We are working on the main axes of a position on SGI, based on consensus elements already reached within CECOP at different occasions, namely:
1. Clarifying the concept of general interest and its relation with the internal market is fundamental for a proper implementation of the Lisbon agenda and for a European construction that properly balances economic and social development.
2. There is a need for a conceptual framework for SGI, which clarifies first what the concept of general interest is about, and the relation between general interest and the market. A definition of the SGI should take into account the different notions existing in the EU member states, and the fact that it is a concept in evolution. It should also include the principle of subsidiarity. Only after the SGI are defined, is it possible to define accurately the derived concepts of services of general economic interest (SGEI) and of social services of general interest (SSGI), and what differentiates them.
3. The absence of an EU framework will inevitably lead to a multiplication of cases to be examined by the European Court of Justice, which however bases its rulings exclusively on the “four freedoms” of the internal market: free circulation of goods, services, capitals and persons.
4. In the provision of SGI, there are three types of enterprises: public, private for profit, and social economy enterprises. Cooperatives and other social economy enterprises are linked to the concept of general interest, because they incorporate by definition the objective of pursuing the general interest and combine an economic purpose with a social purpose. Therefore, in their provision of SGI, they cannot be assimilated to enterprises of another type, and thus require a specific regulatory regime.
5. The activities of social economy support structures financed by the state (financial instruments etc) and aimed at promoting start-ups, transformation, restructuring and development of cooperatives and social economy enterprises, with results in terms of employment creation and employment salvation, should be included within the framework of SGI and not be exclusively regulated within the framework of state aid and competition law.
We intend to request a consensus on those points within Cooperatives Europe at its council meeting on December 19, and then to develop a more articulated position paper. All your possible comments on the above points are welcome, at the latest for Monday December 18.
Other organisations have recently issued position papers or documents in SGI, among which the EU Committee of Regions, CELSIG (European Liaison Centre on Services of General Interest), and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC, click here), which has also published a petition on this topic (click here). Although the ETUC initiative certainly does not go far enough, and in particular says nothing about the role of cooperatives and of the social economy in the development of SGI in Europe, it is probably the most high-profile position on SGI in Europe, and the one likely to become quantitatively the most important.
Once we can reach a cooperative position on SGI, we will try and see if we can negotiate a common position with ETUC on the topic.