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MECISE: European energy cooperatives join forces!
February 14, 2019

Enercoop article of 29 January 2019

For nearly 4 years, Enercoop and its partners in the European REScoop MECISE project have been working together to develop and strengthen citizen renewable energy projects in France, Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom.

More specifically, the project aims to directly support the development of new citizen renewable energy production projects and to explore new innovative solutions for financing these projects at European level.

The REScoop MECISE (Renewable Energy Sources COOPeratives Mobilizing European Citizens to Invest in Sustainable Energy) project has been funded under the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises since early 2015. It will end on 28 February 2019 and the public conclusions of this project were presented on 22 January at a conference at the Musée des Sciences naturelles in Brussels (Belgium).

This conference was also an opportunity for Enercoop and its partners Courant d’Air (Belgium), Ecopower (Belgium), Energy4All (United Kingdom) and Som Energia (Spain) to officially announce the creation of the European cooperative REScoop MECISE, or Mutual for Energy Communities Investing in a Sustainable Europe. This European cooperative, a concrete and sustainable outcome of the European project, has as its social objective to promote the European energy transition to energy democracy.

To this end, the European cooperative will provide financial facilitation services, mainly in the form of equity financing for renewable energy production projects and should raise funds at European level to support renewable energy cooperatives in Europe

Going beyond simple financial cooperation, REScoop MECISE is clearly in line with the logic of the social and solidarity economy by putting financial tools directly at the service of citizen energy. For Enercoop, the event on 22 January marks both the culmination of several years of work on the design of this new tool and the beginning of a great adventure of solidarity between European partners.

Towards a European Republic
February 14, 2019
Deviant art by nederbirdhttps://www.deviantart.com/nederbird/art/European-Federation-98402973

Alain Caillé is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. He co-founded the MAUSS (Mouvement Anti-utilitariste dans les sciences sociales) in 1981, and has been editor of the MAUSS Journal since its foundation. In June 2013, Alain Caillé and Marc Humbert created the Convivialiste Manifesto, a text signed by some sixty personalities from all over the world. He is the leader of the Convivialistes’ Movement (www.les convivialistes.org) and the Club des convivialistes.

The European project has not made us dream for a long time. It included two promises. By transcending the borders of nation states, it had to guarantee a perpetual peace. By creating a large market, unified by a common currency, it had to ensure economic prosperity. The first promise may seem to have been kept, but for how long? Europe is in fact divided into six or seven blocs of countries, each with its own unstable contours and deeply divergent interests. The unanimity rule prohibits any consistent political project and therefore any significant concrete progress in any field whatsoever. This is not without explaining why the second promise has hardly been kept or is no longer kept. In the absence of common economic, financial, social, technical, energy, scientific, diplomatic and military policies (except in fragments), Europe is losing ground to Markets and tax havens, to the United States, Russia and emerging powers, particularly China, whose hegemonic aims are no longer a secret. Europe does not speak to the world and no longer even speaks to itself.

Three emergencies

Of course, one could say that, on the one hand, there is only a fair catching-up of a temporary historical imbalance, and, on the other hand, that Europe has always progressed slowly, and that it must be given time to complete the many forms of cooperation that already exist in many areas. The problem is that we have absolutely no time left, for at least three reasons. First of all, if people remain attached to the euro, anger is growing everywhere in Europe against the deterioration of material and moral living conditions. And also, perhaps first of all, against the meaninglessness, the absence of a mobilizing project. Secondly, it is now time to promote an energy transition that can no longer wait. If Europe does not provide itself with the institutional, technical, economic and financial foundations, it will lose all geopolitical autonomy, an autonomy that can only be based on good economic health. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as we can see, everywhere in the world, and even within Europe in which they were born, adherence to democratic values – respect for pluralism, human dignity and freedom of thought – is in constant decline. If Europe is no longer able to carry and embody these values, who will do it ? Since the democratic ideal is not strong enough in itself, Europe, which claims to be strong, must assume to become strong again in order to champion an ideal of (re)civilization in the face of rising barbaric behaviours. 

