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L'Economie Politique n°39 Pour un nouveau modèle de consommation - 2008

Special edition of the French monthly magazine Alternatives Economiques

Series Trends in Social Cohesion
Methodological guides

 

SESSION II - Why involve citizens in combating poverty and exclusion?

    - Synoptic tables of dialogue and partnerships between public authorities and citizen initiatives 

    The various examples of concrete action that have been collected and published1 illustrate the key role played by dialogue between citizen initiatives and the public authorities to ensure the success of action taken. This dialogue, which is often essential for carrying out that action, increases its visibility and impact beyond that of isolated measures and also enables public policy objectives – especially social, environmental and global solidarity policies – to be better realised and promotes new forms of democracy through knowledge-sharing, consultation and co-responsibility.

    The result of this mutual benefit results is that the partnership becomes stronger as the action taken progresses:

      1- The source of this benefit often lies in the search for dialogue and complementary elements or symbioses that may occur between action taken by the citizens and the public authorities to achieve the same objective, such as the integration of the unemployed, where more normative and citizen-based public approaches, which are often centred on personal assistance, clearly complement one another. The search for dialogue is also to be found in citizens’ activities aimed at influencing certain public policies to ensure better recognition of the role of certain organisations of civil society (see the example of the social co-operatives in Italy) or grater transparency (for example, the French National Centre for Independent Information on Waste or the Committee against Modern Slavery in France);

      2- At a more advanced stage, citizen initiatives benefit from the recognition and legal or financial support provided by the public authorities, thus opening up prospects for rescaling and operationalisation and enabling the action taken to gain greater legitimacy. There are many examples that illustrate this form of partnership, which is the most typical;

      3- A stage further occurs in the partnership when public authorities and citizens unite around joint action, whether it be for a short period (for example, promotion weeks like those held in Dortmund, Germany) or more long-term. In certain cases, action may be innovative or experimental and open up prospects for shared learning (for example, LEALILLE in France or Cambieresti in Venice);

      4- Finally, closer relations between the public authorities and the citizens are reflected in the establishment of a framework for long-term concerted action. Agenda 21 or the various decentralised co-operation programmes (such as between Nantes and Recife or Luxembourg and Cape Verde) are examples of this. In certain cases, such as in Rome, permanent consultation tables enable the partnership and co-responsibility approach to be systematised. This closer relationship between public authorities and citizens is also reflected in the public authorities’ consideration of the citizens’ concerns, in particular when ethical and solidarity based rules are introduced in the case of public procurement (there are many examples of this in all European countries, especially at the local level) or when official labels, such as the Belgian social label, are introduced.

    Below are four tables (one for each type) that systematise these different stages in the progress of a partnership on the basis of the examples collected.

    1- Search for dialogue and complementarities

Type of partnership

Examples in the fact sheets

Added value of the partnership

Driving forces / partnership facilitators

a- Citizen initiatives aimed at influencing public policies (action in the early stages of the partnership)

Independent second opinions

- CNIID (France), p.89

Fine-tuning of public policies

 

Lobbying for new laws

- Réseau Financement Alternatif (Alternative Financing Network) (Belgium), p.43
- Comité contre l’esclavage moderne (Committee against Modern Slavery) (France), p.110

Political and legislative responses to problems of general interest to which little consideration is given

 

Campaign to have better account taken in public policies of:

- minority rights
- equal opportunities

- Romeurope (several European countries ), p. 111

- AVEC network (France), p.33

Better governance by public institutions

 

Campaign for ethical conduct and against corruption in the management of public funds

Integra Foundation (Slovakia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Russia and Serbia), p. 48

 

Questioning of public authorities on institutional practices

Institute of Race Relations (United Kingdom), p.119

 

Training of elected representatives

Isomi (Slovakia), p.118

 

Campaign for the better recognition of citizen initiatives

Niok (Hungary), p.118

Better recognition of the social benefits of citizen initiatives

 

b- Symbioses (mutually beneficial associations between public services and citizens’ actions)

Symbiosis between social integration and the processing of waste

- Emmaüs (France, Spain),p.34
- Rusz, Vienna, p. 29

Operationalises social action by helping to find a solution to an ecological problem and/or complying with legislation

