The Various Interests Group of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) organized a high-level conference on "Boosting Innovation for a Better Social Outcome" on 23 October in Milan, which was attended by over 450 participants. Speakers included Giuliano Poletti, Italian Minister of Labour and Social Policies, and the event produced a set of concrete recommendations for EU policies – the Milan Declaration – which calls for more innovation in Europe's welfare systems and for a strengthened social dimension in the EU.
"Europe's welfare systems must find the courage for radical change"
This was the bottom line which all experts and politicians agreed on. Welfare systems have three main functions: to provide social investment, social protection and to stabilise the economy. However, there has been a shortfall since the crisis, which needs to be compensated. "Bare figures, such as the increasing number of pensioners, the rising cost of health care, high unemployment rates, or increasing child and youth poverty rates force us to act now", said Luca Jahier, President of the Various Interests Group. "The State cannot solve these problems alone; we must involve a greater number of stakeholders."
The conference placed a special focus on social innovation as a tool for exploring new and innovative ways of organizing, financing and delivering benefits and services in various sectorial, regional and national contexts. Social innovation is also the cornerstone of "Secondo" welfare, an Italian concept that involves a variety of social and economic players providing complementary welfare services and additional non-public resources through social investment and social innovation. It has been developed in Italy and in other EU countries over the last decade.
The Milan Declaration
The meeting ended with the presentation of the Milan Declaration on "The EU's Policy on Social Innovation" drafted with the support of a high level Advisory Group to help to strengthen the social dimension in the European Union. The main recommendations include:
- Supporting an approach based on social investment, by embedding social innovation in social policy, recognising social investment as a multiplier of growth and implementing the Social Investment Package; Stimulating the development of public policy, by researching social innovation and social policy innovation and establishing a high-level working group for social innovation and social policy innovation;
- Promoting the emergence of partnerships by supporting the relevant civil society actors and developing an appropriate environment ('ecosystem') to unleash the full potential of social economy enterprises and to reinforce the role of local communities;
- Measuring social impact by reviewing the progress of social policies, including social indicators in national progress reports, and facilitating the exchange of best practices;
- Including social innovation and social investment policy in the review of the Europe 2020 Strategy, to be supported by a dedicated flagship.
The final version of this document will be submitted to the Italian Presidency and forwarded to the European institutions. "Whatever the way forward, the possibility is already there for this systemic change and it is growing everywhere. It is up to us to empower citizens and local communities for a more inclusive Europe, a Europe which cares,” concluded Luca Jahier.