Contours of a European Republic

Europe believed that it could go beyond the form of the nation-state. However, all over the world, there are nations that are asserting themselves and confronting each other. And this is true again within Europe itself. The reason for this is that the national framework is the only one to date, where, in modern societies, citizens feel solidarity with each other, and are protected and reassured by this solidarity. This presumption of solidarity is irreplaceable. However, it would be dangerous, and impractical, to want to return to the traditional forms of the nation based on the imaginary tendentious identity between a people, a territory, a language, a culture and a religion. How can these two requirements, that of solidarity and that of diversity, be reconciled within the framework of a Europe that would break with the denial of nation and force, both of which are in reality necessary for the achievement of the democratic ideal? The only solution seems to be to build a meta-nation, a nation of nations, in the form of a European Republic. This Republic would be of a confederal type in order to leave as much scope as possible to the principle of subsidiarity. With a sovereign Assembly and a Senate representing both the regions and civil society organisations (trade unions, NGOs, associations, etc.), this Republic would be governed by a small government, drawn from national governments, responsible for implementing the principles of common economic, financial, social, technical, energy, scientific, diplomatic and military policy adopted by Parliament. This institutional set-up could be complemented by an Assembly of citizens drawn by lot (a kind of permanent consensus conference). Its role would be consultative, but this assembly would have the power to submit to a referendum those proposals that have not been taken into account.

Six priority projects

Such a European Republic would have six projects and six reasons to be priorities:

– The European project was first embodied in a coal and steel community (the ECSC). The European Republic’s first objective would be to provide itself with the means to meet the objectives set at the Paris Conference and to achieve an efficient and virtuous energy transition.

– For this to happen, it must represent a sufficiently important economic area and show sufficient political coherence to be able to effectively combat tax havens and tax optimisation when their sole function is to enrich the richest to the detriment of the most vulnerable.

– Similarly, this Republic must be strong enough to be able to enforce its own accounting and legal standards (and not have them imposed on it by private firms), and to ensure control over all “data” concerning it. The importance of the battle of Artificial Intelligence does not allow us to wait.

– To ensure that the European Republic is indeed a space of solidarity, and therefore functions as a meta-nation, it must respect the rule that only the most advanced social protection can be generalised.

– Only a European Republic will be able to respond both effectively and humanely to the enormous influx of migrants that neoliberal globalisation is causing. Similarly, only a European Republic will be able to meet the challenges of radical Islamic terrorism.

– Finally, while the sustainability of the American shield is problematic, it is essential to have a real European defence. A defence that will be all the more effective if it is clear that its sole objective is to ensure world peace.

Who will or could create the European Republic?

The project, the broad outlines of which have just been described, while remaining at the level of generality desirable at this stage, is not for the time being supported by any of the existing political forces in Europe. It is easy to understand why: These political forces only exist, act and influence at the national level, not at all at the level of the meta-nation to be brought about. This project may therefore seem totally utopian and unfeasible. Need we remind you, however, that it was one of Europe’s founding fathers? A totally forgotten project, yet more urgent than ever. Because the peoples of Europe no longer have a choice. To unite, once and for all, or to perish. To leave history and exist only in the renunciation of everything they believed in. Europe is now at the mercy of a challenge. To reconnect with what she has invented, and to update it, or to disappear. Contribute to the invention of universalizable standards, become exemplary, or vanish into the chaos that lies ahead. The crucial test before us is this: will the peoples of Europe be able to move beyond their nationalism and chauvinism to a higher-ranking nation, or will they prefer regression? At the very least, the question must be asked to them by accessing media visibility. It will not be possible for it to be asked either by business representatives, who are subservient to “markets” (even if those are often their main enemy), or, so it seems, by the current political parties, confined to national spaces. It is therefore up to European civic society, this informal nebula, so lively and protean, of associations, cooperatives in the social and solidarity economy and NGOs to take over. It is now that we must create a debate that can give hope to the peoples of Europe. Do they not have in common a past, too often murderous but also full of artistic, technical, scientific and political splendours (the emergence of modern democracy…)? They still have to invent their future.

Who would be a stakeholder and constituent part of the European Republic? All States, regions or peoples of Europe who so wish. But it is clear that this could not be achieved and reach a critical size without, at a minimum, the participation of France and Germany, plus Italy and/or Spain. It is also clear that such a project can only be truly meaningful if it is sufficiently exemplary on at least two levels: on the one hand, on the preservation of ecological balances, and on the other, on the reinvention and revitalization of a democratic ideal.  The European Republic, which must now be built, will have the project of strengthening a peaceful and equitable multilateral world order. It will be built around common public policies for collective well-being, developed and evaluated in a participatory manner, with deliberate and shared objectives (ecology, energy, the fight against inequality and poverty, etc.), and no longer as a correlate of the single market. 

RTES report: “Europe & SSE Challenges and levers of action for local authorities”
Europe et ESS

While the budgetary framework of the next European program (2021/2027) is currently being negotiated, the RTES (French Network of Local Authorities for a Solidarity Economy) has published a RepèrESS, “Europe & ESS – issues and levers of action for local authorities to encourage SSE communities and stakeholders to mobilize European funding and to participate in the construction of a more solidarity-based European project.

