REPORT on the role of cooperatives in the growth of women's employment

    8 July 1998

    Committee on Women's Rights
    Rapporteur: Mrs Maria Paola Colombo Svevo

    Following a request by the Conference of Committee Chairmen, the President of Parliament announced at the sitting of 24 October 1997 that the Committee on Women's Rights had been authorized to draw up a report on the role of cooperatives in the growth of women's employment.

    The Committee on Women's Rights had appointed Mrs Colombo Svevo rapporteur at its meeting of 2 September 1997.

    It considered the draft report at its meetings of 15 and 16 April, 2 and 3 June and 24 and 25 June 1998.

    At the last meeting it adopted the motion for a resolution unanimously.

    The following were present for the vote: van Dijk, chairman; Bennasar Tous, second vice-chairman; Colombo Svevo, rapporteur; Ahlqvist, Daskalaki, Eriksson, García Arias (for Frutos Gama), Gröner, Grossetête, González Álvarez (for Sierra González), Kerr (for Hautala) and Van Lancker.

    The report was tabled on 8 July 1998.

    The deadline for tabling amendments will be indicated in the draft agenda for the relevant partsession.


    Resolution on the role of cooperatives in the growth of women's employment

    The European Parliament:

    - having regard to its earlier resolutions on the social economy and cooperatives, with particular regard to those of 13 April 1983 on cooperatives in the European Community[1], 9 July 1987 on the contribution of cooperatives to regional development[2], 26 May 1989 on the role of women in cooperatives and local employment initiatives[3], 11 February 1994 on the contribution of cooperatives to regional development[4], 9 March 1994 on foundations in Europe[5] and 6 May 1994 on the alternative, social economy[6],

    - having regard to the White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness, Employment - The Challenges and Ways Forward into the 21st Century (COM(93)0700),

    - having regard to the fourth medium-term Community action programme on equal opportunities for women and men (1996 to 2000) and its resolution of 17 November 1995 thereon[7],

    - having regard to the Commission communication on a European strategy for encouraging local development and employment initiatives (COM(95)0200) and its resolution of 5 September 1996 thereon[8],

    - having regard to the communication from the Commission on promoting the role of voluntary organizations and foundations in Europe (COM(97)0241) and its resolution of 2 July 1998[9],

    - having regard to the conclusions of the extraordinary European Council meeting on employment held in Luxembourg on 21 and 22 November 1997,

    - having regard to the proposal for a Council decision on measures of financial assistance for innovative and job-creating small and medium-sized enterprises (COM(98)0026) and its opinion of 1 April 1998 thereon[10],

    - having regard to the Commission decision setting up a consultative committee for cooperatives, mutual societies, associations and foundations (CMAF)[11],

    - having regard to Rule 148 of its Rules of Procedure,

    - having regard to the report of the Committee on Women's Rights (A4-0270/98),

    A. whereas the objective of equal opportunities for women and men was included in the Amsterdam Treaty and is the subject of one of the four guidelines laid down by the Luxembourg European Council on employment,

    B. whereas the European strategy for employment outlined in the White Paper and subsequent Commission documents is aimed at balancing economic growth, employment and quality of life by identifying new sources of jobs arising from new needs and devising new working arrangements,

    C. whereas this strategy has a particular impact on women's employment; whereas a coordinated approach is required at European level in order to facilitate the identification and interaction of a wide range of flexible instruments, with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity,

    D. whereas the development of certain types of working arrangements typical of the social economy, such as cooperatives and social economy firms, can contribute to the integration of women into working life and helps to make it possible to combine professionalism with flexibility and participation; whereas this is borne out by the fact that the Luxembourg European Council made reference to the social economy in its conclusions,

    E. whereas in the 1997 budget the Commission, following an initiative of Parliament, launched two competitions for the submission of pilot schemes on the subject 'third system and employment', with a view to identifying sound practices at European level and improving knowledge in the field;

    F. whereas in the 1998 budget the European Parliament created a new Title B5-5 (Labour Market and Technological Innovation) which provides for ECU 450 million in funding for SMEs and innovative measures and projects on the labour market over a three-year period (1998-2000),