Immediate objective benefit for each of the two parties

c- Complementarities between public and private measures

Complementarity of actions for a vulnerable group

a) Unemployed people
- Boutiques Club Emploi (France), p.32
- Impuls (Switzerland), p.36
b) Crime and prisoners
- ARPEGE (Belgium), p.30
- CRED (Romania), p.30
c) Elderly people
- Alagadom, Limoges (France), p. 100

Better integration owing to complementarity between public policy (laying down rules) and citizen actions to provide personalised assistance

Learning process making it possible to discover complementarities and know how to develop them

Complementarity between the integration of elderly people by means of social housing (state) and specific activities (associations)

Complementarity for the creation of new occupations and jobs

- Formeville, Brussels (Belgium), p.97

The public authorities create jobs for new occupations that lend themselves to social cohesion and set up associations that provide training in these occupations

Action possible through additional European funding

    2- Public authorities’ recognition of and support for citizen initiatives

Type de partnership

Examples in the fact sheets

Added value of the partnership

Driving forces / partnership facilitators

 

a- Public support for the initiation and development of citizens’ actions

 

Laws and legal and/or tax frameworks for facilitating the development of citizen initiatives

- Social co-operatives (Italy)
- Sociedades laborales (Spain), p.64
- Law on earned income savings (France)

Leverage effects: boost citizen actions

Legal/tax frameworks often established following existing citizen initiatives that have exerted pressure in this direction

 

Support for sales promotion

- Portal of achat solidaire local (local solidarity-based purchases), Grenoble (France)
- Spietz recipe book (Switzerland)

Citizens’ actions are gaining increasing legitimacy

Recognition by the public authorities of the social benefits of citizen initiatives

 

Facilitating access to public procurement

Compra Social (social purchases) (Catalonia – Spain)

Ensures the viability of citizens’ actions

 

Making means available to launch a pilot experiment

- Centifiori farm, Modena (Italy), p.35
- Ecological Youth Hostel (Munich), p.81
- Atmosfair (Germany), p.82
- Industrial symbioses (Denmark), p.84
- Time Bank (Spain, Italy), p. 50 et 51

 

Extension of successful pilot action by
- giving it another dimension
- providing support for spreading it further afield

- Ropa amiga (Catalonia, Spain), p. 31
- Reciproco project (Portugal), p. 87

Rescaling

 

Support for networking

Support for AMAP (Association for the Preservation of Peasant Farming) network (PACA Region, France), p.87
- Viabono label (Germany), p.83

Makes it possible to progress beyond start-up to the self-financing stage

 

Support for the establishment of a business field

Fair cotton (coton équitable) chain (France), p.66

 

b- Public support for private services for the public benefit

 

Services for supporting the integration if immigrants, minorities and/or women

- Immigranten aan Zet! (Immigrants on the Move), Amsterdam (Netherlands), p.101
- Centre Bruxellois d’action multiculturelle (Brussels Multicultural Action Centre) (Belgium), p.109
- Femmes inter associations (national network of women’s associations) (France), p. 112

More effective response to each specific problem concerned

Recognition by the public authorities of the effectiveness of citizen initiatives in the area considered

 

(Micro)Loan services for the socially excluded

- ADIE (France), p.45
- Charity Bank (UK), p. 49

 

Services for providing loans to citizens’ organisations

- Agreement between social co-operatives and the Venezia region (Italy), p.46
- Support for parish bodies in Venezia (Italy), p. 47

 

Private agencies for the support of citizen initiatives

- Best, Berlin (Germany), p. 95

 

c- Public support for concerted citizens’ actions in a specific area or region

   

Concerted action

- Platform of the associations in the Barrio de la Mina (Mina district), Sant Adrià de Besos (Spain), p.98
- Space for Inter-Organisational Projects at Vaulx-en-Velin (France), p.99

Knowledge of one another and better co-ordination of actions

Recognition by the public authorities of their role as facilitators of citizen initiatives

 

Information sharing

Pagine Arcobaleno (rainbow pages), Bologna (Italy), p.75

 