This is done through:

– An inventory of the place of the social and solidarity economy in the European landscape

– A presentation of the different European funds and programs and examples of French social and solidarity economy projects benefiting from this funding

– Methodological advice for the assembly of projects – 10 proposals and perspectives for a more cohesive Europe

– The consideration of SSE in 7 Regional Operational Programs in France.

You can find the document (in French) here.


Co-create the European SSE public policies: a possible challenge?

The second European Forum of the SSE (EFSSE 2017) took place on November 9, 2017, organised in the premises of the Parliament by the GUE/ NGL Group,for the occasion driven by Marie-Christine Vergiat, French MEP. Following the first session, we can note an increase in the representation of networks of solidarity economy.

RIPESS Europe actively participated in the organization of the second edition, with several invited members, some of which met the day before for a dinner following a coordination Committee. Read more

Portugal: First European Summer School on Solidarity Economy
CES Summer school
4 – 8 September 2017, Lisbon (Picoas Plaza, Rua Viriato – 13, Lojas 117/118)

Is it possible to foster a common agenda for Solidarity Economy in Europe?

The concept of Solidarity Economy is consolidated in many countries, especially in Latin America, as describing a field of citizen-led social transformation and political action. In many parts of the world, experiences have been strengthened by associated work, by the collective ownership of productive assets, by shared management and by solidarity – understood here as reciprocity in the distribution of goods and opportunities.

In spite of this context, the term Solidarity Economy still constitutes a recent designation and is little used in Portugal and in several countries of Europe. In a generic sense, it can be said that it refers to the set of collective economic arrangements of production, consumption, trading, and credit, in rural or urban areas, as well as social reproduction and well-being managed by the citizens themselves and inspired by the principles of self-management, solidarity, and cooperation.

Understood in a reductive way by some writers as an economy of social insertion – linked, therefore, to the situation of structural unemployment and crisis contexts – Solidarity Economy is often presented alongside the Social Economy. The latter is a term that usually means the universe of cooperatives, associations and mutual societies and other terms such as third sector, social enterprise and social entrepreneurship. The Solidarity Economy concept is attentive to the non-institutionalized forms of cooperation among citizens, who seek to collectively organize space and economy for the strengthening of their rights and emancipation. Within the framework of the Solidarity Economy, these experiences of associated work and of reciprocal help allow gathering in an equitable and non-hierarchical way diverse knowledge – urban, popular, peasant. Initiatives that seek a direct relationship between producers and consumers, which stimulate the exchange of goods and knowledge, which strengthen the relationship between neighbors and which are based on proposals for critical consumption and solidarity are multiplying. These community experiences exist in several European countries with the same names or with different denominations, showing that there are common points between the experiences of Solidarity Economy in Europe.

In this Summer School, it is intended to explore precisely the common points and the differences between what has been happening in Southern Europe and other countries of the European continent, in order to highlight the multiplicity and diversity of silenced economic experiences, namely those that are carried out by groups of citizens. It also seeks to reflect on the possibility of building a more intense and permanent dialogue agenda among researchers and activists from different countries, in order to build a greater visibility for the Solidarity Economy.

This Summer School takes place as one of the 1st events of the international platform SERESI (Solidarity Economy, Reciprocity and Social Innovation).

It is promoted by: ECOSOL-CES, ICSTE-IUL, Fondation Maison Science de L’Homme, ACEESA, RedPES and RIPESS Europe

More info, programme and registration

European public policies and Social Solidarity Economy

Convenors: Patricia Coler (UFISC), Bruno Lasnier (MES)

The political construction of Europe based only on the vision of the single market is now leading to a reduction of democracy and isolation. The neo-liberal decision on budgetary restirctions and public internetion are locking territories into a logic of privatisation and financialisation. The principle of competitive free trade is the dominant model, with regulations on State subsidies, undermining of the social model of Europe and the a-democratic negotiation of the free trade agreements such as CETA and TTIP that encourage the introduction of private arbitration principles and the definition by experts of a normative framework.

However civil society is also organising, mobilising at local and European level and developing new solidarities and cooperation. Citizen’s solidarity economy initiatives are trying to reinsert the economy into policies and at social level by inventing solutions in an ever-changing world. By linking different economic and democratic approaches, they are defending both principles and practice to build another approach to European policy.

European legislation and programmes that are both thematic and cross-cutting are starting to take social and solidarity economy into account. They are becoming progressively consolidated in the legislative and internal regulatory frameworks of States. The recent Luxembourg Declaration* encourages policy-making based on adapted ecosystems and that support social economy eneterprise initiatives. The European Structural Fund programmes for research and mobility can also contribute to supporting initiatives. State legislation on subsidies is becoming more flexible.

