Peer review in social inclusion

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The programme of Peer Reviews in Social Protection and Social Inclusion and Policy Assessment in Social inclusion is implemented by the Employment DD of the European Commission to encourage policy learning. It consists of a series of up to eight meetings per year, at which one Member State presents a particular policy or practice for analysis by half a dozen other Member States. Each particpating country sends a pair of representatives, comprising a policy-maker and a thematic expert. A European expert report on the topic is presented, on which each country comments. Conclusions are recorded on the programme's website.

Technical assistance is given by a consortium of ÖSB Consulting (Vienna), CEPS/INSTEAD (Luxembourg), the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) at the University of Sussex (Brighton) and Applica (Brussels).

The programme quite often touches on the social economy. In previous years it has covered:

  • the HYVE programme in Finland
  • the KoiSPE - limited liability social co-operative - in Greece

In December 2012 it covered French policy on social enterprises.


Belgium 2008

On 12-13 June 2008 the programme reviewed "the social economy from the perspective of active inclusion", and published the following summary:

see also PRSI Belgium 2008 short report

The social economy – a vital means of active inclusion?

What is the social economy?

Located somewhere between the public and the private sectors, the social economy embraces a wide range of community, voluntary and not-for-profit activities, largely carried out by organisations such as cooperatives, mutual societies, foundations, social enterprises and charities. The sector usually develops because of a need to find innovative solutions to social, economic or environmental issues and to satisfy citizens’ needs that have been ignored or inadequately fulfilled by the private and public sectors.

By supporting not-for-profit goals, it is generally considered that the social economy has a distinct and valuable role to play in helping to deliver key governmental policy objectives and to create a strong, sustainable, prosperous and inclusive society. The social economy now makes up a significant proportion of Europe’s economy, employing over 11 million people and representing around 5% of EU GDP.

Belgium has been pioneering active inclusion through support for the social economy - cooperatives, mutual societies, foundations, nonprofit organisations and what are broadly termed “social enterprises”. The system has already helped many people who had become detached from the labour market” to find work. In June 2008, experts from across Europe met in Belgium to examine the Belgian experience as part of the EU’s series of peer reviews on social inclusion.

Lessons learnt

Among the main findings, it emerged that the social economy plays an important role in giving disadvantaged groups access to the labour market, notably (as demonstrated by the site visits) through organisations such as ‘Casablanco’ or ‘Wonen en Werken’, which target the low-skilled and long-term unemployed and offer them job opportunities in construction, cleaning, catering and gardening. But the social economy also contributes to the broader EU objectives of social inclusion, non-discrimination and poverty eradication. For example, proximity services, such as cleaning, ironing and help with shopping can improve the work-life balance and gender equality. This also goes for services, like the social restaurant established by ‘Leren Ondernemen’ or the transport for the elderly with disabilities provided by ‘Ages d’Or Services’, which participants saw in operation during the site visits.

The Belgian service voucher system for proximity services was much admired by the peer reviewers and regarded as a policy that could be transferable to other countries. However, the hosts warned of the importance of distinguishing between service providers, so that commercial operators do not cream off the market created by the heavily subsidised vouchers.

Public authorities, accordingly, have a responsibility to provide advice and introduce suitable legislation. But this should not be overly restrictive, experts stressed, adding that the social economy should be fully involved in any drafting of laws. The review further highlighted the social economy’s role in promoting environmental and social innovation, saying it should be mainstreamed into all relevant social, economic and other policy-making at both national and European levels.

A blueprint for Europe?

Mutual learning can assist the development of the social economy in different countries. And, although the many different cultures and traditions across the EU mean that arrangements cannot be simply copied from one country to another, experts believed the Belgian model, with its five guiding principles (importance of work, autonomous management; service to society as the main aim rather than profit; democratic decision-making and sustainable development), could serve as a blueprint for the rest of the EU.

The peer review discussions will now feed into EU thinking and action. The European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs is preparing an owninitiative opinion on the social economy (rapporteur: Ms Patrizia Toia). Moreover, the European Economic and Social Committee is due to deliver an opinion on social experimentation in October, as a contribution to meeting on the same subject organised by the French Presidency of the EU in Grenoble on 21-22 November 2008.

From Newsletter 3/2008 of Peer Review in Social Protection and Social Inclusion and Assessment in Social Inclusion

Further information

Short report at PRSI Belgium 2008 short report

Full documentation: PRSI website: