All over the world the social economy is promoted as a necessary condition by international organizations, to deal with poverty, the mobilization of resources, the development of employment, the reduced cost of exchanges for the development of goods and social services emphasizing the real economy and the economy of social care. At the same time, the social economy is considered an important area for the digital and Green transition in the new era.
In Europe, as stated in the Commission’s Social Economy Action Plan, there are approximately 2.8 million social economy actors who offer tangible and innovative solutions to job creation and social services to a number of key challenges facing the modern economy with aimed at building an economy at the service of the people.
Social economy operators contribute to the social and labor inclusion of disadvantaged groups and equal opportunities for all, promote sustainable economic and industrial development, promote the active participation of citizens in our societies, play an important role in Europe’s social welfare systems and revitalize the rural and abandoned areas of Europe.
Parts of the social economy also contribute to the green and digital transition, providing sustainable goods and services and bridging the digital divide.
Thus, social enterprises are the tools to tackle energy poverty, for affordable housing with energy and housing cooperatives. In this way, Europe recognizes the high importance of the social economy sector and has recently issued an action plan for the social economy “Brussels, and Recent developments of the social economy in the European Union Recent developments of the social economy in the European Union – Publications Office of the EU (europa.eu)
Overall, the social economy contributes significantly to the GDP of countries, some of which are more developed, e.g. as in France, which reaches 10 % increasing at the same time, consumer choices and the quality of products/services.
However, the social economy despite its importance in the real economy and the rise in the scale of needs at a global level, is an underestimated political issue of our times, at least in Greece. The parties and the entire representative political system ignore or abhor it apparently because it is not directly connected to the public and market lobbies that dominate as pressure groups towards power.
This is how the paradox is observed, while the EU as a transnational entity promotes the social economy policy, national states and markets hardly give ground for its development and for the action of civil society.
In fact, we have as a presumption the case of Greece, which not only has not developed the policy of the social economy with the necessary resources, but the exact opposite is happening and the state is usurping the resources of the European Social Fund intended for its agencies and directing them for the needs of the public and local governments and this has been happening especially in Greece in the last decade.
And this shows not only an unacceptable political practice in the context of representative democracy, which burdens all parliamentarians who ignore the issue, but also the institutional deficit as well as the importance of the social economy in a period, which is a necessary condition for the development of employment and utilization of inactive human resources and social services.
It is therefore necessary, a brief retrospective on the emergence of the social economy and today’s importance on the complementarity and robustness of economies.
Throughout the wonderful Industrial period of the last two or three centuries, the economic growth and the rise in the standard of living, of course, is due to the politics undoubtedly practiced in terms of the state and the market. Without the concentration of capital it would be impossible to build large infrastructures.
In this period of centralization of power and centralization of capital by the state and the market, leaps are being made. Production increases, employment expands, consumerism in the Western world soars, until the explosion of the third and fourth industrial revolutions where a new turning point is presented with economic crises.
But the new technologies together with the super profits in big business for a number of reasons that will be explained later, bring the withering of labor intensive small business and additional unemployment.
In these conditions politics seems not to advance but to follow these trends of power leaving millions of workers and small owners to perish on the altar of a supreme principle for the system which is the accumulation of capital. In the process, however, overaccumulation of capital from a factor of growth becomes a factor of stagnation.
Next, the technological automation of production does not concern all sectors of the real economy. There are knowledge-intensive and labor-intensive sectors such as the health sector, and social care and care, which require a constant expansion of work as Europe and in particular Greece has an increase in the aging population.
In the shrinking space left by private small businesses, many social enterprises are emerging to fill the gap for income and social services to the poorest, with the advantage of the reduced operating costs they achieve with their non-profit character. Also with an advantage is the social capital of civil society networks and institutions of solidarity, which make social enterprises viable where small private enterprises withdraw.
Obviously, this sector of the social economy cannot cover the economic and political Elites, with various substitutes for charity and the so-called “social corporate responsibility” and therefore the cooperative sector emerges as an alternative.
According to the action plan of the COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS the social economy includes a range of actors with different business and organizational models operating in a variety of economic sectors: agriculture, forestry and fisheries, construction, reuse and repair, waste management, wholesale and retail trade, energy and climate, information and communication, financial and insurance activities, real estate activities, professional, scientific and technical activities, education, human health and social welfare, arts, culture and media.
The subject of social entrepreneurship spans the entire spectrum of the economy despite the fact that Traditionally, the term “social economy” refers to four main types of entities that provide goods and services to their members or to society in general: cooperatives, mutual insurance companies, associations ( including charities) and foundations.
The action plan refers to the fact of limited funding in the social economy sector and foresees the strengthening of institutions in the field of mutual insurance funds, cooperative and ethical banks, local social partnerships in financing programs directly from the EU. while also looking forward to positive interactions with small and medium enterprises.
Among the objectives of the action plan is the promotion of the social economy at an international level. Climate change and environmental degradation, demographic changes and economic and social inequalities are global challenges. The EU and third countries have set common targets, which are incorporated into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The social economy can contribute to these goals both inside and outside the EU.
The IOC has issued an information guide on Recommendation no. 193 of the ILO on the “Promotion of Cooperatives” and will dedicate the 2022 edition of the International Labor Conference (ILC) to the “Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) for a People-Centred Future of Work”. 48 See, for example: https://www.leagueofintrapreneurs.com/ .
The Commission will build on these initiatives and further promote the social economy on the international stage.
In particular, the Commission will: – promote the targeting of the social economy and social entrepreneurship in the programs of the Mechanism for Pre-Accession Assistance and the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Mechanism, for example through cooperation with EU delegations and public authorities in third countries;
In the context of an aging workforce and increasing brain drain, intergenerational knowledge transfer and senior entrepreneurship can play an important role. Social economy business models can influence and create spin-offs in conventional businesses. More and more conventional businesses are getting closer to achieving the goals of the social economy.
