President Oliver Röpke Speech at "European Conference on Social Economy: People, Planet, Action"

  • Firstly, I want to say that I am delighted to be here today to discuss a topic that is close to my heart.  I would like thank  the Spanish Ministry of Labour and Social Economy, as well as the city of San Sebastián, for warmly welcoming us and for making sure that the topic of social economy stays high on the EU’s agenda.
  • I am proud to say that the European Economic and Social Committee has been leading the way when it comes to the promotion of the social economy. It is also a topic that features strongly in my own political manifesto.
  • Over the past years we have seen that the global landscape is unstable and constantly changing. Global pandemic, war of aggression in Ukraine, energy crisis, economic recovery -  "business as usual" simply doesn’t work anymore. The world has changed and we need to adapt too.
  • Europe needs an economy that is competitive and resilient , and which leaves no one behind. This is our goal.
  • The social economy has already shown its added value  during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is even more evident in the so-called permacrisis we are experiencing.
  • We should draw lessons from this experience and apply this principle of “leave nobody behind” in other areas too, such as the twin transitions.
  • I believe, that the green and digital transitions can and should be at the heart of the EU's recovery strategy. And the EESC has been a long-standing advocate of both digitalisation and sustainability with a human-centric approach.
  • These major transitions will bring many opportunities but also a certain number of challenges. The social economy is a strategic ally in tackling and overcoming those challenges.
  • To make the social economy work, we need to link it to the transformation and the rebuilding of our economies.
  • But we need to work at all levels. We also need companies that follow and implement this “people-first” approach.  In the EESC we support inclusive and responsible financing social entrepreneurs and cooperatives in order to generate a positive impact.
  • Social Economy delivers decent work, including through participatory corporate governance systems with employees participation. This makes the Social Economy a key tool to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights.
  • Workers' buyouts are a another element of social economy promoted by the EESC: cooperatives formed by employees who take over companies that are in crisis.
  • Workers must be able to count on suitable funding mechanisms to carry out successful buyouts. We must support better funding mechanisms if we wish to promote social economy in Europe!
  • Inclusivity is at the heart of social economy: It is effective in tackling gender based discrimination and discrimination against persons with disabilities and vulnerable groups.
  •  I am proud to say that the EESC is the first EU body to involve EU candidate countries in its work, facilitating their progressive, concrete integration in the EU.
  • In the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the EESC called for strengthening support for social economy enterprises. Social economy activities should be specifically supported by European funds.
  • We support social economy enterprises also through skills – after all, 2023 is the European Year of Skills. It is essential to foster a resilient, skilled workforce through training and skill-building activities.
  • But we need even more! We should be talking of a decade of skills, putting workers first and helping to promote a more inclusive social economy.
  • We must include social economy in education and training programmes at all levels. For example, the EESC has proposed to consider the establishment of a European Erasmus scheme for the social economy to encourage collective entrepreneurship among young people.
  • Let me share some closing reflections. In the past two years, we have witnessed a real momentum for social economy:
  • we welcomed the adoption of the very first European action plan on the social economy in 2021. We have called for this plan for many years, and are ready to play an active role in its implementation;
  • we also welcomed the Council Recommendation to the Member States to support national social economy ecosystems.
  • But we need to continue to move forward: One of the most pressing issues for citizens now is the cost of living crisis.  Apart from high energy prices and rising food prices housing is the most pressing issue.
  •  More than 40 million citizens pay more than 40% of household income for housing. This is unhealthy and unsustainable and puts Europe's credibility at risk ahead of the EU elections.
  • Therefore I welcome very much that the Council Recommendation on developing social economy framework conditions acknowledges the role of social economy in providing affordable high quality housing. Europe has to redouble its efforts.
  • It is essential to maintain this focus on social economy, but more needs to be done.
  • Social economy is very diverse and looks quite differently here in Spain than it does for example in Austria where I am from. It is important that we continue to support the social economy in all its  diversity.
  • We also need to make sure that EU institutions, Member States, our businesses and citizens fully grasp the importance of the social economy both for the recovery and for shaping the future of the EU's economy. For that   we need to work in true partnership – together. So thank you very much for this debate and I look forward to hearing other discussions we will have today and tomorrow.   
  • I can assure you that the EESC will remain a strong ally and advocator for the social economy.

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President Oliver Röpke Speech at "European Conference on Social Economy: People, Planet, Action"

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