Interview with Alain Coheur, President of Social Economy Europe : Social Economy Sector Needs a Legislative Framework

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Created in November 2000 under the name of CEP-CMAF, Social Economy Europe is the EU-level representative institution for the social economy sector (cooperatives, associations, mutual societies and foundations)(1)

Your organisation has a new name, Social Economy Europe. What does the name signify?

It's a symbol. Institutionally speaking, we were invisible until now. This name is clearer. It has the advantage of bringing together all the actors of the social economy: not only, as is traditional, foundations, cooperatives and mutual associations, but also companies. You can see a new dynamic in the creation of new structures outside of historic structures of social insertion enterprises and local social enterprises. We want to show our open-mindedness.

This name is reminiscent of BusinessEurope. Is this also intentional?

This name is not neutral. We want to become the representative spokesperson for the social economy in order to negotiate at EU level, whether this is with social partners or EU institutions. Because our structures are not, in themselves, either in the public or the private sector.

A third sector, then?

This term is perhaps difficult to understand at European level. But, unquestionably, we have shared rationales: employment and the quality of service, career worries for our employees. For us, it is a question of putting the human at the centre of companies

What battles do you intend to lead as a priority?

The question of a European statute for foundations and associations remains unresolved. An impact study on foundations was promised to us for the end of the year. As for the statute for associations, we have a draft text. But we are waiting for the European Commission to move forward on this question. For us, it is fundamental because they already recognise limited companies, European economic interest groupings and cooperative societies. Why not our structures?

Is the sector really calling for it?

Clearly. We want a statute. And there is no longer any major obstacle. I don't see any reason for anyone to oppose us. We have agreed on a joint text, with the unanimity of the mutual companies. They have not put forward real reasons that prevent us from following through.

Why do you think the Commission is not reacting?

The reason seems to be ideological. They are trying to put us into a mould: a capitalist market sector or a public sector. Now, through the special nature of our values, we do not function like the others. There is also hesitancy over having a coherent approach to social policy. They always tend to think that economic policy is the most important. And they hide the social sector like a shameful illness. Meanwhile, our sector represents 10% of jobs and is growing. Moreover, our jobs cannot be moved overseas, they help in maintaining the social fabric and allow many geographic areas to survive.

So is there a need to establish a legislative framework?

Yes. We need a legislative framework. Currently, the EU's legislative system is designed for the lucrative capitalist sector. Not for our sector. …