Within the social economy, new digital business models are emerging, for example in the collaborative economy and the platform economy.
The European Cooperative Platform will create a new single portal for the EU’s social economy in 2023, with the aim of providing a clear point and raising awareness of EU actions in this area. The portal will also facilitate access to relevant capacity building initiatives and provide specific guidance on EU funding opportunities (training, workshops, webinars, practical guides and tools).
The Commission will: – set up a new Youth Entrepreneurship Policy Academy in 2022 under the ESF+. It will promote youth entrepreneurship, including for women and social entrepreneurs, through cooperation with national policy makers and youth entrepreneurship networks; 53 https://www.fi-compass.eu/ 54 https://betterincubation.eu / 55 OECD.
Other EU programs will offer specific or indirect support to the social economy; these include, for example, the Employment and Social Innovation strand of the European Social Fund+, the Horizon Europe programme, the Single Market programme, the Erasmus+, the “Creative Europe” program and the LIFE program.
At the national level, funding from the EU is foreseen. The goal is to maximize the contribution of the social economy to the green and digital transition The European Union aspires to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, leaving no one behind. It is a comprehensive package of measures aimed at facilitating social enterprises’ access to finance launched under the EaSI program during the period 2014-2020.
Promoted in parallel, platform cooperatives are an example of participatory enterprises that use digital platforms to facilitate citizen participation and the sale of locally produced goods and services, with the aim of achieving better working conditions for their members.
More generally, digital technologies can act as a lever, facilitating the replication and scaling up of successful social economy initiatives in the various EU Member States. As the social economy has strong local roots, public authorities, civil society, stakeholders of the social economy and conventional businesses have scope to develop local green deals and pool resources for investment and innovation at local and regional level to ensure a fair transition with local benefits.
The Commission will: – boost social innovation through a new approach to transnational cooperation under the ESF+. A new “European Competence Center for Social Innovation” will be established in 2022.
It will organize mutual learning and capacity building for competent authorities and supporting structures. It will also create a new grant system to facilitate the transfer and/or scale-up of social innovation; – propose a European Catalyst Fund for Social Innovation in 2022
The Commission also encourages the organization of regular social economy summits by Member States and other bodies
The Commission will highlight the potential of the social economy to create jobs and promote social cohesion in the framework of the European Semester process and Member States’ implementation of the employment guidelines. The action plan has been developed in collaboration with social economy stakeholders and its implementation will require their commitment and cooperation equally at all levels — EU, national, regional and local, as well as international.
Creation of a new single portal for the EU social economy to provide a clear point of contact for social economy stakeholders, other relevant actors and individuals seeking information on relevant EU funding, policies and initiatives. see section 4.1) 2023.
Establish a new Youth Entrepreneurship Policy Academy, which will promote youth entrepreneurship, including for women and social entrepreneurs, through collaboration with national policy makers and youth entrepreneurship networks.
The Commission will also work closely with other EU institutions and bodies, in particular the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, as well as the European Investment Bank Group.
Taking into account the guidelines of the European action plan for the social economy, we see once again the distance that separates the policy of the social economy from the Greek reality.
While from time to time the Greek governments co-sign European policies, in practice they implement almost nothing of these policies. This negative situation is also reflected in the annual budget where the social economy in Greece is about 2% while Public investments for this purpose do not exceed 2% of 1000%.
This situation and imbalance seems to concern me neither the parliament nor the parties. Not even politics from below, of civil society, can change the facts when it is not reflected in the central political institutions, in order to strengthen and to further develop the social economy.
Here we must point out that the state as an institution does not only manage public finances and public investments but the entire spectrum of the economy.
The state, having a monopoly on tax revenues, also has the exclusivity in boosting investments and in the private economy through the respective development law, but also how it utilizes public property.
The exclusion of the social economy from this governance planning condemns it to underdevelopment.
Perhaps ecology and social activism for the environment escapes from this State Policy Framework, which is now a political force to be reckoned with, not of course in Greece but in the context of Europe.
The social economy, even though it is based in a tradition of cooperatives and the non-profit economy and boosts income and social services to the economically weak and tackles poverty, is not a field of equal policy for the dominant system.
The whole of political history, after all, ignores its importance, and professional politicians, with few exceptions, do not refer to it.
This of course has the consequence that,, the management of investment resources by the state excludes from planning the financing and planning of the development of the social economy
Even in the cases where the European Union provides a part of the European social fund financing to social enterprises, some national governments such as the Greek Governments seize the resources for other purposes or to make social policy directly by the state and even the local government always with higher management costs.
The same is the case with work support policies that benefit the public and private sectors of the economy, while in most cases social enterprises are excluded.
In essence, the Governments do not trust the social economy and entrepreneurship agencies and this as they succumb to the pressures of the organized interests of the public sector as they consider that all available resources for social policy are the prerogative of the State.
In the public consultation, the issue of efficiency in resource management has not been raised, where social economy agencies are proven to be twice as efficient as they incorporate volunteering and social capital.
Faced with this situation, the question arises as to whether the problem is the lack of policy for the social economy or simply Social pressure on the part of social entrepreneurship in order to calculate this sector politically.
Based on the experience of the last 20 years at least, we can claim that this problem has both sides, on the one hand, there is no corresponding policy in the parties and in the parliament, and on the other hand, the agencies are so uncoordinated and weak that they cannot effectively push the policy of representation to highlight the issue. This institutional deficit makes it urgent and necessary to introduce the social economy into the political foreground as a third pole of economic development.