Last Friday, the European Council held its first Social Summit since 2017 in Porto. Not only is this a hugely important moment for the social enterprise sector in Europe, it was a huge moment for EN. For the first time, some of the most important stakeholders in social enterprise, innovation and entrepreneurship were amongst these world leading figures. We were proud to have our President of the Board, Neven Marinovic, in Porto with the EU Heads of State and Government, the Presidents of the EU Institutions and representatives of the EESC and Committee of the Regions. The summit focussed on the key issues facing social policy in Europe, how Europe can ensure it is truly a social market economy and how the European Pillar of Social Rights can be fully implemented.
The summit resulted in the adoption of the Porto Declaration on Social Issues. The European leaders emphasised the need to ensure an inclusive recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Education and skills are rightly understood to be at the heart of this and hence are at the heart of the EU’s political reaction. More than overcoming the economic damage of the pandemic, the European Council want to prepare European citizens and our shared systems for the green and digital transitions. They know that these will cause social upheaval and hence was why this Summit was so crucial: only through coordinated European action can a successful transition be accomplished. Success depends not only on European member states working together. As exemplified by the invitation of third sector organisations, civil society actors and trade unions, all actors must be involved. They must be able to contribute their individual assets and collaboratively help to solve the puzzle of how Europe can achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
A key element in the Summit was the focus on education and skills. Lifelong learning was stressed as the key to ensuring that citizens continue to be equipped for the roles they will undertake in future. Change is perhaps the only constant and with good lifelong learning, citizens have the opportunity to up-skill and re-skill. They have the opportunity to innovate, to become entrepreneurs and to work collectively together towards a social Europe. If lifelong learning is not provided for, the risk is run that workers whose jobs may become obsolete will be left unable to participate in the labour market. Secondary education is no longer the point where education should stop. The leaders emphasised that we must understand that education is a part of life throughout our years and we must be ready to re-enter education when it inevitably becomes necessary to increase our knowledge and skills.
EN’s input on the summit
While the Summit saw progress and discussion on many issues, it was also evident that not all EU leaders were singing from the same hymn sheet. There was also division over what the extent of EU action and competence should be when it comes to social policy. The issue of gender equality and gender representation was noted as key at the summit by Xavier Bettel, an area that we at EN also consider vital. Macron also emphasised the need to support youth in their entry into the labour market and through their acquisition of skills.
Social enterprises are already playing a key role in supporting the European economy through the green and digital transitions – and they have more to give. EN’s invitation to the Porto Summit, to represent our members and social enterprise in Europe, is a welcome recognition of this fact. Social enterprises and their networking organisations need further support to continue and expand the work they are doing in Europe.
Through this support of social enterprise, the European economy can truly become a social market economy and ensure that the green and digital transitions are just. We must ensure that the broken business models of the past, that focus only on financial gains are reformed. Social enterprise illustrates what these reforms can look like and the positive results in can deliver in all areas.
Social enterprises are not only delivering social and environmental impact in addition to economic returns, they are driving social innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe. Social enterprises and entrepreneurs need support from a European level so they can continue to drive positive change, devising innovative solutions to social and environmental problems that are rooted in their local contexts. Investing in local areas so that social and entrepreneurial skills can be cultivated is therefore vital. This could be seen through investment in incubators, accelerators and business support organisations as well as directly into education. Social enterprises must also be supported in their desire to scale-up, ensuring that local and national borders do not impede their expansion across a single European social market.
Fundamentally, we must redefine what it means to succeed: let us move away from a fixation on individual financial reward to a fixation on measuring success through the delivery of positive social and environmental impact.
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