    G. whereas the term 'social economy' covers the economic activities of cooperative societies, mutuals and non-profit-making associations; whereas it applies to different situations and is subject to different legal provisions in the various Member States and whereas such disparities must be taken into account when support measures of any kind are formulated for the sector,

    H. whereas a new form of social economy firm is starting to emerge in Europe, which combines economic goals and entrepreneurship with social provision, and which can help to generate growth based on employment, social justice and equality,

    I. whereas the social economy combines the advantages of the private sector (cost control, flexible organization and personalized services) with ethical principles peculiar to the public sector and therefore opens up new prospects for public-private sector partnerships,

    J. whereas social economy firms - in particular cooperatives - often provide services for lessfavoured groups or public services with a particular social value; whereas such firms provide forms of consumer protection through their participation in the management of the firm,

    K. whereas in 1997 the Commission withdrew the proposal for a Council Decision relating to a multi-annual programme (1994-1996) of work for cooperatives, mutual societies, associations and foundations in the Community[12], on which Parliament had already delivered its opinion[13], because the Council had failed to reach agreement thereon; whereas the issue of a European statute for cooperative societies, mutuals and associations is still pending,

    Social economy, cooperatives and women's employment

    1. Considers that social economy organizations play a leading role in national and local economic life and that they have expanded their productive role by providing a flexible response to new requirements;

    2. Notes that cooperatives occupy a prominent position in the social economy and draws attention to the growth over recent years in the number of social cooperatives providing personal services and working for the integration of the less-favoured;

    3. Draws attention to the potential of cooperatives in terms of product and organizational quality, experimentation and innovation; considers that incentives should be provided for innovative sectors and that steps should be taken to facilitate access by women to new technologies;

    4. Considers that, owing to their participatory mode of operation and their adaptability, cooperative can both quantitatively and qualitatively create jobs for women in the service sector, given that they

    - permit the conversion of traditionally female skills and experience into a business asset,

    - offer a wide range of jobs facilitating integration even to poorly-qualified women or women without work experience, as well as women returning to the labour market after a period of absence for family reasons,

    - represent a stage in a woman's career, which may be used to acquire skills and professionalism that can be reused in other sectors,

    - make it easier to reconcile work and family life and, at the same time, provide highquality, affordable services;

    5. Draws attention to potential risks such as the possibility of precarious, underpaid work and of marginalization in traditionally female sectors;

    6. Notes that the main obstacles to the development of the social economy (including cooperatives) are the lack of a fully comprehensive legal framework, funding difficulties, people's inability to pay for services or lack of a private market, the difficulty of finding adequate human resources including entrepreneurial skills, organizational problems and problems in dealing with the public authorities;

    Policies and instruments

    7. Considers that the Union should actively promote the social economy as part of the strategy for employment by strengthening the legislative framework, providing coordination and organizational support and making the necessary financial resources available;

    8. Calls on the Commission, with a view to programming specific interventions on the legislative and organizational levels, to carry out, in cooperation with the Member States:

    (a) a wide-ranging study of the size of the social economy in the Member States and of the particular characteristics of the models of social enterprise in creation;

    (b) an assessment of the impact of the social economy (with particular regard to cooperatives) on women's employment, on the basis of up-to-date information on the situation for both men and women;

    9. Considers the Commission communication on voluntary organizations and foundations and the decision to set up a consultative committee for CMAFs to be positive signs; calls on the Commission to follow up these initiatives with a white paper on cooperatives and social enterprises, on the basis of the studies and research mentioned above;

    10. Calls, with a view to breaking through the impasse as regards EU legislative activity in the sector, for the relaunch of the programme for CMAFs and the establishment of a legal framework which provides the necessary degree of legal clarity and takes account of specific national and local characteristics;

    11. Calls on the Commission, with a view to promoting equal opportunities, to take due account of the social economy in all measures geared to SMEs and employment and to ensure proper coordination between the various directorates-general, so as to optimize results and concentrate the limited resources available on employment objectives;

    12. Calls for part of the funds available under new budget Title B5-5 to be earmarked for women in social economy undertakings;

    13. Calls for the assessment of results under the heading 'third system and employment' scheduled for 1999 to include comments on the contribution made by this sector to action against unemployment and the raising of women's skill levels;

    14. Calls on the Commission to consider ways of developing female entrepreneurship within the social economy, especially in respect of the more innovative enterprises and not only those based on the conventional model of social welfare services, and of developing the existing programmes to this end;