The different definitions that exist – social economy, solidarity economy, social enterprise, social entrepreneurship – all cover separate economic conepts. The term social enterprise as used by the European Commission heavily underlines the social ends in the definition; this excludes many cooperatives, mutual societies, associations and foundations, unlike the French law on SSE. Furthermore, according to accepted usage, very different kinds of public policy are proposed and implemented.

So what new European strategy is being built for the post-2020 period? What new orientations for solidarity economy can it support? What proposals for supporting solidarity economy initiatives at territorial should be included in European policies?

*Luxembourg Declaration – A Roadmap towards a more comprehensive ecosystem for social economy enterprises – http://www.eu2015lu.eu/en/actualites/communiques/2015/12/04-declaration-luxembourg/

SSE + Europe!
December 10, 2015

Re-enchanting Europe with Social and Solidarity Economy

In order to strengthen the capacities of SSE actors in the Paris region and help them gain a better understanding of European issues, the Atelier, a SSE resource centre in the Paris region, the Réseau des Territoires pour l’Économie Solidaire and REVES organised a prfoessional forum on November 20th last at the Paris Town Hall. The theme was dedicated to the European question “SSE + Europe!”. The idea was to give SSE actors the opportunity to exchange with European leaders on the potential cooperation through European programmes that would help SSE to scale up in Europe. There was much discussion on the need to connect different levels, and the European leader called upon actors to seize all possible opportunities provided by the programmes. Read more

Financing the social economy enterprises
August 21, 2015

Meeting of the Social Economy intergroup of the European Parliament: «Financing the social economy enterprises»

More than 100 people gathered at the European Parliament for this meeting devoted to the financing of social economy enterprises relying on co-operative banks, insurance mutuals and cooperatives, ethical banks, micro-credit institutions, etc.

A first round table brought together institutional interlocutors. The Minister of labour, employment and solidarity economy, Nicolas Schmit, of Luxembourg – who animates the Presidency of the EU during the 2nd half of 2015, invited the Commission to relaunch the Social Investment Package, i.e. the package of measures on social investments in growth and cohesion (2013).

Detlef Eckert, Director of Europe 2020, DG Employment, stated that the Commission supported the social economy through the programme for employment and Social Innovation (with a 3rd axis on social entrepreneurship, the European Social Fund and the European Investment Bank).

The MEP Beatriz Becerra (ALDE, Es) instead deplored the lack of visibility of the social economy. Anna Maria Darmarin, Member of the EESC, group II (workers) also emphasized the lack of a consensual framework for social economy, that discourages long-term investors.

Hugues Sibille, member of the Expert Group of the Committee for social enterprise, stated that it is necessary to integrate the social economy in the European strategy for the internal market, including giving greater legal recognition to social enterprises.

In the second panel (composed only by men), based on the structures of the social economy, Jan Olsson, co-Chairman of the REVES network, presented a case of good practice for the construction of ecosystems, in Sweden and in Italy, to support new social enterprises (see http://3e4se.eu).

Emamuele Spina, head of European Affairs at Federcasse (Italian cooperative bank) attempted to show how his bank did much for the social economy, while Christophe Ollivier, head of the “Centre of support for mutual companies” of the Fédération Nationale de la Mutualité française raised the problem of the existing legal brakes that prevent mutuals from investing in social economy enterprises.
(for issues of compulsory reinsurance and investment oriented towards marketsconsidered safer). Bruno Dunkel, Manager of CoopEst, presented the activities they develop by emphasizing the small size but proximity model, and thus essential, thus interacting mainly with small enterprises of social economy in the Eastern European countries, announcing an upcoming similar tool for the Mediterranean.

There was also the question of how to boost research on the social impact measurement tools and support the “Social Impact Bonds”. The latter being controversial (should we support profitable social projects?), should be considered if one can imagine a European vision of these obligations.

Alain Coheur, concluded the meeting by recalling its attachment to the concept of social economy which includes principles limiting surpluses and for democratic governance (which are not found in all social enterprises)..

This is therefore a meeting that will find a follow-up in a conference being organized in Luxembourg in December, with  a greater place for ethical banks, solidarity financial tools and complementary currencies systems and why not firmer commitments on the part of large banks of the social economy.

Are you in the Panorama? Participate to the Solidarity Economy Europe Survey!

RIPESS Europe is engaged in the promotion of SSE (Social and Solidarity Economy) and this questionnaire is part of a research work for an overview (“Panorama”) on Solidarity Economy Initiatives in Europe. Our overall objective is to identify key contextual elements that shape the identity of the SSE in Europe and to facilitate the interconnection and diffusion of the initiatives.

