Bruno Roelants

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The five-minute interview

Bruno Boelants, Secretary General, CECOP-CICOPA Europe

Why did CECOP get involved with Social Platform?

We represent different types of cooperatives (industry and services) including social cooperatives - enterprises that provide social services (or by extension social services of general interest such as environment, education etc.) and labour integration to disadvantaged people. They make up about 20% of our membership, over 9,000 enterprises. We also have worker cooperatives which should be increasingly looked at as a model of social practice, in particular in terms of sustainable employment and, hence, prevention of exclusion.

What’s CECOP’s biggest achievement?

A recent achievement is on the proposed public procurement directive. The previous directive talked about “protected workshops” and “reserved markets” for people with disabilities. We lobbied extensively for a new formulation as nobody knew what protected workshops were and because they gave the idea of enterprises staffed only by people with disabilities. The new directive now talks about enterprises with a mission to provide integration and lowers the threshold from 50% to 30% (the number of disabled staff in an enterprise). It also now includes the disadvantaged - the long term unemployed, the socially excluded etc.

What’s your next battle?

For cooperatives to be recognised on a par with other types of enterprises such as Public Limited Companies (PLCs) and to have simultaneous recognition that we have a concrete social mission which is at the root of establishing and developing cooperatives. The PLC and its model are so strong it seeps through everyone’s conception of an enterprise - this has to change. We must show it is possible to be an enterprise, to all effects and purposes, and at the same time have a 100% social mission.

What changes would you like to see?

We need a number of specific EU policies to: coordinate the conversion of conventional enterprises into cooperatives, a financial mechanism to help these conversions, and help for creating peer groups among cooperatives, the benefits of which are not recognised. In relation to social cooperatives and the integration of disadvantaged citizens– there are national measures but currently no EU measures.

Why are these issues relevant for all members?

We consider ourselves a specific type of member of Social Platform, we are an association of enterprises and we are an economic operator while most other members of Social Platform represent a specific interest and work very much in the field of advocacy and policy making. I think this is very complementary. But I would like Social Platform members to think about prevention over the coming years - prevention of poverty, prevention of social exclusion etc. Then we will have more to offer as we can share our experiences in the creation of sustainable jobs and the maintenance of jobs - employment is one of the main ways by which you can achieve prevention in the social field.

Source: Engage, the quarterly publication of the Social Platform, an alliance of 46 NGO networks fighting for social justice in Europe. Issue 11, April 2012 –