European Parliament Intergroup on Social Economy
By Leslie Huckfield Research
On Wednesday 22 April 2015, Senscot, DTA Scotland, Social Firms Scotland and the Scottish Com-munity Alliance asked Leslie Huckfield to visit the European Parliament in Brussels to explore fur-ther the possibilities of affiliating to an EU third sector policy group called Social Economy Europe. The following is his summary of the Parliamentary InterGroup on Social Economy, which was organ-ised in conjunction with Social Economy Europe.
Miguel Angel Cabra de Luna (Spanish MEP), President of the Social Economy Category of the Eco-nomic and Social Committee (EESC), opening the meeting, explained that the InterGroup was cre-ated in 1990 for regular dialogue between external organisations and MEPs. 80 MEPs had joined the InterGroup, which reflected its significance in the Parliament.
Marie-Christine Vergiat MEP (French MEP), Co-President of the Social Economy Intergroup, ex-plained that the Parliament sought a new Social Business Initiative, but was still waiting for this to be launched. Clarification was needed on the meanings of social impact, the social economy and social business. She hoped the Luxembourg Presidency would be more active on all this.
(Representative for) Jakub Cebula, from Cabinet of Commissioner Bienkowska, who holds EC Growth Portfolio, with responsibility for the Social Economy, explained that key actions of the previous Social Business Initiative were completed. There was specific mention of social enterprise in Structural Funds Programmes with ESF and ERDF earmarked for social enterprise. There was to be a Social Innovation competition in Poland. The Commission would attend the Social Enterprise World Forum in Milan. Promoting social impact investment was high on the agenda. On a coops and mutuals EU statute, Commissioner Barnier had tried hard, but had made little progress in convinc-ing other institutions.
Nadine Muller, Senior Official from Ministry of Labour and Social and Solidarity Economy of Lux-embourg, said that the Ministry was organising a conference in Luxembourg in December 2015 on financing the social economy and was collaborating with the Commission on this.
Ariane Rodert (Swedish Social Democrat), Vice-President of Group III of the EESC and President of the EESC’s Social Entrepreneurship Project, explained that after the Strasbourg Declaration her Committee was working at local level until its mandate expired in September 2015. There should be greater recognition that different economic systems needed their own support and that the so-cial economy needed its needs own support system. There should be a dedicated unit in the Commission, looking more at social issues rather than markets. The unit should ensure that Struc-tural Funds and the EU procurement process was being handled properly. The social enterprise model deserved its own space in Europe. She concluded that opinions on impact measurement and social investment were varied.
Alain Coheur, (Belgian) President of Social Economy Europe, said that there was a need to explore various forms of social enterprise. Social Economy Europe would shortly publish a detailed position paper.
Paula Mason, Senior Adviser on Social Enterprise, British Council, said that the “terminology of so-cial enterprise holds us back” and that there were different concepts in different countries. Each country had different dominant models. Social enterprises were businesses with a variety of mod-els and forms.
She continued that enterprises could not operate at a loss and the profit motive drove these or-ganisations. She gave a detailed description of British Council’s work around the world. Though she gave project examples from Thailand, Kenya and elsewhere, there was little mention of the struc-tures or values of organisations she described.
Rebekah Smith, Senior Adviser on Social Affairs, Business Europe, explained that her organisation represented business organisations across the EU and sought to ensure that the creation of jobs and economic growth were top of agenda. She saw the social economy as a stepping stone to the labour market – to enable those with disabilities and without skills to get jobs to move to the main-stream economy. The social economy was a complementary element to a capitalist economy. Though there was a complementary role to be played by the social economy, the main aim of busi-ness was to make profits.
Marthe Nyssens, University of Louvain, Belgium and Founding Member of the European Research Network (EMES), a distinguished social economy academic, described the background to the for-mation of the Network. She emphasised that there were a range of social economy structures which were different and which we should seek to understand before drawing conclusions. She concluded that social impact measurement and returns on social investment were difficult con-cepts.
Sven Giegold (a Swedish MEP), Co-President of the EP’s Social Economy Intergroup, gave a sum-mary of contributions which had been made and felt sure that the InterGroup would take note of these in future.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Leslie Huckfield said that colleagues had expressed their disap-pointment that no contributions were allowed from the floor.
After the meeting, several colleagues felt that though the contributions of Ariane Rodert and Marthe Nyssens showed a deeper appreciation of the social economy, the time they were permit-ted was dwarfed by the extended contributions from given by Business Europe and the British Council.
Other colleagues’ comments reflected that the activities of the British Council, especially in new EU Member States and in South East Asia, were becoming increasingly resented. They complained that the British Council’s role seemed to be promoting consultancy work in devising legal forms, business models and impact measurement for UK accountancy firms and Social investment Busi-ness, rather than the encouraging the concept of social enterprise.