    15. Calls for specific funds to be aside under the ESF with a view to the provision of appropriate training geared to new skills and occupations and to the development of qualities such as team spirit, initiative and project management skills, in addition to the acquisition of technical skills;

    16. Calls on the Commission:

    - to step up the provision of organizational support so as to promote consortia, information networks and the establishment of and networking between social economy agencies offering training, consultancy and technical assistance;

    - to develop a motor role in the dissemination of best practice, promoting exchanges of experiences and twinning of enterprises;

    - to improve information and target it on the specific needs of women;

    17. Calls furthermore on the Commission to ensure that

    - a study is conducted into the incidences and causes of the black economy in the Member States, which provides illicit competition for new sources of jobs and is a factor in the marginalization of workers, particularly female workers,

    - pilot projects on the role of cooperatives in integrating immigrants in the labour market are set up,

    - sites providing information on social economy instruments for employment and female entrepreneurship are set up under the Internet action plan,

    - Community public procurement legislation is adjusted to take account of the specific characteristics of the social economy;

    - a proposal is submitted amending the Sixth VAT Directive to permit the application, on an experimental basis, of a reduced rate to labour-intensive 'third system' services;

    18. Calls upon the Member States to provide for the following:

    - in the annual action plans, specific measures with regard to the social economy;

    - a legal framework encouraging the organization of the social economy, including cooperatives, and public-private sector partnerships;

    - financial and fiscal incentives, including lower VAT for labour-intensive social enterprises which create jobs in particular for women, and the simplification of procedures, in such a way as to encourage the integration of the submerged economy into the formal economy;

    - easier access to loans, also by encouraging partnership with financial institutions within the social economy;

    - financial incentives for the setting-up of women's cooperatives;

    o o o

    19. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission and Council and to the governments of the Member States.

    • [1] OJ C 128, 16.5.1983, p. 51.
    • [2] OJ C 246, 14.9.1987, p. 94.
    • [3] OJ C 158, 26.6.1989, p. 380.
    • [4] OJ C 61, 28.2.1994, p. 231.
    • [5] OJ C 91, 28.3.1994, p. 48.
    • [6] OJ C 205, 25.7.1994, p. 481.
    • [7] OJ C 323, 4.12.1995, p. 174.
    • [8] OJ C 277, 23.9.1996, p. 45.
    • [9] Minutes of the sitting of that date, Part II, p. 64.
    • [10] Minutes of the sitting of that date, Part II, Point 6.
    • [11] OJ L 80, 18.3.1998, p. 51.
    • [12] Original proposal: OJ C 99, 21.4.1992; amended proposal: OJ C 236, 31.8.1993.
    • [13] OJ C 89, 17.3.1995, p. 202.



    This report sets out to analyse the specific contribution which the social economy can make to women's employment, in terms of both quantity and quality.

    The questions raised are: what particular opportunities are presented by the cooperative formula, viewed as one of the many instruments which must interact in a sound and balanced economy, for promoting women's employment? Can cooperatives be regarded as a laboratory for testing new forms of work and new ways of organizing production in innovative sectors, particularly in the area of personal services and other services benefitting the community?

    These issues are explored at the following levels: (a) the social economy, the third sector and the emergence of the social economy firm, including the cooperative model, as part of the European strategy for employment; (b) the relationship between women and the social economy, highlighting the potential of the sector and possible risks; (c) examination of the obstacles and problems with a view to defining instruments and policies for developing cooperatives at national and European level.

    1. The European strategy for employment

    The discussion is centred on the European strategy for employment outlined by the Commission in its White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment. The strategy, whose goal is to balance economic growth, employment and quality of life, defines new sources of jobs in sectors supplying the new needs of society, and new working arrangements.

    The concept of sources of employment and of a local dimension to the fight against unemployment was developed in the Commission Communication on a European strategy for encouraging local development and employment initiatives[1]. This document lists 17 sectors which provide new market niches in the services sector, in which additional jobs can be created. The local initiatives and territorial pacts for employment are part of this concept.

