At the last Eurocities Social Innovation Lab in Bologna, Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, walked participants through his Social Economy Action plan.
The scheme was launched in December 2021 to foster the European social economy and, at the same time, contribute to a fair and inclusive recovery as well as the green and digital transitions.
Municipalities are an essential partner to the EU as they apply the Social Economy Action plan on the ground. With its focus on the social economy and the energy crisis, the October Social Innovation Lab highlighted cities’ role in the initiative.
On the sidelines of the Bologna event, the Commissioner talked to Eurocities about the cooperation with municipalities, the environmental aspect of his plan and how to include the social element in public procurements.
Read our interview and watch it on YouTube just a bit further down this article:
Good evening. You’re here at Eurocities Social Innovation Lab since the relationship between the European Commission and cities is essential for reinforcing the Social Economy Action Plan that was launched by the Commission. Why are cities so important for implementing this plan?
Cities are crucial for many things because most Europeans live in cities. This also explains why a lot of problems are in cities. We have a housing problem and a lot of social problems in cities. For all these questions and social issues, the social economy can very often give the right and good answers.
That’s why we want to cooperate with Eurocities, with all cities over Europe, to see how we can implement the action plan concretely. The action plan at the end is for citizens because they face difficulties, especially now. We have a lot social issues, social difficulties because of energy prices, because of food prices. So I think, yes, we can work with cities and implement the action plan.
European packages such as the Green Deal and Fitfor55 should include social aspects. The Social Economy Action Plan states that the green transition should involve citizens and communities. What are the potential benefits for local governments in this case to engage with social economy organisations and other stakeholders to contribute to the green transition and a sustainable economy?
The green transition is an absolute necessity because climate change hurts everybody and also hurts the living conditions in cities particularly. That’s why we have to develop new solutions in cities to mitigate climate change, to reduce CO2 emissions. And here, social economy models, social enterprises can also offer good solutions, be it in mobility, be it in housing, or many other forms. For instance, in jobs -creating new jobs, especially in the green economy in cities to make our cities greener; to make also our cities more social with a high degree of solidarity.
Cities are places where people should really also have good social links. And unfortunately, there is a danger that these social links and values of solidarity are lost. Here, I think, the social economy can create an environment where these social needs are alive.
My last question is about public procurement. There are some difficulties in bringing the social aspects rather than the green elements into public procurement. Based on your discussions with the Directors of Social Services that you just had, what can the European Commission and the national governments do to foster cities’ capacities to implement social classes in public tenders?
There is a European Directive on public tenders where a social clause is clearly established. Many public authorities don’t use or at least don’t sufficiently use this social clause. By not using it, they miss a lot of good opportunities to tackle different problems at the same time, giving jobs to people who might have difficulties finding a job, helping people with disability.
All of these are issues which you can include all these issues in public tenders which are more open to social problems, social questions, social dimensions. Therefore, this is normally also the role cities can play by including these social aspects.