    3- Joint actions of public authorities and citizens

Type of partnership

Examples in the fact sheets

Added value of the partnership

Driving forces / partnership facilitators

a- Joint actions to promote ethics and solidarity

Events organised in partnership or joint awareness-raising actions

-Fair trade week in Dortmund (Germany), p.61
- Green Christmases (Andalusia), p.65
- Fa la Cosa Giusta (Do the right thing”) , Milan (Italy), p.72
- Ökomarkt (Ecomarket), Sankt Gallen (Switzerland), p. 77
- MicroKyoto, Bologna (Italy) p 90
- The world of NGOs - campaigns (Austria), p. 108

Joint promotion of different forms of citizen involvement in the economy

Forums for dialogue such as Agenda 21 often play a crucial role

Establishment of specific channels

- Fair Café outlets, Ruhr (Germany), p.58
- Fair Bus, Berlin, p.58
- Val Siccomonte (Italy), p.90

Education

- CTM Altromercato solidarity based catering in Genoa (Italy), p. 71

Promotion of forms of citizen involvement

- Global Action Plan (Basque Country, Spain), p.85
- Andalusian Bicycle Pact (Spain), p.86
- Redecole (campaign to reduce the number of car journeys to take children to school) (Grand Couronne, France), p.86

Launch of a common instrument

- The eco-plus card, Heidelberg (Germany), p.57
- Eco-Aspromonte local currency (Italy), p.72
- Guide to sustainable consumption, Sesto San Giovanni (Italy), p.74
- Information points, Berne (Switzerland), p. 102

Joint action for promoting corporate social responsibility

Region of Tuscany (Italy), p.76

Actions impossible without a joint approach involving public authorities and citizens

b- Specific joint actions

Ethical and solidarity based funds and micro-credit services in public-private partnership

- Eco-credit and city of Neuss (Germany), p.41
- Un sol mon (One world) (Spain), p.44
- Caisse solidaire (solidarity fund) Nord-Pas de Calais (France), p.45
- Banca Etica (Italy), p.46

Fight against social exclusion, job creation, local development

Dialogue between public authorities and citizen initiatives on the specific difficulties involved in seeking solutions to these problems

Joint action for social integration

- Loans for home ownership, Carpi (Italy), p.48
- WebSourd (web-based information system) extended from Toulouse to other towns (France), p.115

Operationalisation of an integration measure

Non discrimination against disabled people

Concerted action for a public service

Separation of household waste (eg, at Saint-Denis, France), p.67

Actions impossible without a joint approach involving public authorities and citizens

Joint actions for the rehabilitation of living spaces

- Erika Mann School, Berlin (Germany), p.96

 

Joint experimental actions

LEALille (France), p.70
Cambieresti, Venice (Italy), p.73

Shared learning

    4- Establishment of a framework for long-term concerted action.

Type de partnership

Examples in the fact sheets

Added value of the partnership

Driving forces / partnership facilitators

a- Aspects that facilitate dialogue and citizens’ participation

Interface for facilitating the partnership between the public authorities and the citizens

Patrimoine Sans Frontières (Heritage without Frontiers) (France), p.127
- Association Habitat et Participation (Housing and Participation Association) (Belgium), p.97
- Birch Project (Birch: district of Schaffhausen, Switzerland), p. 102
- Fondation Solidarité (Solidarity Foundation) (Belgium), p. 109

Boosting the dialogue between the public authorities and the citizens

Existence of promoters of these initiatives and the interest they arouse

Information points

- Stifinfo services, Venice (Italy), p.73
- Platform for responsible investments (Austria), p. 42
- Observatory of transnational enterprises, Cordova (Spain), p.65

Transparency and sharing of information on the socio-economic situation

Spaces for exchanging views and for shared information

- Local public area (France), p.113

Co-production of a survey of local reality

Opening up of spaces for citizen participation in public life

Quartiers du Monde (Neighbourhoods of the World) for young people (France), p. 114

Participatory democracy

b- Perpetuation of consultation frameworks

Public-private partnerships with a facilitating and co-ordinating function

- Mous (Maîtrise d’Oeuvre Urbaine et Sociale – Supervision of urban and social projects), Stains (France), p.100
- Spiez aktiv (Spiez: town in Switzerland), p.77

Partnership activation and continuity

- Existence of a shared will
- Initiating role of certain specific programmes
- Key role, depending on the case, of the public authorities (example: Rome) or citizen initiatives (example: centre of anti-discrimination foundations)

Permanent consultation forums

Consultation table, Rome (Italy), p.74

Common charter, ongoing joint actions, development of synergies between the players

