The Portuguese Presidency took on the task of promoting the European Pillar of Social Rights (PEDS) and thus the action plan for the social economy. This was a proposal by the European Social Economy at the request of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Social Economy and social economy organizations. The Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights states: “Adopt an action plan for the social economy in the fourth quarter of 2021 and examine the potential of the social economy to create quality jobs and contribute to fair, sustainable growth and inclusion.” The elaboration of this plan is currently being publicly consulted.
PEDS, proposed by Jean-Claude Junker and perceived as the return of the social dimension to Europe, shows continuities in terms of trends before the crisis began in 2008. educated and available populations to work by investing in education, health and social services, equal opportunities and the fight against poverty. It also includes a greater emphasis on promoting quality jobs. However, the PEDS action plan under Ursula von der Leyen’s commission shows differences in context and priorities. The European agenda is now shaped by environmental and health emergencies, as well as the priority the Commission is placing on the ecological and digital transition. This context will bring changes in the way social policies are thought and implemented, as well as challenges related to the articulation between social protection and ecological transition.
How can one reflect on the place of the social economy in this new context? First, it is noteworthy that through its inclusion in the PEDS, the social economy has returned to its relationship with the state’s role in well-being. This confirms the traditional partnership between the state and the social economy in many European countries, including Portugal. On the other hand, the presence of the legacy of the past few years is undeniable, when the social economy was largely conceived in terms of the market economy. If the concerns expressed in several recent documents, including the Social Economy Europe proposals and the European Commission’s Roadmap, reflect what the social economy has long claimed – legal recognition and statistical, adequate funding, favorable tax environment – also include new concepts and concerns such as impact measurement and impact investment, growth and replication of organizations and their innovations, social entrepreneurship and youth employment, or the relationship of social economy enterprises to public procurement.
The documents more or less recognize the importance of the social economy to society: its contribution to employment, its presence in social services, health, education and housing, its contribution to social inclusion and development at local level, its role in mobilizing civic participation and, more recently, its role in the fight against climate change. As always in times of crisis, it is undeniable that in recent years a multitude of innovations have emerged from the mobilization of citizens and the social economy, both in the field of well-being and in the field of the environment and local sustainability as well as in the communities themselves. Economic forms such as the solidarity economy.
The point, however, is that the social economy, if not explicitly formulated, reveals the incompatibility between a profit-driven logic of economic growth and the continued expansion of the market to multiple areas of society and life and responding to the challenges that societies face are currently facing.
Social economy organizations are organizations of people and not of capital, which is evident in their social mission, in the democratic rules of decision-making and in the fact that they have their origin and development in the mobilization of people in search of people solutions to problems and social Aspirations. Especially in times of crisis, the social economy experiences and implements innovations with the potential for systemic transformations that have contributed to the progress of societies at various historical points in time. This happened with the establishment of the welfare state and its significant advances in the 1960s. This is happening now that we are facing several crises.
As in other historical moments, it is necessary to play a defining role for the social economy not only as an element of a project for a fairer and more sustainable Europe, but also as an essential partner in building this project, starting with PEDS itself. For this we have to start from the social economy to think about society, economy and politics. While I am not underestimating the various contributions made under the Action Plan for the Social Economy, I am testing three examples of proposals aimed at profound institutional change.
The first concerns the recognition of the social economy. It is not enough to insist on building tools to measure the impact of social economy organizations. Existing accounting tools, from national accounts to corporate accounts, need to be revised to improve the specificity of social economy organizations, including improving their own internal diversity.
The second concerns funding. It is not enough to discuss access to new forms of finance such as impact finance or the participation of the profit sector in the financing of social projects. Companies in the social economy must have access to the market on an equal footing with profitable companies without having to lose their specificity.
The third concerns public procurement. It is not enough to improve social economy enterprises’ access to public procurement. It must be recognized that the government procurement rules that flow from a competitive model are not always too proportionate to the complexity of the economic logic of social economy organizations and the relationships with their partners, namely local power, and are very innovative in nature and the uniqueness of its products and services.
These three proposals indicate major changes in tax, accounting or competition laws, but are an example of the contribution that the social economy can make to shaping a more pluralistic economy and which is able to respond to current needs. .