You are invited to participate in our Solidarity Economy Panorama survey!

It will take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete the questionnaire.

Your participation in this study is completely voluntary. The results will be made public on this website. If you have questions at any time about the survey or the procedures, you may contact the RIPESS Research team at: info@ripess.eu.

So… go ahead and answer the Panorama of SSE in Europe survey now!

Thank you very much for your time and support.

Solidarity Economy in Europe: an emerging movement with a common vision
Solidarity Economy Diagram

A rapidly growing transformative citizen-led alternative to market-driven economy, for the Commons and a locally rooted yet globally networked shared economy, in search for a European- wide political (but not ideological) framework.

By Jason Nardi (Solidarius Italia / RIPESS Europe coordinating committee)
[Download pdf version here]

Missing: democracy in Europe

Europe is a vastly diverse continent with different cultures, languages, and economies. If there is something that unites it, it is its social movements, the roots of which go far into the origins of the workers cooperative movement, the mutualistic initiatives, the public and private community banks, the consumer groups and networks, the unions and the core of the welfare state development.

Yet things have changed. The European bureaucracies, the European Union and especially the European Commission, which is the governing body of the EU, have become over the last 20-30 years more and more neoliberal. From Margaret Thatcher’s time till today, many of its policies have been influenced by market-driven economy and corporate interests. Since the year 2002, there is a common currency in Europe which has brought a certain unity in the Market, but not at the social and cultural levels. It came with a Treaty that brings the banks and economies together, but that was not supported by the people: it was imposed. In the few countries where a Referendum was allowed, the citizens voted against.

We are transitioning from a State-centered economy to a Pan-European economy where the European Central Bank dictates the financial policies that the States must follow. Therefore, we are in the middle of a situation where the people – their governments – are no longer in control of the economy. Sure, this is a simplified statement, but it is not far from reality.

Following the breaking down of the Berlin Wall in 1989, “alter-globalisation” protest movements have risen up against non democratic institutions such as the WTO, the World Bank and the G8. These movements have built up over the years against different issues, raising awareness on the loss of democratic and social rights in favor of a financial architecture oriented by private goals, interests and speculation. In similar ways, today’s “Occupy” and “Indignados” movements are resisting and asking for “real democracy” (“democracia real ya”). Real democracy is the only way we can have a real economy, where people regain direct control of the economy from the over- arching financial global system. In a similar way, de-growth, commons and transition movements are asking to change the way we measure our wealth and wellbeing, the resources we use, and to refocus on local development.

Differently united: networking the “glocals”

What does all this have to do with Social Solidarity Economy? Through the SSE movement, we want to go from protest to building alternatives. We want to do it together with the resistance movements, but we want to show that there are concrete, working alternatives, multiplying everyday, spread all over the Continent and linking up together. Examples of these alternatives include:

• Solidarity consumer groups and community supported agriculture
• Ethical banks, mutualistic and sustainable finance and local currency

• Workers cooperatives, recovered factories, co-working and social enterprises • Co-housing, home exchanges and Right to the City initiatives
• Transition towns, De-growth initiatives, Zero Waste citizens’ organisations
• Re-publicizing the Commons (water, essential services, etc.)
• Renewable energies, organic farming, slow food, local production chains • Shared means of transportation, “smarter” cities
• Fair trade – both north/south and “domestic”

The list can go on – and in fact, every day there are new initiatives in this direction. These are not merely alternatives to the capitalist economy. These alternatives are transforming people and communities. Some of the alternatives are historical. Fair trade, for example, has been practiced in Europe for many decades now. Financial alternatives such as ethical banks, community banks and local currency have been developed since many years. A lot of consumer groups recognize themselves as a movement that supports agriculture and solidarity economy. There are groups in the Degrowth and Zero Waste movements devoted to educating people on environmental justice and sustainability. There are movements that campaign to re-publicize essential services that have been privatized. A huge campaign on returning water conservation & management from commodification to commons is spreading wide in Europe. We also have renewable energies, organic farming, slow food, and a lot of different emerging initiatives, although their adoption by people is still numerically marginal.

The difference from the past is that, slowly but surely (though not easily), these myriads of often very localised initiatives and practices are linking and networking together, starting to create a greater picture and common vision. And trying not to repeat the errors of the past.

That is where they differ from apparently similar forms of alternative economic enterprise: from social business to capitalist cooperatives, from “green” for profit economy to various forms of para- State or private welfare and socially responsible enterprises and corporations. All of these might be more careful and less speculative in their practices, but are substantially following the same economic model that Solidarity Economy is trying to change.