Framework of co-operation between territories (decentralised co-operation)

- Luxembourg – Cape Verde, p.128
- Nantes-Recife, p.126
- Grenoble, p.69

Development of North-South solidarity bonds

Shared commitments for the management of an area

- Espace MontBlanc (Mont Blanc Area) (France, Italy and Switzerland), p.88

Participatory, consistent and sustainable management of the area

European networks of public-private partnerships for a public policy

- Centre of anti-discrimination foundations (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium), p.117

Collection and dissemination of good practices on the public policy concerned

c- Consideration of citizens’ concerns in public rules concerning the operation of the markets

Rules relating to ethical and solidarity based behaviour with regard to public procurement

- City of Munich (Germany), p.59
- Town of Saint-Denis (France), p.67
- City of Ferrara (Italy), p.71
- Catalonia (Spain), p.63
- etc.

Better integration of social and environmental externalities into prices

- Convergence on values
- Shared political will

General rules on market operations

- Charter for the protection of GMOs (20 European regions), p.88

 

Official labels

- Social Label (Belgium), p.62
- Viabono Label (Germany), p.83
- Ecolabel (EU, France, etc), p.83
- Financial ecolabel (Austria), p.42

Greater transparency in the social externalities that are not included in prices

 

SESSION III - How to involve citizens in combatting poverty and exclusion?

    - Information and awareness-raising activities relating to responsible consumption and solidarity-based saving 

Summary of Council of Europe studies on this subject
(contribution to the Trento seminar workshops – session 3)

Introduction

The spread of responsible consumption and solidarity-based saving relies to a large extent on public information and awareness-raising activities. This seems an incontrovertible truth, especially as numerous surveys have shown that nearly half of all consumers are now aware of the issues and say that they are ready and willing to make consumer choices and purchases in line with their desire for a fairer and more environmentally-friendly society. However, there are still very few who actually take the first step, largely due to a lack not only of the type of information and knowledge which would enable them to make informed choices but also of suitable incentives.

This is why the Dialogue platform on ethical and solidarity-based initiatives carried out a number of activities in this field in 2005. In the context of the Council of Europe’s Year of Citizenship through Education, 2005, this work was intended to highlight the contribution that improved information and awareness-raising can make to the full expression of citizenship through consumption and saving practices. It took the form of a review of all information and awareness-raising needs and current activities in this area, so as to assess the challenges that we face today in these areas and make some proposals to be submitted for discussion.

This document summarises the work done and is to be presented at the Trento seminar. It is divided into three parts:

    1- a description of the issues;
    2- the review itself, taking the form of tables;
    3- a look at certain key questions for possible discussion at the three Trento seminar workshops (at session 3, on the afternoon of 1 December).

More information can be obtained from the following Council of Europe materials on the subject:

- a database containing details of the main information and consumption-related activities, compiled mainly on the basis of information collected from the web (not distributed);
- an analysis of the specific situation in central and eastern European countries (available in French only);
- the full report (to be made available after the Trento seminar).

1. The underlying issues

To understand the issues involved in public information and awareness-raising activities about responsible consumption and solidarity-based finance, we have to begin by analysing consumption and savings activities themselves.

Consumption is something that everyone does every day, not necessarily confined to the act itself of purchasing or consuming something, but one part of a chain preceded by, and in turn preceding, other parts, as described below:

Choice of the level of consumption -> choice of consumption methods -> product choice -> purchase -> consumption -> management of surpluses (particularly financial surpluses through savings).

Socio-economic and cultural factors and knowledge all come into play in respect of each of the links in the chain, all of them influencing the choices made. For example, income is a decisive factor in the choice of the level of consumption, but is combined with other factors such as personal and cultural characteristics.

We have tried to represent in two diagrams the various factors affecting each link in the chain, the information and awareness-raising aspects which influence choices and the parties involved:

- the first one shows the conventional situation, in which consumers reason according to predominant factors generally relating to their own circumstances and take no account of other information (citizenship playing no part in their consumption and savings choices);
- the second shows a socially responsible approach to consumption, in which consumers regard other types of consideration as relevant information.

The two diagrams show the different types of information and knowledge which play their part in responsible consumption and savings and the factors introduced by predominant forms of information such as advertising. They provide a framework for an appraisal of current needs and circumstances, making it possible to draw conclusions regarding each of the categories identified.

