In recent years, the social economy has evolved, and it now marks a development with the potential to actively change socio-economic relations and create the preconditions for their better consolidation. The social economy is a key element of the European social model and has its core principles - solidarity, social justice, social cohesion, equal access to employment. It is based on a socio-economic paradigm that places people and their needs first and foremost.
In one of the important strategy papers “Europe 2020”, inclusive growth is based on social cohesion and welfare by reducing inequalities and polarization. It is here that the social economy has an essential role because it is able to make social cohesion a factor of competitiveness. Today, the social economy is an integral part of the debate on making important political decisions at European level - the debate on the future of Europe1, the debate on future European investments in people, and the debate on the social dimension of Europe in the spirit of the Gothenburg European pillar of social rights.
Today, more than ever, United Europe needs levers for change, opportunities to empower citizens to create strong societies. The social economy can respond to these challenges. It is able to contribute actively to the wealth and balance of society, to bring an entrepreneurial element that leads to lasting and stable growth - economic and social.
The object of the conference is to encourage the exchange of views on the challenges and opportunities for the future of the social economy in the context of the digital revolution and inclusive growth. The discussions will focus on improving the understanding of the role of the social economy in addressing some of the major challenges that Europe is facing, e.g. creating sustainable and decent jobs, improving social justice for all and reducing inequalities. In order to achieve these goals, European Union and candidate countries politicians, representatives of international organizations, social partners and civil society organizations will gather to discuss how the social economy can better respond to and contribute to the needs of inclusive economic growth.
Challenges and political choices
A number of challenges of contemporary development are related to the aging population in Europe, the creation of sustainable and competitive jobs in the context of new technologies, decent and fair labor in the context of globalization. The changing demands of the labor market challenge the adaptability, knowledge and skills of workers, and the opportunity to reconcile work and private life. At the same time, investing in early childhood development, integrating vulnerable groups into the labor market, social inclusion of people with disabilities, and creating better educational opportunities for young people must be based on responsible public funding.
These challenges put pressure on public policies, on the functioning and financial stability of social systems, on education and health, on employment patterns, social services, pay and incomes. These developments are both challenges because they create new needs that need to be met, and also a source of new jobs and the opportunity to create new public arrangements on the basis of reciprocity and hybrid forms of the relationship between the state and the market.
Today, almost a third of the population aged over 65 lives alone, and up to two-thirds of people over the age of 75 are dependent on informal care provided primarily by the family. One in six of the elderly lives in poverty, with older women especially at risk of receiving low pensions as a result of incomplete careers. By the end of 2016, the youth unemployment rate is 18% in the EU and 20% in the Euro area.
Challenges in the economy and the social sphere affect the standard of living and well-being of Europeans. For a sustainable unified market there must be good economic results combined with good social living conditions. One of the driving forces behind this is the social economy. But to fulfill its role and its purpose, it must be developed and encouraged. It can only prosper and realize its full potential if it has the opportunity to take advantage of adequate political, legislative and operational instruments and conditions for support. This requires the social economy to be a part of the relevant policies and programs at all levels - European, national and local. One of the challenges of promoting the social economy lies in recognizing and acknowledging its importance, not only in terms of strengthening social cohesion and limiting territorial imbalances, but also in developing economic competitiveness. In this sense, social enterprises contribute and are part of the economic development strategies of many European regions, which is also in line with the guidelines of the European Commission in the field of social economy and the development of entrepreneurial activities.