Social economy vs Solidarity Economy
[The following paragraph is taken from the working paper “RIPESS Global Vision”, Manila 2013 – www.ripess.org]

It is very common for the social economy to be conflated with the solidarity economy. They are not the same thing and the implications of equating them are rather profound.

The social economy (Diagram 1) is commonly understood as part of a “third sector” of the economy, complementing the “first sector” (private/profit-oriented) and the “second sector” (public/planned). While exact definitions of the social economy vary, a common definition is that it includes cooperatives, mutuals, associations, and foundations (CMAFs), all of which are collectively organized, and oriented around social aims that are prioritized above profits, or return to shareholders. The primary concern of the social economy is not to maximize profits, but to achieve social goals (which does not exclude making a profit, which is necessary for reinvestment). Some consider the social economy to be the third leg of capitalism, along with the public and the private sector. Thus, advocates of the social economy push for it to be accorded the same legitimacy as the public and private sectors, with a corresponding level of support in public resources and policy. Others, on the more radical end of the spectrum, view the social economy as a stepping stone towards a more fundamental transformation of the economic system.

Diagram 1

Diagram1_ripessThe solidarity economy (Diagram 2) seeks to change the whole social/economic system and puts forth a different paradigm of development that upholds solidarity economy principles. It pursues the transformation of the neoliberal capitalist economic system from one that gives primacy to maximizing private profit and blind growth, to one that puts people and planet at its core. As an alternative economic system, the solidarity economy thus includes all three sectors – private, public and the third sector. The solidarity economy seeks to re-orient and harness the state, policies, trade, production, distribution, consumption, investment, money and finance, and ownership structures towards serving the welfare of people and planet. What distinguishes the solidarity economy movement from many other social change and revolutionary movements in the past, is that it is pluralist in its approach – eschewing rigid blueprints and the belief in a single, correct path; the solidarity economy also values and builds on concrete practices, many of which are quite old. The solidarity economy, rather than seeking to create utopia out of thin air and theory, recognizes that there currently exists a concrete utopia, a utopia in action. It is rooted in the practices of participatory democracy and promotes a new vision of the economy, an economy that puts people at the center of the system, an economy that values the links, the relationships rather than the goods.

Diagram 2:
Solidarity Economy Diagram Thus the solidarity economy explicitly has a systemic, transformative, post-capitalist agenda. The social economy is a sector of the economy that may or may not be part of a transformative, post- capitalist agenda, depending on whom you’re talking to.

Surfing the Financial Crisis

Since the manifestation of the global financial crisis in 2008, there have been huge debt crunches, bank failures and bailouts (with public funds), and State bankruptcies. Unemployment rose from 8.3% in 2007 to >25% in 2013 in Spain, and from less than 10% to >40% in Greece. Similar patterns are happening in many other countries. Poverty has been increasing in Europe: there are more poor, and these are more poor than before.

In the past, people believed the Margaret Thatcher’s saying that “that there is no alternative.” But now we have an alternative. It is so obvious, so evident even to the common citizen that we cannot continue to promote and live in an infinite growth model of the economy, which is destructive and raises poverty and inequality levels.

The crisis has taught us that we are all on the same ship. People are now much more aware of what they’re consuming, how it is produced, the costs and impact of delocalisation and “competitive” large scale international trade. They perceive themselves more and more as citizens, not just as consumers, and understand their power in shifting from an unhealthy and unsustainable consumption, to a co-production where they have an active role and a relationship with who makes what they use. They are empowering themselves as they come to realize the possibilities of organizing the economy in a different way.

Fair trade, organic farming, renewable energy production, consumer groups / cooperatives, are growing – though slower than in the past. True, they are not exempt from the economic crisis and can be overwhelmed by it (especially if they mimic the competitive model), but they’re much more vibrant. And the main lesson learned is that by networking together and cooperating in a more holistic way, the crisis can become a real opportunity to have more people join in and take part of the re-creation of a different economy, which responds to the needs of individuals and communities, and not to the greed of profit makers and exclusive private interest.

In this sense, the ship can split in many smaller ships, which are bridged together and are able not just to survive the wreckage of the crisis, but surf and thrive by the active mutual initiative that solidarity economy represents.

SSE in the EU

Now here it becomes a bit tricky: in fact, we don’t have (yet) a clear measure of the diffusion of Social Solidarity Economy. Since it is not a sector of the economy, but a different way of doing economy, it cannot be measured through the official statistics and is therefore still for the most part “invisible”. In many countries, if we take as a basis the numbers related to the non-profit or third sector, we get an average of between 5 and 10% of the working population. Sweden, Belgium, France, Holland and Italy: between 9% and 11.5% of the working population is involved in some SSE enterprise.