    Information, awareness-raising and incentive mechanisms for consumption and savings
    1 – The predominant conventional approach
    (see table in printable version (Word))

    Information, awareness-raising and incentive mechanisms for consumption and savings
    2 - The budding socially responsible approach
    (see table in printable version (Word))

2. Current circumstances and current needs

    Looking at the five types of information and awareness-raising presented in the diagram, it is possible to assess and weigh up each type, identifying what would be needed in an ideal situation for consumption to be responsible and what the current circumstances actually are, with a view to making a critical appraisal and determining possible courses of action and proposals. The following tables summarise the assessments made. The additional line on facilities and incentives looks beyond the provision of information about them.

 

Needs (ideal circumstances)

Actual situation

Critical assessment

Possible courses of action, proposals

A- Information and awareness-raising about the world situation

- A1- Information on general socio-economic and environmental trends
- A2- Information on the global impact of human activity
- A3- Information on international agreements and their application
- A4- Information on the degree or lack of consistency between trends and the application of agreements/objectives

A1- Exists and is relatively well disseminated
A2- Little known
A3- The main points are disseminated widely by the media, but application is little reported
A4- Little information is disseminated

In general, the information is there but is disjointed, poorly structured and marginalised (often figuring only on the Internet and not in the mass media) à The public finds it difficult to gain an accurate picture of the situation

Need for more systematic provision of general information à a challenge for the world of education

How can more attention be drawn to the media which highlight this information?

B- Information and awareness-raising on the impact of consumption methods

B1- Information on alternative consumption and its impact (housing, energy, water, food, health, transport, etc.)
B2- Information on waste management methods
B3- Information on reference standards and levels1. “Reference standards and levels” means:standards which enable the public to position themselves in relation to a shared overall responsibility: (a) in terms of consumption: for example, the maximum greenhouse gas emission levels that everyone should be able to comply with in order to satisfy Kyoto Protocol objectives; (b) in terms of income: average world and national income figures; consumption levels in relation to production: the average level of electric power consumption at which it is necessary to make use of non-renewable energy sources (not hydro-electric, wind or solar power), then the level at which nuclear energy has to be used, etc.;the conversion of these standards and levels into indicative consumption targets in areas such as transport, waste management and water use. Some of these indicative targets could be devised, or even imposed, by the public authorities, particularly at local level;warning thresholds: for example price levels below which, whatever technologies were used, it is impossible for the product being sold to have been produced in accordance with ILO standards and/or for the people who produced it to have been paid enough to have a decent standard of living.
B4- Tools for assessing one’s own consumption methods and their impact

B1- Information exists but only within specialised circles
B2- Is spreading
B3- Very poorly covered
B4- Guides exist but few people know about them – practically no information provided on bills (e.g. electricity and transport bills)

The public do not have reference points to help them to set objectives and monitor the impact of their consumption methods à they are often forced to take a piecemeal and empirical approach to regulating their consumption methods

Thought should be given to the reference standards and levels which it is essential to introduce so that people can regulate their own consumption methods

C- Information and awareness-raising on products

C1- Information on the life-cycle of products (from the social and environmental conditions of production and distribution to processing and possible recycling after use)
C2 – Warnings about problem products

C1- Information relates only to certain products and is provided in a condensed, incomplete form (rarely covering the whole cycle)
C2- Limited to certain issues (e.g. child labour)

Information is inadequate and relates only to certain products (prior information: fair trade products; subsequent information: some industrial products)à the consumer’s chances of making socially responsible purchases are limited

Social and environmental “passports” could be produced for each product, perhaps containing a specified minimum amount of information

D- Information on distribution circuits and services

D1- Information on producers and firms
D2- Information on circuits in general
D3- Information on circuits specialising in responsible consumption and solidarity-based savings
D4- Information on responsible consumers’ associations

D1- Rarely exists save in the form of grading systems
D2- Very rare
D3- Quite well disseminated
D4- Idem

Citizens who wish to do so can find information on specialist circuits relatively easily.
However, information on conventional firms and circuits is very limited.

Choosing between or combining two approaches when trying to change the ways of conventional firms and circuits: opposition and competition or infiltration and “infection”.

