Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

News 11/02/2021

New study available on the impact of EU policies on the social economy

A new European Commission study on the impact of the Social Business Initiative (SBI) between 2011 and 2020 explains how EU policy succeeded in supporting the social economy and social enterprises.

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The study examines the impact which EU policy – in particular the SBI – had on the social economy.

The term social economy refers to a variety of organisations, including cooperatives, mutual undertakings, associations, foundations, and social enterprises. These are private organisations whose main purpose is not to generate financial gains for their owners or stakeholders, but to provide goods and services either to their members or to the community at large. They organise their activity in an alternative way, building on local roots, using participatory and democratic governance and working in close cooperation with other actors.

It is estimated that the social economy in Europe represents 2.8 million entities and enterprises as well as over 13.6 million paid jobs, i.e. 6.3% of the working population. Considering that paid employment in the social economy varies between 0.6% and 9.9% of all jobs amongst Member States, there is a major untapped economic potential including in terms of job creation.

The team who conducted the study interviewed over 300 stakeholders on the impact of the SBI on visibility, recognition and understanding of the social economy in Europe. It found that:

  • Since 2011, 16 EU Member States introduced new legislation concerning social enterprises.
  • Access to finance for social enterprises has improved considerably since 2011, thanks to new EU financial instruments under the Employment and Social Innovation Programme (EaSI).
  • The overall suite of EaSI financial instruments is expected to mobilise more than €3 billion in financing in total, out of which almost €1 billion for social enterprises.
  • In the case of the EaSI guarantee instrument more specifically, since its introduction six years ago, deals have been signed with over 120 microfinance institutions and social finance providers across Europe in 31 European countries. Furthermore, every euro of this EU support generates €11 of financing for micro-enterprises and social enterprises.
  • European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) have also been catalysts for the development of the social economy. In some countries where there was no other funding they were literally game changers, helping social enterprise eco-systems to emerge.
  • Almost EUR 1 billion has been earmarked under the European Social Fund (ESF) from 2014 to 2020 specifically for the social economy and over EUR 400 million in the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
  • Across Europe, Member States have different and heterogeneous traditions with regard to the social economy, so EU measures and national strategies should respect this diversity.

The published SBI study takes stock of the results and achievements of the SBI over the last ten years, learning from the experience and identifying the most effective policy actions and areas where more support for social economy organisations will be needed in the future.  It includes policy suggestions for the upcoming Social Economy Action Plan to be adopted in 2021.


In 2011, the European Commission presented the Social Business Initiative (SBI), which established an EU level action plan with concrete measures to establish a favourable environment for social enterprises.

In 2019, the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion commissioned a study on the impact of the SBI and its follow-up actions. Spatial Foresight, in consortium with the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises (Euricse) and the European Centre for Social Finance were awarded this contract.

The purpose of the study is to provide the Commission services with a comprehensive, evidence-based analysis of the impact of the SBI on the development of social enterprises/social economy and their operating environments both at national and EU level. The impact is measured against the key objective of the policy initiatives pursued since the SBI: creating enabling conditions for the development of social enterprises and the social economy in general. 

This final study presents the results of the research. The methodology followed a qualitative approach. In addition to the analysis of documents and relevant literature, 326 interviews with public authorities, stakeholder organisations, experts and practitioners at EU level and in European countries have been the main source of information. Moreover, 15 case studies were conducted to have a more in-depth understanding of changes in the social enterprise/social economy environment and the impact of the SBI follow-up actions. The study covers all 27 EU Member States and ten additional European countries. It was carried out between October 2019 and November 2020.

The study is financed under the European Programme for Employment and Social Innovation 2014-2020 (EaSI).

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