We are excited to introduce the latest deliverable from the 3P4SSE project. Our mission is centred on exploring and advocating for the potential of the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) in Central Europe, with a focus on harmonising economic, social, and environmental objectives. In this article, we embark on an exciting journey, sharing key insights from Deliverable 1.1.1, providing an illuminating perspective on the essence of SSE in this vibrant region.
Deliverable 1.1.1 is aimed to showcase the outcomes derived from the core phase of the action-research conducted within Activity 1.1 of the 3P4SSE project. Two pivotal research questions guided our work:
● How do Central European (CE) countries interpret Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) and its core concepts?
● What do CE countries prioritise in their policy agenda to promote governance instruments in SSE?
Our journey commenced with the development of a comprehensive glossary, culminating in an exploration of country-specific perspectives on social economy. Through this process, we successfully delineated policy prioritisations designed to invigorate regional SSE ecosystems.
Our research was firmly grounded in the policy landscape, particularly the European Commission’s Action Plan, unveiled in December 2021. This plan champions organisations that prioritise people over profit, collective interests, and participatory governance as the bedrock principles of the social economy. The distinct institutional approaches of EU Member States, including welfare systems and social innovation, significantly influence the understanding and development of social economy across countries.
Central European countries have followed diverse developmental paths in their approach to social economy, shaped by their unique institutional landscapes. Post-socialist welfare systems in Eastern Market Economies (EMEs) underwent substantial reforms, often coinciding with EU enlargements. Conversely, Mediterranean Market Economies (MMEs) witnessed a partial decline in welfare services, with non-profit actors taking on an increasingly prominent role.
The integration of social economy into welfare systems continues to evolve in Coordinated Market Economies (CMEs) and MMEs, shedding light on the challenges in formalising SSE characterisation, as seen in countries like Austria and Germany. Fiscal policies and taxation serve as pivotal tools in establishing country-specific legal frameworks, with public authorities overseeing the fiscal management of Social and Solidarity Organisations (SSOs).
Towards a Common Understanding: The Social Economy as a Social Institution
To comprehend the diverse institutional trajectories regarding welfare systems, social economy, and political economies within EU countries, we turned to Institutional Economics. This economic branch posits that the economy functions as a social institution, ensuring societal well-being through the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Within this context, the social economy is viewed as a social institution encompassing social commodities, social economy organisations, and social economy clusters, all working in unison to enhance economic efficiency and maximise social impact.
To fulfil the ambitious goals of our project, we adopted an action-research approach, a collaborative inquiry process aimed at solving real collective problems while investigating environmental conditions and barriers. This approach allowed us to integrate the European Union’s added value into our research process, crafting solutions tailored to the specific needs of our consortium and stakeholders. Our research methods included interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, and document reviews, ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive approach.
The Project Sample and Methodological Limitations
Our project encompassed a significant portion of CE countries, representing 67% of the CE territorial area. While we strived for fair country representation, some asymmetries persisted, particularly in Austria. The sampling technique employed aimed to generate solutions centred on our consortium and stakeholders’ needs while recognising the diversity in SSE maturity among CE countries.
Our comparative institutional approach underscored the pivotal role played by legal frameworks, regulatory policies, and institutions in shaping the social economy context in CE countries. While all EU countries recognise actors included in the EU Social Economy Action Plan, each country’s unique specificities shine through, leading to varying legal definitions of social economy.
Through desk analysis, interviews, and questionnaires, we validated the disparities among CE countries concerning the institutionalisation of social economy. While some countries like Italy, Poland, and Slovenia have formalised legal definitions, others like Austria, Croatia, and Hungary lack such definitions.
Our research journey delved deeper into the nuanced conceptualisations of social economy within CE countries, elucidating how the role of solidarity economy varies. Social Solidarity Organisations (SSOs), recognised by most CE countries due to fiscal measures, contribute significantly to the social economy landscape. CE countries are characterised by a different state of maturity of Social and Solidarity Economy, depending on diverse institutional trajectories and policy pathways: in some case studies, the evolution of legal definition on the social economy is coupled with that of the solidarity economy, but in most cases the co-development was asymmetric.
As we continue our voyage within the 3P4SSE project, these preliminary findings offer a tantalising glimpse into the intricate world of Social and Solidarity Economy in Central Europe. Our research paints a vivid picture of the diverse approaches, legal frameworks, and policy priorities that define the social economy landscape in CE countries.
Stay tuned for more insights and discoveries as we traverse the ever-evolving landscape of Social and Solidarity Economy in Central Europe. Together, we aim to foster collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation to fortify SSE ecosystems across the region.
This article marks just the beginning of our journey, and we eagerly anticipate sharing more as our research unfolds.
For more comprehensive details and in-depth information, we invite you to explore our Research here. Join us as we collectively shape the future of SSE in Central Europe. Together, we can drive positive change and foster a more inclusive and equitable society!