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SUSY Goes Advocating at the EU

The Co-operative College’s Research and Projects Co-ordinator Amanda Benson joined the SUSY consortium’s visit to the EU Parliament last month. Read what she got up to below.

Last Tuesday was a very exciting day for the SUSY project as we got to sit in session with MEPs and use the consortium’s position paper to advocate for EU policy changes to create a more favourable legal and policy environment to support the growth of social and solidarity economy, or SSE (also referred to as the sustainable and solidarity economy). Having never been to the EU Parliament in Brussels, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to see inside where all the action happens, and it was not a disappointment. It was an incredible building, light and spacious with large atriums and plenty of modern artworks along with temporary exhibitions on the theme of the Holocaust and also the current refugee crisis.

The session…

The SUSY session itself was in a debating hall and had several speakers advocating on behalf of the project consortium, the biggest ever funded through the EU. The president of COPSE, lead partners in the project, Giorgio Menchini opened the session with a round-up of the project’s achievements and underlined that the SSE is an important response to the biggest challenges of our times, namely climate change, inequality and the growing distance between the world’s richest and poorest people. He emphasised the fact that one of the great strengths of the project was its wide reach and that the research carried out by the project can demonstrate that the SSE is making a massive difference on the ground, with over 2 million SSE organisations across Europe employing some 11 million people. He pointed out that meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be the ‘mother of all challenges’ unless radical changes were made to the way in which the economy operates, in fact he stated that they would be ‘doomed to failure’. Further, he argued that it’s not just adjustments, we need a ‘Copernican Revolution’, placing people, the environment and communities at the centre of the economy.

The paper…

The position paper itself has been a participative process including the priorities right across the SUSY consortium to make it more sustainable and remain relevant. As Marina Sarli, co-ordinator of the paper said, it’s not about a group of naive people dreaming of utopia, it’s a reality, and what’s really important is that the private sector is looking at supporting the SDGs as a key actor in respect of human rights and dignity. It was stressed that the SSE should not be pigeon-holed as a ‘sector’ – its values can reach out further across the private sector, as Jason Nardi from RIPESS stated, “The SSE is not a sector, it is a vector for change”. The EU is richer than ever, but more people are poor, so evidently something isn’t working and we need change. At present there’s no coherent EU framework to allow SSE initiatives to be created and thrive, and we need more training and education if we want new generations to think and act differently, acting co-operatively and not competitively. As Marina emphasised, “Business as usual is not possible, but unusual business is possible.” What is missing is thinking outside the box of the market economy, the mindset of addressing work and unemployment when global progress has changed the nature of work. It’s always about how we continue to grow juxtaposed with the contradiction that we want to include people, when in reality the market grows by excluding people, for example in increased automation.

Next steps…

The presentation was attended by several MEPs who all expressed an interest in working towards the proposed changes, citing it as a key ongoing focus for the EU and necessary for addressing a whole range of issues around the environment, precarious working, social exclusion and migration. The one who struck the biggest chord with me was Elly Schlein who argued that if we don’t put enough resources and political will behind the SDGs, they may just remain on paper. She stated that with the current political shift to the right, it’s more important than ever as creating tension around immigration is used as an excuse to clamp down on international movement between countries. She pointed out that proposed changes to movement rules within Africa, as a means to prevent people moving towards the EU, are incredibly dangerous as movement between countries is fundamental to African economies, reducing opportunities for young Africans even further. She underlined that the rhetoric of the right revolves around the notion of creating an environment in African countries that enables people to stay in their home countries and find decent work and living conditions where they are. However, she pointed out that tax avoidance by EU companies in Africa was roughly equivalent to the Development aid budgets, so surely it makes sense for these companies to pay up this deficit of approximately $1 trillion, roughly equivalent to the current development aid budget. As Elly stated, it makes no sense to give with one hand and take away with the other!

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