Reducing unemployment and improving the quality of community life are key elements for assuring social integration in Europe. The range of nonprofit, socially useful activities known as "third sector", "third system", "social economy" are in a unique position to address both problems. Since the late 1980s,in most European countries employment in such activities has increased much faster than in the rest of economy. In times of retrenchement of the welfare systems and mounting social problems, these activities have offered a crucial contribution to social cohesion, addressing new needs and providing services (at lower cost for public expenditure) and improving the overall quality of life.
The aim of this project is to identify the contribution to social integration in Europe which may come from what (for ease of use) we will call "third sector" activities. Their job creation potential and their ability to effectively address new needs will be assessed, and alternative policy actions will be evaluated, considering their economic efficiency and effectiveness, and the impact on social integration.
An important tool for the analysis will be a large-scale statistical survey of third sector organizations, with questions on their activities, economic dimension, employment patterns and on the impact that different policies are likely to have on their performance. Considering the lack of reliable empirical studies on the third sector such a survey will produce a valuable database which will be made available to the European Commission and to interested scholars. The survey will be carried out in three European countries - Germany, Italy and Spain - representative of the different problems and institutional frameworks present in the European Union.
The results of the three national surveys will be combined with information from the sources already available and with in-depth interviews to major players and policy makers in the field. The studies will evaluate the impact of different policies which might be more feasible and effective at the level of the European Union.
A range of policy alternatives will be considered, with clear evaluation of their advantages and disadvantages, and special attention to the needs for harmonization.
The final European report will present these evaluations, as well as an extension at the level of the European Union of the results drawn from the country studies; these findings will also be published in a wide audience book in English.
In all the project, a strong interaction - through meetings and National and European Fora - is envisaged between researchers, representatives of third sector organizations and policy makers at the national and European level in order to assure consideration of all contributions to the policy debate and the widest dissemination of the results of the project.
Funding SchemeCSC - Cost-sharing contracts