On 4 December 2015, Nicolas Schmit, Minister for Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy, presented the Luxembourg Declaration on the Social and Solidarity Economy in Europe, adopted by Luxembourg, France, Italy, Spain, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia at the "Boosting Social Enterprises in Europe" conference.
The social economy has a "powerful leverage" for job creation and for social innovation and is gaining increasing recognition at European and international level, according to the text. A variety of projects and initiatives presented during the Luxembourg Presidency demonstrate that there are projects that can be economically viable and based on strong social values such as citizen empowerment, as stated in the Declaration. The representatives of the six Member-States stressed that the social economy is a "model that has weathered the economic crisis better than many others".
In the Declaration, the group calls for stepping up support for social economy enterprises and giving particular importance to "developing an adequate financial ecosystem". The group criticised the fact that the internal market remains far from being an "tangible reality" for the majority of social economy enterprises. They took the view that the social economy should take greater advantage of the size of the internal market and appealed for the social economy to be included in the modernisation of the Single Market Strategy.
"We would like the social economy to secure its place within the European economy"
"The discussions have shown that there is significant room for improvement in the field of social innovation and that there is a strong will to achieve that", said the Minister for Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy, Nicolas Schmit, in his concluding remarks at the conference on "Boosting Social Enterprises in Europe" organised as part of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU. "This conference has been a good opportunity to exchange best practices", he remarked, emphasising the need to promote the social economy sector which, in some European countries, represents 10 % of employment.
Commenting on the adoption of the Luxembourg Declaration he said that the social economy is already an important part of the European economy, but that at times it has been "under-valued". "We would like to change mindsets and press for the social economy to secure its place within the European economy", he said.
Nicolas Schmit called on the Commission to make a stronger commitment to promoting the social economy
Nicolas Schmit stressed the need to make the social economy "an important part" of EU social policy. "We invite the Commission to further include the idea of social innovation and social investments linked to the social economy in the context of the review of 2020 Strategy", with a view to tackling important challenges such as inequality and poverty in the EU", the Minister said.
"We have all just emerged from a serious economic crisis, that has destroyed jobs and created problems in our society such as unemployment and poverty", said the Minister at the press conference that followed the conference, stressing that the social economy can "provide answers to these problems", even if they don't provide the "answer to all the problems". In this context, he called for the social economy to be "greater recognised" in order to achieve the objectives of 2020 Strategy.
Nicolas Schmit said that he had sent a letter to the Commission which distilled what had been discussed at the conference on the social economy and what is written into the Declaration of Luxembourg. He expressed regret that the Junker Commission had "somewhat neglected" the Social and Solidarity Economy, whereas the previous Commission had supported the launch of several major initiatives in this field.
The future conclusions of the EPSCO Council on the promotion of the economy
The Minister then mentioned conclusions regarding the promotion of the social economy as an essential driver for economic and social development in Europe, which should be adopted by the EPSCO Council on 7 December 2015. "It's the first time that there will be Council conclusions on the promotion of the social economy", which he welcomed, calling it an "important policy step". In his view, they represent "a political message" as well as "a policy programme". "They are addressed to Member-States, and clearly invite the European Commission to take more concrete and active measures in the promotion and development of the social economy".
An informal group consisting of countries who consider the social economy as a top priority
"But we have also to ensure that these conclusions are implemented", the Minister stressed. He announced his intention to set up "a kind of informal group" consisting of countries that consider the social economy as a top priority (i.e., the signatories of the Declaration of Luxembourg, *Editor's note). "We want to ensure our ideas will lead to results in the months and years to come… which are summarised in the Declaration of Luxembourg", he again said, noting that’ "it is not a declaration against anyone". Nicolas Schmit expressed "the strong desire" in many countries to make the social economy "an important pillar" of European economic development.
Martine Pinville, the French Secretary of State for Trade, Craftsmanship and the Social and Solidarity Economy, described the declaration as a "building block" "which will ultimately lead to a shared European vision". She took the view that social economy enterprises were more resilient and more democratic models, that they drive sustainable, local employment and social added value. Calling for a more integrated European approach on the subject, she believed that "we can no longer content ourselves with merely sharing best practices", as "European stakeholders expect more".
Martine Pinville called on policy makers to "up their game" and take a "pragmatic approach" so that the social economy will become a "credible option" and thereby convince the European Commission to include the social economy in its work objectives for 2016 and beyond. The group of six Member-States could initiate joint projects that will permit these enterprises to develop in the single market "without constraints as to their legal status". The Secretary of State suggested setting up a social innovation fund, implementing partnership hubs as well as opening up the economy to the "services with a social dimension proposed by our enterprises without constraints as to their legal status".
Luigi Bobba, the Italian Secretary of State for Labour and Social Policies, called on stakeholders involved in the social economy to take action and "show the European Commission that together they mean business". He remarked that the Member States which had signed the declaration had in common the "conviction" that the social economy is an "important lever" in responding to certain important objectives, notably new job creation, and reducing inequality by promoting social inclusion. "It is not enough to just promote technological innovation – we need to leverage social innovation to respond to the many problems which we are facing today", he also said.
For Branislav Ondrus, the Slovak Secretary of State for Work, Social Affairs and the Family, a "new paradigm" has emerged whereby the economy should be at the service of citizens and society. In his view, not-for-profit enterprises should be considered as an inseparable part of the economy.
"Decent work" will be a priority of the Slovak Presidency of the Council (in the second half of 2016 after the Netherlands Presidency), and in particular the impact of digitisation and the automation of work and how to "preserve decent work". He announced that a conference on the solidarity economy will take place in a year's time in Bratislava.
Tadej Slapnik, Slovenian Secretary of State in charge of Dialogue with Civil Society, Civil Initiatives Coordination and Social Entrepreneurship, explained that the social economy represents only 1% of GDP in Slovenia, but that the Government's objective was to achieve the European average (6.5%) in 10 years, noting the job-creation potential of this economy.
Carmen Casero Gonzalez, Director General of Self-Employment, the Social Economy and Corporate Social Responsibility in Spain, a explained that the social economy is regulated by a law adopted in 2011. Thus the social economy represents 10% of GDP in Spain and 2.2 million direct and indirect jobs are dependent on it. The Director General stressed the importance of more inclusive economy that creates jobs.