    Finally, it is important to look at the opportunities opened up by the employment strategy adopted at the Luxembourg European Council on the basis of four guidelines: improving employability, encouraging adaptability in businesses and their employees, developing entrepreneurship and promoting equal opportunities. The Luxembourg conclusions attribute an important role to SMEs and refer to the social economy (paragraph 65). This should be translated into practical initiatives in the national action plans for employment

    The reader is referred to the report drawn up by our committee on the particular impact of unemployment on women (PE 225.109; rapporteur: Mrs Marinucci), which analyses the situation and makes a number of requests and proposals aimed at promoting women's employment.

    2. Social economy, third sector and social economy firms

    The term 'social economy' covers the economic activities of cooperative societies, mutuals and nonprofit-making associations. There has been growing interest in recent years at both national and European level in the so-called third sector (non-profit-making activities which do not fit neatly into either the public sector or the private sector). The number of third-sector organizations has grown and their productive role has expanded, filling the gap between the increase in needs and the static or dwindling provision of services by the public sector.

    Despite the differences between legal systems and cultural traditions, the emergence of a new type of enterprise, the social economy enterprise, is discernable in Europe. This is a recent phenomenon, which has so far been institutionalized in Italy (under the 1991 Act on social cooperatives) and in Belgium (under the 1995 Act on enterprises with social objectives). The distinctive feature of the social economy firm is that it combines entrepreneurship with social provision, in a unique formulation which sets it apart from traditional firms and the traditional forms of non-profit-making association.

    Recent studies have identified the following features common to social economy firms in Europe[2]:

    - they provide services for the less-favoured sections of the population or public services with a particular social value;

    - they have developed original forms of consumer protection through their participation in the management of the firm rather than on the basis of their obligation not to distribute profits (presence of various stakeholders on the board);

    - their development is linked to the crisis in and reform of welfare systems;

    - there are two types: those that provide personal services and those that enable disadvantaged groups to enter the labour market.

    3. Cooperatives

    Cooperatives have an important place in the social economy because of their historic tradition and their wide presence in the business world. Cooperatives are based on the precepts of self-sufficiency, responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity, which they seek to uphold in accordance with the following principles[3]:

    - free and voluntary membership,

    - democratic control by members (one person, one vote)

    - economic participation of members

    - autonomy and independence

    - commitment to training and information

    - cooperation between cooperatives- commitment to the public good.

    The following is a description of the Italian experience, in particular of cooperatives in the social economy, and a brief survey of other countries whose experience in the social economy sector is particularly significant. For a full account, the reader is directed to a recent study on social economy firms in Europe[4].

    3.1. Social cooperatives - the Italian experience

    The cooperative formula may be defined as 'the Italian path to the social economy firm'[5]. Social cooperatives are regulated by Act 381/91, which states in Article 1 that the aim of the social cooperative is to serve the general interest of the community in the promotion of the human person and the social integration of citizens.

    The law allows social cooperatives to operate as business ventures for the purpose of serving the public good. Compared to ordinary enterprises, their aims, obligations and opportunities are inverted: the primary purpose of the social economy firm is to serve, in the medium to long-term, the general interest of the community to which it belongs, whilst economic equilibrium is a condition for achieving its principal goal over time[6].

    The law distinguishes two types of cooperative: Type A, for the provision of social, health and educational services, and Type B for the management of productive activities geared to the integration of the less-favoured into the labour market.

    Social cooperatives experienced a boom during the 1980s and form an extremely dynamic and rapidly expanding sector. There are more than 3 800 social cooperatives within the meaning of Act 381/91, with a turnover in excess of ITL 2 500 billion. They provide work for more than 75 000 people (of whom 60% are women) and call on the services of 12 000 volunteers and 2 000 conscientious objectors performing civilian service[7]. They are eligible for a series of tax advantages and benefits and are required to respect certain rules, for example a percentage of their profits must be reinvested and at least a third of the members employed by Type B cooperatives must be from less-favoured groups.

    3.2. Cooperatives in other EU Member States

    United Kingdom: there are numerous voluntary associations which are developing the professional and entrepreneurial aspect of their activities. There is no specific legislation governing cooperatives which serve to integrate the unemployed and disabled into the labour market. Cooperatives are playing an increasing role in the provision of personal services (home care).

