Developing more effective instruments and strategies to support social innovation in the EU: the way forward

László ANDOR — European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion 

Conference on social innovation and social policy experimentation

Brussels, 28-11-2012 — / —  Ladies and gentlemen,

This conference comes at a critical juncture. The challenges already created by the profound demographic trends and increasing diversity have become even bigger due to the current crisis. A crisis which is clearly not only financial or economic, but also increasingly a social one.

Stronger inequalities, growing poverty and exclusion are not only affecting individuals, it potentially undermines social cohesion and our overall future prosperity.

We need to sustain social investment into human capital and social cohesion to avoid much higher costs in the future. Adopting such a longer term perspective is challenging in the current circumstances, especially with the strong pressures being put on public expenditure.

But we will pursue this message as part of a so-called social investment package we will present early next year. Social investment is based on the idea that social policy — implemented via well-designed, activating, flexible systems — can yield a high economic and social return.

And this is exactly where we also need to turn to new, innovative approaches. Social innovation should play a key role in this respect. Not only can it help addressing new emerging social needs, it often leads to much more cost-efficient measures.

Already as part of the Europe 2020 strategy we have highlighted this role of social innovation. Flagship initiatives such as the Innovation Union and the Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion make social innovation a priority.

Besides this, the European Union lends direct financial support to social innovation through the European Social Fund, the Progress programme but also as part of its research programmes.

Social innovation is funded under the current European Social Fund, but is not earmarked as such. This is why it is difficult to estimate the amount allocated to social innovation, but a rough estimate puts this at around 6 billion euros for 2007 to 2013.

On the basis of the evidence at hand, the main areas dealing with socio-innovative approaches in the Member States are inclusive employment, education and training policy, and social inclusion.

Between 2008 and 2012, also 10 million euro was allocated to social policy experiments under the Progress programme. This was used to finance 36 projects under three calls for proposals from 2009 to 2011.

These projects covered the social and professional inclusion of vulnerable groups, such as young people, migrants, older people, women, ill and disabled people, homeless people and long-term unemployed.

Given the dramatic youth unemployment situation in many Member States, the calls for proposals in 2010 and 2011focused on young people.

For the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, the Commission has proposed to increase support for social innovation and social policy experimentation as part of the European Social Fund and the Programme for Social Change and Innovation, which replaces the current Progress programme.

The proposal for a Regulation on the European Social Fund for 2014 to 2020 proposes to step up social innovation and transnational cooperation. Article 9 of the proposal, which concerns social innovation, states that “The ESF shall promote social innovation within all areas falling under the scope of the ESF” … “in particular with the aim of testing and scaling-up innovative solutions to address social needs.”

The Commission proposed an increase of 10% of the maximum co-financing rate for each priority axis where this axis as a whole is devoted to social innovation or transnational cooperation, or a combination of these.

The proposal for a Regulation establishing an EU Programme for Social Change and Innovation would increase support for social policy experimentation to at least 100 million euro over the period 2014 to 2020.

Through the Europe 2020 flagships, the upcoming Social Investment Package and the budget for the forthcoming period, the Commission will continue to social innovation and social policy experimentation.

To further assist Member States and stakeholders in making maximum use of the possibilities offered by EU funding we plan to publish practical guides, including principles, methods and examples of successful projects financed through previous calls for proposals or the European Social Fund.

Some of these will be presented this afternoon. One guide, which is due by the end of the year, will be dedicated to the means to support social innovation as part of the European Social Fund. Another guide in preparation is covering social policy experimentation.

Further support services are foreseen for those actors wishing to introduce social innovations or gather evidence on the efficiency and effectiveness of social policy reform through experimentation.

A new interactive online platform on social innovation will facilitate the sharing of good practices.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s conference offers us a unique opportunity to discuss how we can best give a place to social innovation and social policy experimentation as part of our efforts to achieve the Europe 2020 targets of reducing with at least 20 million the number of people living in or at risk of poverty and getting to a 75% employment rate.

Evidence-based policy-making and adequate scaling-up of successful innovations should help ensure our social protection systems are fit for purpose, sustainable and efficient. They should therefore find their place in the upcoming Social Investment Package for growth and cohesion.

The outcome of this Conference will help us and those currently negotiating the future financial instruments to take decisions on improving the use of EU funding programmes. It should help to understand what type of support the EU could most usefully offer and how Member States can make social innovation fully part of their programmes under the structural funds.

Today’s conference should also be a new starting point for strengthened cooperation between policy-makers, experts and practitioners and facilitate exchange of information on social innovation and the sharing of good practice on social policy experimentation.

I am certain that this conference will offer fresh perspectives and inspiration.

And that should ultimately help us ensuring that the Europe of tomorrow is stronger and more capable of delivering what our fellow Europeans expect and deserve.


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