Toby Johnson
01 October 2014

Three priorities: an internet platform, public procurement and the Structural Funds

There was a new autumnal energy in the air at today’s EESC conference entitled Perspectives and priorities for the new Commission and the European Parliament: social economy and social innovation as drivers of competitive­ness, growth and social wellbeing. Questions flowed thick and fast from the floor. What did we learn?
 
Parliamentarians Jens Nilsson and Heinz Becker are confident that the Social Economy Intergroup in the parliament will continue – which is important, as Alain Coheur of Social Economy Europe said, as it is the only place where all the institutions and the social economy can hold a dialogue together.
For Heinz Becker, the top priority for a renewed SBI is communication. Hence the urgent need for the internet platform that the SBI has already got on its agenda. The European Parliament is a firm partner of the Commission in developing the social economy as part of the Europe 2020 strategy – young people want meaningful work.
 
Who decides: the market or democracy?
 
We should demand more from public authorities. The revised public procurement regulations are the key priority for Jens Nilsson: “They open doors for the social economy, but national regulations can close some of them.” Transposing the regulations into national law is a political question, which can be summed up as “Who decides: the market or democracy?”. A policy to support the social economy is a matter for local democratically elected councils, and should not be stopped by the Commission. Local communities need more control over investment decisions.
Amaryllis Verhoeven (MARKT) echoed the point about visibility – people need to know what the social economy is and why it matters. She added that the new procurement rules are good for the social economy and SMEs. GECES will hold a workshop alongside the Rome conference to develop guidance for the Member States transposing the rules.
The staff of DGs MARKT and ENTR seem to be looking forward to their merger, and think the continued SBI will be all the better for it. Better interinstitutional co-operation is one of the issues the Italian Presidency wants to bring up at the Rome conference on 17-18 November. Of course the exact configuration of any SBI 2 depends on the new Commissioners, who are undergoing a grilling from the parliament this very day.
 
It’s the Member States that have the money
 
Most of the resources to do something to promote the social economy – notably the Structural Funds – are in the hands of the Member States and regions. There are limits to the Commission’s competence. Apostolos Ioakimidis, veteran official in charge of the social economy in ENTR, advised us “don’t ask us to do what we cannot do”. Agreeing new statutes for the different social economy families (mutuals, foundations and maybe later associations) requires a unanimous vote by the Council, and the worker participation rules are a sticking point.
Xavier Le Mounier of ENTR, as well as presenting the Social Innovation Europe online community as a visibility tool we could use, said that the first indications are that many Member States are indeed allocating budgets from their Structural Funds to social enterprises.
 
Toby Johnson