    Spain: cooperatives play a major role, both in providing services and in employing less-favoured workers. The Constitution gives cooperatives an explicit role but there is no specific legislation on social cooperatives at national level, although they are legislated for in some regions. Many cooperatives have been set up over the past 15 years as the result of initiatives by parents of disabled children and in order to provide care for the elderly and treatment and rehabilitation for drug addicts and AIDS patients. Women account for 55% of the members and 69% of the workers.

    Portugal: public services are fairly poor, reflecting the underdeveloped social economy, and are organized in different ways. Cooperatives - minority players in the non-profit sector - are recognized under the Constitution. A bill on social cooperatives is being drafted.

    Sweden: this country has a virtual market in personal services. In the past decade cooperatives providing services have mushroomed (and now number 1 500). They are typically set up by the users of services (particularly in the child-care sector, e.g. parents who run crèches).There are also workers' cooperatives providing services and cooperatives for the social and occupational reintegration of the disadvantaged. Since 1980, new women's cooperatives have arisen in areas with a low population density (Jämtaland has 100 cooperatives employing 400 people full-time and providing work for a further 2 500).

    Finland: welfare is provided almost exclusively by the public sector. There are some associations or small cooperatives which provide welfare services (a limited but growing phenomenon).

    Belgium: cooperatives exist in the insurance, credit and agricultural sectors. Non-profit-making associations operate in the personal services sector (210 000 employees and 115 000 volunteers). Both associations and cooperatives provide jobs for the disabled and unemployed. The new Act on organizations serving the public good (which may or may not be cooperatives, set limits to the distribution of profits and have mechanisms to safeguard internal democracy) was passed in 1995.

    Ireland: there are social economy firms which tackle long-term unemployment and experiment with innovative services. In the 1970s 'community enterprises' were created for the development of lessfavoured areas.

    4. The social economy and personal services

    The social economy, in the different forms in which it is organized, has proved particularly well-suited to delivering personal services. These services, together with the other sectors identified by the Commission as sources of new jobs, are of interest for various reasons[8]:

    - they can create additional jobs by responding to new needs arising from social changes (demographic trends, ageing population, increase in the numbers of working women and oneparent families);

    - they are unlikely to suffer from competition (national/international) and therefore offer greater stability in the long term;

    - they are of an intangible nature, based on human relationships, which reduces the possibility of replacing people with machines;

    - they can employ the most marginalized sections of the labour-market (women, young people, people in difficulty);

    - they are very labour-intensive and often require a low level of initial investment;

    - they are generally provided by small and medium-sized enterprises;

    - they have a local dimension and are often based on relationships of trust and informal relations.

    These characteristics make personal services well suited to the methods of organization of the social economy, which combines the advantages of the private sector (cost control, flexible internal organisation and provision of personalised services) with some of the ethical obligations of public service.

    5. Women in the social economy and in cooperatives

    There are many barriers to the professional integration of women, such as the persistent horizontal and vertical segregation of women on the labour market, the problem of reconciling working and family life and the under- representation of women in decision-making processes at all levels.

    Statistics show that, despite rising unemployment, jobs have been created in SMEs and cooperatives in recent years. The sector therefore appears to offer considerable employment potential, based on organizational innovation and the capacity to target demand to labour-intensive sectors.

    The rapporteur set out to explore the hypothesis that the social economy and in particular the cooperative model, owing to its participatory mode of operation, based on self-determination and the attribution of responsibility to workers, and its flexible organisation, can make a real contribution to the integration of women into working life and meet some of their demands, such as financial and decision-making autonomy, compatibility of working life with family life and improved quality of life.

    The rapporteur also wishes to draw attention to a number of possible risks:

    - Could micro-enterprises become a source of precarious, underpaid jobs?

    - Could the emphasis on particular services lead to the marginalisation of women in low-skilled jobs and in traditionally female sectors (a "new domesticity")?

    - Do the policies on flexibility (part-time work and atypical forms of employment) offer real alternatives to the standard model of employment (and thereby facilitate the employment of women) or do they instead risk increasing the marginalization of women on the labour market?

    - Does the legal form impose constraints, in other words is the status of cooperative obligatory in order to obtain subsidies and tax concessions?

    In conclusion, it is important to avoid idealising the cooperative model as an ideological counterweight to other instruments in the public and/or private sector, but at the same to emphasise its complementary role.

