I am delighted to participate in the 3rd Mediterranean Social Economy Forum.
I am president of the European Economic and Social Committee and we represent the voice of organised civil society in Europe. That includes employers, trade unions and other civil society organisations.
Working towards the economic recovery of Europe and the Mediterranean region is key priority for us. We need to ensure that the recovery increases the competitiveness of our businesses while being sustainable, inclusive and fair for all citizens,
Todays' topic of discussion addresses all of it since we strongly believe that the social economy is an important way to implement these priorities.
Today, the social economy comprises 3.2 million enterprises and organisations and it employs more than 15 million people in Europe and in the Mediterranean region. I would like to highlight 3 main strengths stemming from the core values of the social economy.
First, the social economy has always generated and maintained quality jobs, especially through collective entrepreneurship and the reinforcement of the industrial fabric throughout the Mediterranean region.
Second, the social economy is also guaranteeing economic and social inclusion. A significant factor for social inclusion into society is notably the participation in the labour market, which is a central objective of the social economy.
Third, during the Covid-crisis, social economy enterprises have proven their resilience and great adaptability. They were among the first to produce face masks in order to respond to local needs. The social economy also demonstrated its values of solidarity by caring for those most in need and ensuring access to basic social products and services in Europe and in the Mediterranean region.
To conclude, we strongly believe that the social economy has the capacities to meet the challenges of economic and social inclusion, to support our economies in the digital and green transitions, to provide decent jobs and new approaches to a sustainable wealth generation.
The efforts towards recovery should not lead us to simply restore what existed in the past but increase our resilience for the future. Now is the time to focus on how best to support our businesses and particular our SMEs in reaping the benefits of the ongoing digital and green transitions. Our common goal is to build a competitive and resilient economy, leaving nobody behind!
Climate change is more than an environmental crisis. It is also a social crisis. We have to address issues of inequality on many levels: between wealthy and poor countries, between men and women, and between generations. Social economy plays an essential role in the fight against climate change and the digital transition.
Social economy's enterprises and organisations can support the digital upskilling and reskilling of their employees – thereby shaping a new work mindset building on their high value on solidarity and mutualism.
All of that demonstrate that, in Europe and in the Mediterranean regions, economic efficiency, digital transition of our societies, and social and environmental commitment are not only compatible, but can go hand in hand.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me now underline several aspects that are important in order to specifically strengthen the social economy in the Mediterranean regions.
First, it is of utmost importance to improve the regulatory framework and to reduce administrative burden throughout the Euro-Mediterranean region. The lack of an adequate regulatory framework has notably led to a very large informal sector without a level playing field for micro-, small- and medium sized companies.
Second, the digital transition and the necessary digital infrastructure are key for social economy enterprises to be successful. Connectivity has improved throughout the region. But significant digital gaps persist between countries and between urban and rural areas.
Third, more coordination among the statistical agencies active in the Euro-Mediterranean region can increase the availability of statistical information. Accurate and consistent data on social economy actors could improve the design of strategies and initiatives to foster the sector throughout the region.
Forth, I am delighted that several Euro-Mediterranean initiatives are already in place to foster the development of social economy entrepreneurship.
Let me start with the structured dialogue and systemic engagement of the Union for the Mediterranean with key social economy actors. The Union for the Mediterranean also contributes to the improvement of digital competences within the social economy to unlock its full potential.
Another important initiative is the Euro-Mediterranean Network of Social Economy, one of the co-organizers of the Mediterranean Social Economy Forum. Since its creation in 2000, ESMED has been a very efficient platform for dialogue between social economy entrepreneurs on the Northern and Southern shore of the Mediterranean. We have recognized this network as main interlocutor for the social economy in the region.
Finally, let me mention the Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood . It will mainstream support for the social economy through regional and bilateral programmes. This support includes finance initiatives targeted at micro, small and medium enterprises of the social economy sector.
From our side, the EESC will continue to actively support the social economy sector in Europe and in the Mediterranean regions. Concretely, we promote the development of the most appropriate financial ecosystem, and strategic investments in innovative and sustainable social economy projects.
For years we called for an action plan on the social economy that is now expected to be adopted by the European Commission in December this year. It will be a key tool to systematically incorporate the social economy into the different socio-economic policies of the EU.
This action plan aims at improving social economy access to public and private finance, scaling-up social economy enterprises and organisations, facilitating social innovation, and supporting Member States, local authorities and operators in building enabling eco-systems,
But things do not stop with the action plan. We need to see how this action plan will be implemented and to push the progress further. That is why we will co-organise the event "Social economy, the future of Europe" together with the French Presidency of the European Union, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions. The event will take place in Strasbourg on 17 and 18 February 2022. I invite you all to save the date in your calendar.
Allow me to finish my speech by addressing the support the EU is providing to social economy outside its borders. This support is crucial and it has to be developed further. The EU already allocates direct and indirect funding to social economy enterprises in third countries and cooperates with the ILO on joint projects in the field of social economy.
The European Union also supports the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the G20 Inclusive Business Platform and the G7 Global Social Impact Investment Steering Group to raise the profile of social economy and secure its place on the global political agenda.
However, we need to further strengthen the role of social economy in the EU's external policy. Social economy should become a fixed component of all EU trade agreements, of development cooperation programmes and of accession negotiations with EU candidate countries. The reflexion around the Social Economy must go on, we need to reinforce synergies, to work together and to keep the momentum going.
Thank you for your attention.