The economy is slowly recovering in Europe but the harsh consequences of financial crisis and austerity policy are evident in high unemployment rate, slashed public investments and a generation of young people almost lost. But people and local communities did not give in, and have tried new solutions without relying on institutional support.
New forms of economic productions have been mushrooming across Europe in the last 5 years. They took different shapes and names such as sharing economy, social entrepreneurship, impact investing, makers movement – you name them. They include digital platforms for housing and urban mobility, provision of services of all sorts, new forms of finance for start-ups and voluntary activities. Some of them have become companies with multimillion euro value such as Arduino (IT), Groupe SOS (France), and Specialisterne (Denmark). Some governments – e.g. in the UK – recognize their value and have set dedicated instruments, such as the Big Society Capital (a £600m fund).
These companies are all different, do not belong to any ideology or political party, cross borders and boundaries, but all share some characteristics: it is a bottom-up movement led by civic engagement. They combine economic activities to respond to local or new needs, empowered by distributed knowledge, technology and an expanded sense of community belonging. They have a wider concept of value creation which adds the social and environmental dimensions to the (financial) bottom line. They are sensitive to peer-review, strive for sustainability and long term development and are uber-connected through social networks.
What is the place of this emerging economy in the Single Market? Probably none. The Single Market was conceived in the last century when economic growth seemed eternal and innovation was generated by States, multinationals and research institutions. Citizens were viewed as (more or less) passive voters, workers and consumers. This is not the case anymore.
The Barroso Commission has acknowledged the emergence of new forms of economic development but the related policies were timid and ancillary: for instance Social Innovation, Social Entrepreneurship, Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation.
The new Commission needs to jump ahead and develop a Single Market fit for the 21st century. It has not only to allow but foster innovation and entrepreneurship of citizens and local communities, and recognize it as a complex multi-facets development of society and economy in Europe. It might even push it, creating socio-economic special zones to attract investments and entrepreneurs especially in the regions the most hit by the crisis.
The Italian Presidency should relaunch the Single Market adding the Social/Societal dimension encompassing all the previous policy strands into a comprehensive vision and ambitious agenda.
Europe can be and should be willing to become the world hub for societal entrepreneurship and socio-economic development in 21st century building on its centenary tradition of co-operatives, mutuals, foundations and charities.
This agenda could then be extended to its New Neighbour Policy and Aid Policy. The EU has committed over 60bn for external action and aid in 2014- 20. This is the largest public funding commitment that could be turned as investment for societal entrepreneurship in the world.
Barroso cabinet did not dare reforming the EU external and aid policy. The time has come. The ambition set for Europeans should define the same standards applied to the rest of the world.
Filippo Addarii is director of International Strategy and head of EuropeLab at The Young FoundationTAG: Europadoc impresa sociale mercato unico mercato unico europeo terzo settore