E- Facilitators and incentives

E1- Access facilitators:
- - specialist trade circuits
- waste treatment systems
- - alternative banks
E2 Presentation facilitators: labels
E3- Transaction facilitators:
- - local currencies,
- - local contracts,
- - socially responsible savings products
E4- Tax incentives

E1- Spreading, but still concentrated in large cities
E2- Very widespread
E3- Marginal, but spreading rapidly
E4 – Exist in some countries, but piecemeal and unco-ordinated, particularly at European level

E1- Not decentralised enough
E2- Little consistency à difficult to find one’s bearings
E3- Not sufficiently advanced in terms of quantity or quality to establish a link between responsible consumption and solidarity with the most deprived people
E4- Impact well below their potential

An overall review of needs in terms of incentives is required

F- Information on facilitators and incentives

F1- Information on E1
F2- Information on E2
F3- Information on E3
F4- Information on E4

F1- Relatively satisfactory
F2 – Poorly co-ordinated
F3 – Poor
F4- Reasonable

The limits on socially responsible approaches derive more from the framing and implementation of incentives (see previous line) than from the information on them

    1- Some questions to be considered at the Trento workshops

Since the Trento seminar relates to the involvement of citizens in combating poverty and exclusion, we can draw on this summary to frame certain key questions which might be addressed at each of the three session 3 workshops (on how to involve citizens in combating poverty and exclusion). It should be possible for each workshop to produce practical proposals for the ensuing discussion.

3.1- Workshop 1: Concepts and approaches

      1- How to establish the link between responsibility and solidarity and the poorest people in society: How does being a more responsible and hence a more rational consumer (by, for example, saving water and energy) make it easier to demonstrate solidarity with society’s poorest members, who do not have access to such levels of consumption? What instruments already exist or need to be introduced? The French greenhouse gas reduction campaign, CO2 solidaire, is a step in the right direction, but it also raises a number of conceptual and practical questions, such as:

      2- What instruments should we be setting up to make this link more systematic, such as new forms of trade? The French “SOL” project for a socially-responsible currency is a particularly noteworthy example here.

      3- How can consumers be alerted to this link? The examples of Gli sportelli Stilinfo in Venice and the Belgian consumers’ college may enlighten us on this point.

      4- What is the role of public bodies and international organisations? Mr Gianluca Vignola, director of the Rome office of the UNDP, will be present to help us in our discussion.

3.2- Workshop 2: Goods and services

The issues in respect of information on goods and services are:

      1- Content: Studies have clearly highlighted the lack of information on the entire goods and services cycle (production, distribution, consumption, recycling), save for certain products. It will be essential therefore in the course of this workshop to direct the discussion towards possible general proposals (such as a products and services “passport”), emphasising the information citizens need to get involved in combating poverty and social exclusion, and therefore drawing on the most advanced solidarity “label” experiments in this area (such as FLO and Solidalcoop-Coopitalia, for goods, and Finansol, for financial services).

      2- Information vectors: The good or service itself can act as a vector but other vehicles are needed if information is to be disseminated more widely. The experience of Altraeconomia could enlighten us on this point.

      3- Gearing information to the context: Information should be geared to the context, either in its content or in its form. The experience of Umanotera, which is trying to promote fair trade in Slovenia, will fuel discussion on this issue.

3.3- Workshop 3 – Legal frameworks and incentive policies

    The studies carried out have highlighted the need for a comprehensive rethink of incentives for responsible consumption and solidarity-based finance, both in general terms and in the more specific context of combating poverty and social exclusion.

    This workshop will focus on legal and other measure that governments can take to enable the solidarity-based finance and responsible consumption sectors to attract new recruits without relying solely on the social and ethical attractions of their products.

    It will look at the following issues:

    - How can the authorities encourage the public to consume and invest responsibly and include defeating poverty and exclusion among their personal objectives?

    - How can they persuade the various participants in the social economy, such as solidarity-based enterprises and fair trade associations, to maintain their commitment to overcoming poverty and exclusion, thus laying the foundations for citizen engagement?