Workers in SSE enterprises have increased in the last 10 years from 11 millions in 2002-2003 to 15 millions, or 6.5 % of the working population of the EU. This number does not include all the informal ways and the mixed forms of SSE practices and initiatives (from self-production, co- construction, to barter, social currencies, time banks, etc.). Community- supported Agriculture groups, Solidarity Consumer and Producer Groups are multiplying in many forms: from a few hundred in the end of the 1990s and only in two-three countries, to tens of thousands in 2014.

These numbers are still very sketchy and incomplete, and mix social economy (both traditional and innovative, from social business and green economy) with the more radical – and informal – solidarity economy. And they ignore the role of virtuous local public administrations, who promote different forms of social solidarity economic enterprises and initiatives.

Laws and policies in favor of SSE in Europe

In its fairly recent history, solidarity economy has been confronted with its institutional recognition, which in turn have more and more started to include its actors in their political radar. But while the social economy community, with all its families (associations, cooperatives, mutuals and foundations) has already gone far in being considered a part of the market economy (not without limits and contradictions, in trying to affirm its identity between State and Market – participating inside the institutional platforms, with its representatives)2, the solidarity economy mostly informal networks, having a very light and non structured and representative organisation, are less prone to being “trapped” in normative definitions and laws, through the debate is quite live and diverse in the different territories. That said, in the positive ambiguity that the Social Solidarity Economy keeps promoting, many institutions – especially at the local level, but some at the national level as well – are ready and have already started to include it in their policy making.

In the early 2000s, the actors of the social economy are grouped within the European Standing Conference of Cooperatives, mutuals, associations and foundations (now Social Economy Europe, since 2008) to defend their interests, and write in 2002 the European Charter of the social economy that promotes “a different way of undertaking”

The growing recognition of Social Solidarity Economy in the legislations across Europe is thus more and more a reality. A recent study by the European think tank Pour la Solidarité (“La legislation relative à l’économie Sociale et Solidaire”, 2014) outlines the different existing and prospective legislations in the EU member countries, pointing out to many differences and still few similarities and in general to the need of a European legislative framework, given the contradictions in the EU policies. But when they speak of SSE, they are actually looking more at the Social Economy – as a sector – rather than at the Solidarity Economy, as a different way to approach and transform the economy, regardless of the sector. Some countries have a national legislation or are working on it (such as France and Poland), others have a Minister for Social and Solidarity Economy (as in Luxembourg and until recently in France). Others have in addition a series of regional norms (as in Italy, where 10 regions have made different laws for the promotion of solidarity and sustainable economy).

The question that arises here is whether the recognition of the different organisational structures of social solidarity economy is sufficient, or if there are other kinds of legislation and policies that are needed to help its development. A number of people and organisations who practice Solidarity Economy are convinced that norms and regulations can on the contrary be a hinderance and an obstacle to the free expression of alternative economic initiatives, by classifying them and making them homogeneous or mixing them up with more commercial / market-driven forms of enterprise. Others think that there should be a more strict regulation for all forms of economic activity, in order to make them accountable for their social and environmental impact. But Solidarity Economy is not limited to just a better and fairer way of dealing with economic (and financial) matters: it’s about changing the whole way we think and practice producing and consuming – and in this sense it is profoundly a political act. Solidarity economy is about re-creating the production chains on a local, democratic, fair and sustainable basis, with an “economic intelligence” created by the high trust relationship among the actors, who network together rather than compete, and with a direct involvement of the consumers. What needs to change is the general framework that can allow a gradual transformation of the economy, back at the service of society and the common good, and not viceversa as it is the case nowadays.

Building the network: RIPESS-Solidarity Economy Europe

After the 4th Ripess global meeting in Luxembourg in 2009, a group participants from different networks decided to form a European chapter of RIPESS, the intercontinental network for the promotion of Social Solidarity Economy. Within two years, in 2011 the Ripess Europe founding congress was convened in Barcelona. The second Ripess Europe congress was held in July 2013 in Lille, France. Today, Ripess Europe has 26 official network members (both thematic and territorial networks) from 12 countries. Each of these are national or regional networks, often with another level of cross networking – mainly present in northern and western Europe. Ripess is now looking at Eastern and South Eastern Europe, where interesting developments are taking place.

