Debate: Social Economy, the Future of Europe

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I am delighted to speak today about the social economy contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe.

I would like to thank the European Parliament and especially the Spinelli Group and the Social Economy Intergroup for co-hosting this key debate together with the European Economic and Social Committee. We are also very appreciative of the support of the French Presidency of the Council and our other institutional partners, such as the European Commission.

I would also like to thank the city of Strasbourg for its unwavering commitment to the social economy. This series of events on the social economy, which have been – and will be – taking place in the upcoming months, are a perfect example of fruitful interinstitutional cooperation. When we unite and work together, we achieve tangible results.

When talking about unity I think of the Ukrainian people and of the aggression that is taking place at the EU's doorstep. Russia's aggression against Ukraine brings, above all, the human suffering of the Ukrainian people. We need to stand united and turn our solidarity with the people in Ukraine into concrete action. The EESC is strongly committed to supporting EU action in favour of Ukraine and its civil society.

The social economy in Europe and beyond has already demonstrated its values of solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I am convinced that this will continue, especially with the war in Ukraine threatening the world's economic recovery. While Europe's industry was on the path to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we now face the impact of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. The expected higher global energy prices will affect countries, businesses, and individual people. This is just one of many reasons to step up our efforts in the social economy and build a sustainable, innovative and inclusive future for Europe, for the benefit of our businesses and our people.

As President of the European Economic and Social Committee, I am proud to say that the institution I represent is at the forefront of the promotion of the social economy.

We have been committed to this priority for many years and our members have a direct link with the representatives of this sector, and are often themselves key players in the social economy.

Social economy organisations and their economic value are significant, both in terms of size - 8% of the European GDP - and in terms of the quality and persistence of this value .

Additionally, the social economy has an important role in creating and maintaining employment, providing more than 13.6 million paid jobs in Europe. It is a major driver of innovative and economic growth in Europe that is socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

The social economy is here to remind us that after the Covid-19 crisis, we will not be able to conduct business as usual. Our common goal is to build a competitive and resilient economy, leaving no one behind.

Social economy enterprises offer many tools to rebuild a more sustainable and fairer economy, particularly in terms of governance, transparency and innovation.

The green and digital transitions should be at the heart of the EU's recovery strategy. The EESC has been a long-standing advocate of both digitalisation and sustainability.

These major transitions will bring many opportunities but also a certain number of challenges. The social economy is a strategic ally in tackling those challenges.

Breaking silos would enable social economy enterprises to play a more prominent role in the green and digital transitions.

We welcomed the adoption of the very first European action plan on the social economy last December. We have called for this plan for many years, and are ready to play an active role in its implementation.

The EESC also welcomes the decision to align the Social Economy Action Plan with both the European Pillar of Social Rights and the new European industrial strategy. This has enabled the innovative step of targeting a specific "ecosystem" of the social economy.

The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is an incredible opportunity offered not only to EU citizens but also to our institutions, giving all the ability to drive change.

The EESC, as an active partner of the Conference on the Future of Europe, has participated in all the working groups and made valuable contributions, also through the platform.

When it comes to the social economy, we have proposed concrete recommendations in the Working Group on a Stronger Economy and the Working Group on Health.

We have called, for example, for strengthening support for social economy enterprises. Social economy activities should be specifically supported by European funds and, in particular, become a separate, specific objective for European Social Fund Plus support.

In the Working Group on Health, we have proposed that when the role of the social economy in creating and maintaining employment involves disadvantaged workers and disadvantaged areas, appropriate support policies be put forward to give proper recognition to the general-interest role of these organisations.

But more needs to be done. The social economy needs to be reflected across the CoFoE individual work streams – with concrete outcomes. Together we can raise the visibility of this crucial topic!

We need to make sure that EU institutions, Member States, our businesses and all citizens understand the importance of the social economy both for the recovery but also for shaping the future of the EU's economy.

2021 and 2022 have been crucial years for the social economy. It is essential to maintain this political momentum we are witnessing in which all the European institutions are committed to supporting and thus strengthening the social economy and increasing its visibility.

We must continue to reflect on the social economy. Together, we must reinforce synergies and work together in order to achieve tangible results.

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Social Economy, the Future of Europe