    6. The opportunities for women's employment provided by social economy firms

    To answer the questions set out above, a set of hypotheses was explored. These hypotheses were centred on certain key concepts, namely quality, professionalism, innovation, adaptability, training and entrepreneurship. The rapporteur based her analysis on extensive background documentation and recent studies, together with the first-hand knowledge of the situation as regards social cooperation in Italy gained during a visit which a delegation from the Committee on Women's Rights made to Brescia in May 1998.

    6.1. The principles of democratic and participatory management are an important factor for career development as they involve all their member-employees in the management of the enterprise, irrespective of the tasks performed. These factors are important in creating a satisfying and motivating working environment and are elements of "intangible compensation" for the modest financial reward.

    6.2. More flexible working hours and less discrimination against part-time work would make it easier to balance private life with working life[9].

    6.3. Quality is fundamental to the provision of services (particularly personal services) and the creation of permanent jobs depends on the innovative and professional nature of the service. This is a spur to innovation, both for products (new sectors and services) and for new ways of organising the provision of services.

    6.4. Training is an important component of the cooperative model and can be translated into professional and personal enrichment for those working in the cooperative.

    6.5. The acquisition of skills in a social economy firm can represent a stage in a woman's career which can be exploited for redeployment to other sectors. A cooperative can serve as a "tool for guaranteeing workers the possibility of acquiring, maintaining and increasing their value on the labour market"[10].

    6.6. Cooperative status facilitates the shouldering of entrepreneurial risk as it is legally "safe" from the point of view of liability. Collective status reduces the difficulty of putting up the necessary capital for the start-up phase and has an important psychological effect for the purposes of providing employment for the least-advantaged sections of the population.

    6.7. Social economy firms promote a diverse entrepreneurial culture. Cooperatives offering services provide the opportunity to convert a legacy of skills and experience in traditionally female sectors into a business asset[11].

    6.8. The service sector offers a very broad spectrum of work and enables unskilled women, i.e. those most at risk of unemployment, to find work.

    6.9 The role of cooperatives employing the disadvantaged should be studied more fully in order to increase the participation of disadvantaged women. Recent research on Type B cooperatives in Italy shows that the majority of workers are women but only a tiny percentage of members are disadvantaged women.

    7. Problems and obstacles to the development of cooperatives

    - the legal framework is sometimes inadequate;

    - lack of funding, especially in the start-up phase: difficulty in obtaining funding through the traditional channels;

    - people's inability to pay for services needed and lack of a private market for the services offered;

    - difficulty of finding adequate human resources, including entrepreneurial skills;- organizational problems;

    - problems in dealings with the public authorities.

    8. Policies and instruments for promoting the social economy and the employment of women

    8.1. The European Union's role

    The role of the European Union in promoting forms of business venture operating in the social sector, with the particular goal of providing employment for women, chimes with:

    (a) the principle of subsidiarity, equal opportunities policy and the aims of the equal opportunities action programme;

    (b) the guidelines laid down in the Commission's White Paper and subsequent documents on increasing the employment intensity of growth;

    (c) the role of the Structural Funds;

    (d) the employment strategy adopted at Luxembourg and the four guidelines mentioned above.

    Parliament has taken the lead since the 1980s in promoting the social economy and the cooperative sector by drawing attention to its potential in numerous resolutions. Our committee drew up a report in 1989 on the role of women in cooperatives and in the local employment initiatives (rapporteur: Magdalene Hoff, A2-149/89).

    In 1989, the Commission set up a Social Economy Unit in DG XXIII. The Consultative Committee for Cooperatives, Mutual Societies, Associations and Foundations (CMAF)[12] has recently been set up.

    Despite such positive signs, there are some obstacles to the development of the social economy: the programme proposed for the CMAF for 1994 to 1997, on which Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee delivered a favourable opinion, was never adopted by the Council and was withdrawn in 1997 by the Commission which is now drawing up the new programme for 1998-2001. The draft European statute for a European cooperative society is also on ice.

    New Commission proposals which further develop the approach outlined in the communication on voluntary organizations and foundations, on which Mrs Ghilardotti recently drew up a report on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs[13], are required in order to break through the impasse as regards EU legislative activity in the social economy sector.