RIPESS Europe is working on territories and local development (crossing the borders: exchanging and learning visits in East and South of Europe with P’Actes Européens), on popular education in cooperation with the Academics: the University network (RIUESS), and on co-funding of common

and states that ” he social economy includes cooperatives, mutual societies, associations and foundations. “It is in this context that the Regulation (EC) No 1435/2003 on the Statute for a European Cooperative Society was made.

projects among member networks. as well as promoting the information exchange and the work on transversal themes such as food sovereignty. It also pursues links with public / local authorities (RTES) to advance legislation on SSE across Europe.

RIPESS uses the term social solidarity economy to embrace both the solidarity economy and the more radical vision of the social economy. Defining the social solidarity economy framework is a long and ongoing process. For example, Brazil’s solidarity economy definition was built by SSE advocates and practitioners over many years through forums, meetings, and consultations. We understand that the political, cultural, and historical realities on each continent, and indeed in different countries, call for a flexible approach to terminology, approaches and entry points.

The RIPESS-Europe network therefore works with both social economy and solidarity economy organizations and includes sectoral as well as territorial organizations/networks.

Public policies to promote Social Solidarity Economy
[The following paragraphs and proposals are based on the work by Ripess International and in particular Daniel Tygel’s /former FBES – Brasilian Solidarity Economy Network and RIPESS International executive secretary interventions at the UN SSE Interagency Taskforce meetings.]

All we have said can also be seen under the perspective of a new development strategy. In this sense, Social Solidarity Economy is a new actor of development, besides the private and public sectors: it’s characterized by a myriad of economic initiatives with social, cultural and environment goals, which are collectively owned or managed by the local communities, workers, citizens. Although they do economic activities, they are mostly non-profit, and therefore are perfectly fit to promote effective sustainable development. They exist in a vast range of sectors.

But there must be deep changes in the development goals, in public policies and in the financial frameworks so that this new actor can play its key role in overcoming the challenges humanity is facing today. This poses an issue for an “enabling environment”, which is not what is usually intended as a deregulated system to allow unrestricted action by private corporate economic powers, with little or no intervention by the State; but a series of public policies which help create, promote and give visibility to Social Solidarity Economy initiatives and networks, cross-sectorial and non profit / non speculative in nature.

1. Create legislative framework to support access to knowledge/innovation, to capacity building, to markets and to capital. Public policies that explicitly recognize the Social Solidarity Economy as a development strategy. Some countries in Latin America (such as Ecuador) are a good example in this matter.

2. Establish laws giving priority of public procurements from social solidarity economy initiatives in all sectors. This is not against the freedom to compete, but puts an underlying social, environmental and cultural basis for the nature of the initiatives which will be part of public-private partnerships steered towards promoting sustainable development. There is an urgent need to expand the concept of “public-private” partnerships beyond profit oriented economic actors, which are proven to put their private interests above the public ones. Social Solidarity Economy has in its heart the public well-being, while providing services and goods.

3. Recognize new actors in the financial world, besides traditional banks and for-profit microcredit organizations, as operators of development funds. These new actors, which have a clear mutualistic basis, can better operate development funds, since they know the reality, the specificities and the needs where they are in.

4. Reform taxation in domestic and international levels, incentivating SSE initiatives with lower taxation and raising taxes to the corporate private sector, especially if it does not respect responsible ans sustainable practices, so as to stimulate the creation of more social solidarity economy initiatives and to help exclusively profit-driven businesses to rethink their economic model.

5. Reform development indicators to non-monetary aspects of life, not related to the consumption power or individual / per capita income. Full citizenship and happiness can not be limited to monetary factors. We need to look at other measures of investment returns than simple economic returns.

6. Guarantee that development funds be controlled by representatives of the communities which will benefit from them. Funders must be considered as an actor, and not have a “seat each”. In other words, there could be representatives of the corporate foundations as a whole, not one by one trying to represent their own institutional interests. Governments should be considered also as another actor. Civil society can not be reduced to one seat representing all its diversities, but on the contrary should have the majority of the votes in the governance of those funds.

7. Mechanisms of private sector transparency and accountability to social (and environmental) impacts of their activities. Corporate accountability should not be reduced to voluntary “corporate social responsibility”, but be publicly enforced.

The solutions are there, but insisting in the same market driven rules will not provide the means for them to flourish and have sufficient scale to change the development path to a sustainable future. There is a need, therefore, to make deep changes in the financial architecture, including the recognition of these new actors of financing and of development as better tools to accomplish the targets needed by humanity today.

Europe – the European governments and the European governance, but first of all, the European citizens – can be a positive and innovative policy maker for this soft, radical revolution of the economy, especially at a time of crisis that imposes to rethink what went wrong and how we can fix it. For the benefit of all.

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