Speech

Opening speech at CSR Europe’s ''First European Business Convention on CSR'', Brussels November 9, 2000

New Partnership for Social Responsibility

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman,

Let me express my gratitude to you and your organisation for inviting me to speak at this important event. I am impressed by what 'CSR Europe' has achieved in preparing this conference.

Time for a Leap Forward

I think we are now in a unique position to take a leap forward in implementing and mainstreaming corporate social responsibility and public-private partnerships, to foster a Europe which is both inclusive and entrepreneurial.

But this is not only due to the successful strategies and activities of your network, your national partner organisations, The Copenhagen Centre and a large range of powerful organisations, including the EU, UN, The World Bank and the OECD.

Europe has changed.

Firstly, macro-economic perspectives are better than for a long time. Many elements of our economies indicate that Europe’s growth, competitiveness and employment will be further strengthened in the years to come.

Secondly, the European business community is increasingly realizing its potential for contributing to a sustainable and socially balanced growth.

Recognizing their role as a still more powerful key player in our societies, businesses are now taking wider responsibilities.

It is no longer 'business as usual'. The business of business is no longer just business. It’s becoming sustainable business.

Many companies think that there is a mismatch between CSR and profitability, and some still claim that CSR is actually theft from shareholders.

But more and more companies have realised that practising CSR is not only beneficial for society as a whole, but also for their long-term commercial strategies – and for their shareholders. They are no longer asking why – because they know the benefits – but how.

Thirdly, European governments are redefining politics. Corporate social responsibility has traditionally not been seen as a target for government policies.

On the contrary, many governments have been afraid to be accused of interfering in private, and local enterprise.

This, I believe, is now changing. We, the European governments, are beginning to see the mutual benefits of joining forces with the business community.

We should welcome the contribution offered by business, we should encourage it, and provide the necessary, enabling frameworks to make it develop and grow.

To those who still think it may be risky business for governments to push for CSR, let me take as an example the Danish nationwide campaign for CSR and partnership, launched by the Danish government in 1994.

Apart from being highly successful it has by no means been regarded as a power play from 'Big Brother'. It has been welcomed among businesses and social partners as well as among local authorities and communities.

I believe that it is time to act, at every level. As expressed in our conclusions from the Lisbon European Summit in March this year, we are facing a quantum shift resulting from the challenges of globalisation and the knowledge-driven economy.

And, as stated in Lisbon, this calls for further improvement of the unique European Model, where innovation and economic performance is combined with the highest possible level of social inclusion.

Also for this reason we should not forget that there are 15 million Europeans out of work, a widening gap in skills and a frightening gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'.

Even in Denmark, highly successful as we have been in our efforts to shape a society for all with Europe’s highest employment rates, we are still looking for ways to give the least privileged a more active role in society.

It is time to join forces. I believe that CSR Europe’s campaign, to be launched tomorrow, will make a difference.

The Lisbon Process

This is, I believe, what Heads of State and Government have envisaged in the Lisbon strategy for Employment, Economic Reform and Social Cohesion.

CSR Europe has called its campaign the 'First Business Plan' . But in many ways the initiative could go even further.

It is actually a vision for a joint venture between major players of our societies, including business, to foster a dynamic knowledge-based economy, which is both sustainable and inclusive.

Having said this, I do, of course, welcome your clear identification with these goals. And I do welcome the fact that business and governments in Europe more than ever are committed to jointly addressing Europe’s crucial balancing act between competitiveness, sustainability and social cohesion.

But essentially, it could be more than just a balancing act. I would prefer to see it as a vision for a new synergy for Europe.

Now, visions and plans are one thing – implementing things successfully is quite a different ballgame.

We may have excellent instruments in existing European frameworks, but we need more than that. This is why I very much welcome the New Open Method of Co-ordination, which was also one of the outcomes of the Lisbon Process.

I am happy that we now, in addition to setting up tangible goals for a social and employment reform, also aim at:

  • fixing guidelines with specific timetables,
  • establishing benchmarks and indicators, as well as
  • organising monitoring systems and peer reviews.

The Role of Governments

Now, the year 2000 has been very promising in terms of setting a new agenda for partnerships in Europe. Just to mention some of the cornerstones so far:

  • The business leaders’ address to the Portuguese Presidency,
  • our response from Lisbon with the special appeal on corporate social responsibility and
  • CSR Europe’s response - with this conference and the up-coming campaign.

All in all I think it is a genuine break-through.

For me as a government leader the role of governments is naturally of special importance. The business-to-business dynamics should be mirrored in an equally dynamic interaction between governments and public authorities.

Efforts to bridge and combine such initiatives hold an important promise, particularly in our efforts to meet the many challenges of the knowledge-driven economy.

In our conclusions from the European Council in Feira in June, I was therefore happy to help gently pushing for European governments to engage in a dialogue and exchange of experience.

To me, the informal network between four European governments, launched last month in Copenhagen, is a very timely and promising initiative. And I wish it the best of luck for future efforts and possible broadening to include more countries.

Let me emphasize that this network is an offer to enrich an international dialogue, supplementing the initiatives taken by the Commission and others. We should, off course, avoid duplication of efforts.

Partnership in The New Economy

The knowledge-driven economy – or the 'New Economy' - implies radical and increasingly rapid changes in the nature of the institutions of the state and business, and redefines the role of citizens.

When I say new economy in this context, I mean the speady changes that both the technological sector and 'classic economy' have experienced and will continue to experience in the years to come. In particular the demand for knowledge and the readiness to change are key elements in the development of European Business in general.

This calls for a new set of parameters to adapt to this revolution. But at the same time, it is, in itself, a motor for new ways of co-operation.

The way I see it, public-private partnership – as well as CSR – is therefore both a precondition for adapting to the changes – and a result of the knowledge-driven economy.

Clearly then, in a double sense, a partnership is an important means to foster an inclusive, yet entrepreneurial Europe.

But we should not be re-inventing the wheel across Europe. Exchange of experience across nations, regions and cultures is crucial.

Furthermore we still know too little about what makes partnerships work – and what doesn’t. And we still know too little about how to transfer experiences in a way that actually makes them applicable in a different setting.

I am therefore happy to learn that important work is now being done to analyse and better comprehend partnership processes in Europe.

In conclusion: We are facing a huge challenge, and fortunately, there is ample scope for taking the lead. As I said – it’s time to join forces.

Thank you.