    The following are some suggestions put forward by your rapporteur for measures and policies to provide incentives for social economy firms, including cooperatives, and for their contribution to the growth of women's employment at local, national and European level.

    Legal framework:

    - at national level: create an adequate legal environment catering for the new professional and occupational players (workers and enterprises in the social economy); encourage the creation of cooperatives; authorize public-private partnerships;

    - at European level: establish a clear legal framework which takes account of national and local specificities.


    - provide a full range of financial support: bank loans, risk capital, guarantees, ethical funds, subsidies and development of micro-credit;

    - promote partnerships with the financial institutions of the social economy which operate in sectors of the market neglected by the traditional institutions.

    Modernization of national employment policies:

    - promote diversification, decentralization and contractualization;

    - exploit the potential of micro-enterprises;

    - provide incentives for innovative forms of cooperation between the public and private sectors.

    Public policies to support supply and demand:[14]

    demand side, public sector:

    - award contracts for services not only on the basis of price but also according to the criterion of the most economically advantageous bid;

    - revise the Community legislation on competition and tenders to take into account the special nature of enterprises in the social economy;

    demand side, private sector:

    - introduce instruments to tackle the problem of inability to pay and to create a market in services: for example, contracting of services, tax deductibility of expenses on social and care services, reduction of VAT for social economy firms and high employment intensity activities.

    supply side:

    - introduce measures to increase flexibility, reduce labour costs, limit investment costs and improve access to credit.

    Action at the level of the Member States and the EU:

    - measures designed to encourage the launching of new experiments with cooperatives, e.g. funding for start-ups;

    - support for the conversion of traditional non-profit-making organizations into business ventures;

    - support for splitting a cooperative which has reached a given size into several cooperatives;

    - programmes for exchanges of experience and information; twinning of enterprises; subsidies for micro-enterprises creating jobs in innovative sectors;

    - pilot projects on, inter alia, the role of cooperatives in integrating immigrants in the labour market: immigrants frequently come from countries with a tradition of working in groups based on solidarity.


    Training should be recurrent and continuing, short and with a practical bias. It is also essential that it:

    - be geared to new skills and professions,

    - develop general qualities in addition to technical skills, e.g. team spirit, creativity, initiative and project management,

    - develop functions linked to entrepreneurship, particularly 'social entrepreneurship'.

    Organizational support:

    - promote organization in consortia, information exchange networks, social economy agencies offering training, consultancy, technical assistance and help with finalizing projects. The Commission can play an important role in promoting such agencies and placing them in networks;

    - disseminate best practice.

    The Commission could also be asked to:

    - carry out a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of jobs and services in the cooperative and local initiatives sector and their impact on women's employment;

    - continue to experiment with and support pilot projects;

    - ensure that the social economy is made visible and is harnessed and that its special nature in the context of SMEs is recognized;

    - sponsor a study into the incidence and causes of the black economy in the different Member States, which provides illicit competition for many of the services creating new sources of jobs and helps perpetuate the marginalization of the workers concerned;

    - study ways of developing entrepreneurship in the social economy, particularly in cooperatives.

    • [1] OJ C 265, 12.10.1995, p. 3.
    • [2] G. Marocchi, L'impresa sociale in Europa, in Imprenditori sociali, Second rapporto sulla cooperazione sociale in Italia, Edizioni Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, 1997.
    • [3] International Cooperative Alliance (Manchester Charter).
    • [4] Contributo dell'impresa sociale alla creazione di occupazione nel settore dei servizi alla persona [Contribution of the social economy firm to the creation of employment in the personal services sector[ by C. Borzaga and M. Maiello (1997).
    • [5] G. Marocchi, op. cit.
    • [6] Stefano Lepri - Le imprese sociali oggi in Italia, in Imprenditori sociali, 1997.
    • [7] Idem.
    • [8] G. Marocchi, op. cit.
    • [9] See the project for "Participation and Flexibility: an opportunity for women's employment", funded under the fourth action programme on equal opportunities, intended to examine ways of balancing working and family life using "positive flexibility" mechanisms.
    • [10] Scalvini, Innovazione sociale, 1996.
    • [11] Idem.
    • [12] OJ L 80, 18.3.1998, p.51.
    • [13] A4-0203/98.
    • [14] See: S. Lepri, L'impresa sociale in Europa.