    European governments have approached these issue in a variety of ways. In the Netherlands the government offers tax benefits to persons and institutions who invest in projects with a strong environmental, social or cultural element. In Heidelberg, in Germany, the local authorities helped to introduce an "eco-plus" card which allows consumers to buy responsible products at lower cost. In France, the Employee Savings Act offers employees significant tax advantages if they invest in collective retirement savings plans, with both the savings invested and the resulting income exempt from all income tax. In the United Kingdom, Community Investment Tax Relief offers various benefits to, among others, so-called community development finance institutions that invest in disadvantaged areas. And turning to fair trade, in Italy draft legislation before the lower house of parliament would give tax breaks to fair products. There is thus a wide and very varied selection of good practices, of which further examples could be cited.

    The purpose of this workshop is therefore to emphasise the authorities' role in encouraging these activities and show how legislation and other measure can exert leverage and have a multiplier effect in persuading "responsible" citizens to adapt their behaviour to help combat poverty and social exclusion. It will also draw on the different examples put forward to examine the successes achieved, the difficulties encountered and areas that have yet to be properly explored and to which efforts need to be directed in the future.

 

SESSION IV - Combating new forms of exclusion

    - Combating new forms of exclusion: over-indebted families 

    The Conference of European Ministers of Justice in April 2005 adopted a resolution relating to the problems of over-indebtedness in families. This emphasises two lines of approach:

      - seeking legal and practical solutions to debt problems in a credit society,
      - particular attention to prevention and proper management of debt problems, as well as the role of statutory institutions and non-governmental organisations.

    After an introduction to the proceedings of the round table, a representative of the Council of Europe Directorate General of Legal Affairs will define the scope of this resolution.

    A variety of experiences will be presented during the round table:

      - preventive and remedial arrangements for addressing over-indebtedness, put in place by the “Groupe Action Surendettement” (GAS) in Belgium, including consumer education classes aimed especially at raising interest in responsible consumption,
      - mentoring services for over-indebted persons offered by CRESUS in France with the dual objective of debt management and familiarisation with alternative consumption patterns,
      - the social loans for over-indebted persons initiated in Belgium by OSIRIS.

    These presentations will seek to apprehend concretely:

      - what added value has been derived from dialogue between the authorities and the associations in providing, developing and perpetuating the facilities presented,
      - what are the requisite conditions of public sector/voluntary sector partnership for establishing such facilities in other regions or countries.

    After the presentation made by the voluntary-sector partners, the public-sector partners from the Walloon Region of Belgium and from the Netherlands will offer their conception of the added value of these partnerships.

    The debate will set out to identify the conditions under which dialogue between associations and public authorities can meet the concerns embodied in the resolution adopted by the European Ministers of Justice, moreover with specific reference to four practical questions concerning proper management of the problems involved in family over-indebtedness:

      - on what terms of co-operation between public authorities, the lending sector and the third sector could advisory services on over-indebtedness be made available to the public? These services have a dual purpose, debt management and awareness-raising in order to change consumer behaviour;

      - how can Europeans be given the benefit of initiatives for the provision of “social credit” accessible to vulnerable groups, including persons involved in judicial proceedings for the settlement of their debts?

      - what conditions of dialogue do the public authorities lay down for establishing guarantee funds to aid low income earners’ access to credit and the development of actions to promote responsible consumption?

      - how can dialogue be opened in each country and Europe-wide with the banking and lending sector in order to foster practices that cater more for people’s individual circumstances, both in the conditions under which credit is promoted and granted and in the provision of the solutions to be delivered to defaulting debtors?


1 Co-published with the Council of Europe in the periodicals Alternatives Economiques (France) and Altreconomia (Italy).

1. “Reference standards and levels” means:standards which enable the public to position themselves in relation to a shared overall responsibility: (a) in terms of consumption: for example, the maximum greenhouse gas emission levels that everyone should be able to comply with in order to satisfy Kyoto Protocol objectives; (b) in terms of income: average world and national income figures; consumption levels in relation to production: the average level of electric power consumption at which it is necessary to make use of non-renewable energy sources (not hydro-electric, wind or solar power), then the level at which nuclear energy has to be used, etc.;the conversion of these standards and levels into indicative consumption targets in areas such as transport, waste management and water use. Some of these indicative targets could be devised, or even imposed, by the public authorities, particularly at local level;warning thresholds: for example price levels below which, whatever technologies were used, it is impossible for the product being sold to have been produced in accordance with ILO standards and/or for the people who produced it to have been paid enough to have a decent standard of living.