle of international development plans, contribute significantly in open source intelligence about the social economy and social enterprises. The report calls for the Commission to take a leading role in global cooperation for enterprise support and, mainstream tailored support in its existing and future policies to help build a supportive ecosystem for social enterprises.