The Brussels 2018 Ordinance on social enterprises (Belgium): an inclusive policy-making process to co-construct a legal framework for social enterprises.


The 2018 Ordinance establishes a set of criteria organised in three dimensions – social, economic and governance – and defines ‘social enterprise’ as private or public legal entities that implement an economic project, pursue a social purpose, and exercise democratic governance. In addition, the legal framework sets out the public support schemes that social enterprises can leverage, including financial and non-financial assistance.

The Ordinance on the accreditation and support of social enterprises was adopted on 23 July 2018 in the Brussels-Capital Region in Belgium. Its adoption results from a two-year consultation process with various stakeholders, including the Economic and Social Council of the Brussels-Capital Region, the Brussels Employment Office Actiris, the Brussels Social Economy Consultation Platform extended to ConcertES1  and SAW-B. Additional stakeholders, such as academics, federations of social enterprises and social enterprises themselves, also participated in the consultation process, especially to establish the definition of the social enterprise.

1  The Brussels Social Economy Consultation Platform gathers representatives of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, the Administration of Economy and Employment, and the Brussels Regional Employment Office, as well as representative organisations of employers in the social economy sector, and of workers and employers sitting on the Economic and Social Council of the Brussels-Capital Region. ConcertES was invited to join the process as it is the concertation platform for the organisations representative of the social economy active in the French-speaking part of Belgium.  


When designing legal frameworks, an inclusive consultation process may be of fundamental importance as it refines how policy makers understand social enterprises and thus ensures that legal frameworks are relevant, appropriate and meet the needs of relevant stakeholders. Finally, co-constructing a legal framework helps avert practical implementation problems, enhances compliance and acceptance of such framework, and increases public trust in government.

Until recently, social enterprises and the social economy in the Brussels-Capital Region were largely associated to the work integration field. The objective of the 2018 policy-making process was twofold: (1) the revision of the 20042  and 20123  Ordinances on the social economy and the accreditation of work integration social enterprises; and (2) the recognition of social enterprises beyond the work integration field. Adopting a co-construction approach allowed the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region to collect valuable information from a variety of stakeholders to better capture the situation experienced by work integration social enterprises but also to refine their understating of the needs and realities of social enterprises working on issues beyond work integration.

2  Ordonnance relative à l'agrément et au financement des initiatives locales de développement de l'emploi et des entreprises d'insertion.
3  Ordonnance relative à l'économie sociale et à l'agrément des entreprises d'insertion et des initiatives locales de développement de l'emploi en vue de l'octroi de subventions. This 2012 Ordinance was never put into force, due to the lack of applicable decrees. The 2004 Ordinance was therefore the only one used as a reference before the 2018 Ordinance.

Key Activities

The 2018 Brussels Ordinance on social enterprises results from a two-year-long, inclusive co-construction process between employers’ representatives, trade unions, social enterprise community, academics, and policy makers4.  In December 2016, the Office of the Brussels Minister of Employment and Economy (Minister’s Office) drafted a political note for the ordinance project in collaboration with the Brussels Economy and Employment Administration. The Social Economy Consultation Platform as well as social economy experts, including ConcertES, the Economic and Social Council of the Brussels-Capital Region and Actiris provided their opinions on the note, which was approved by the Government of the Region in March 2017.

The next step was to define the social enterprises and to establish the criteria to recognise the entities covered by the legal framework. The Minister’s Office appointed a social economy expert who led a four-month consultation process, which brought together federations and representatives of the social economy (e.g. Febisp, FeBIO, Tracé Brussel and SAW-B). After reviewing the consultation outcomes, the selected criteria defining a social enterprise were presented to the Social Economy Consultation Platform, the Minister’s Office, and the Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region. Additionally, a test run of the selected criteria was conducted with main actors in the field by providing them with a survey in May and June 2018. Based on the survey results, the criteria for a social enterprise were included in the draft ordinance and the decree to implement the ordinance.

Finally, the draft ordinance was voted in the Parliament in July 2018 and the decree to implement the ordinance was passed in December 2018. As of June 2021, 155 social enterprises were accredited in the Brussels-Capital Region.

4  Main stakeholders involved in the policy-making process of the Ordinance include: Actiris, Brussels Economy and Employment Administration, ConcertES, Economic and Social Council of the Brussels-Capital Region, FeBIO, FeBISP, Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region, Social Economy Consultation Platform (Plateforme de concertation de l'Economie Sociale), Solidarité des Alternatives Wallones et Bruxelloises (SAW-B), Tracé Brussel.


By starting the consultation process at an early stage of policy development, the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region helped maximise the value of stakeholder engagement. Engaging with a broad range of actors allowed to design a legal framework that is more aligned with the field’s needs and realities and that reflects a range of views in an appropriately proportionate way. Such inclusive policy-making process has also facilitated a broader acceptation of the criteria for social enterprises and enabled a common understanding and interpretation of the legal framework. Ultimately, the process has fostered dialogue between policy makers and main actors in the field. Such dialogue remains open today and allows to easily gather these main actors around the table when needed.

The 2018 Ordinance had a positive impact on social enterprises as it has strengthened their legal certainty in relation to European State Aid legislation and has thus increased their access to financial resources. It has also allowed social enterprises to improve their internal processes, in particular regarding their governance. In short, the Brussels Ordinance on social enterprises and its policy-making process helped to both build common understanding of social enterprises and structure the overall field, which in turn fostered the development of social enterprises in the Brussels-Capital Region.


  • Borzaga, C. and J. Defourny (2001), The Emergence of Social Enterprise, Routledge. 
  • Government of Belgium (n.d.), Ordonnance relative à l'agrément et au soutien des entreprises sociales.
  • OECD (2022), Designing Legal Frameworks for Social Enterprises: Practical Guidance for Policy Makers, Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED), OECD Publishing, Paris,
  • OECD (2019), Better Regulation Practices across the European Union, OECD Publishing, Paris.
  • Plateforme de Concertation de l'Economie Sociale (2017). Avis concernant l’avant-projet d’ordonnance relative à l’agrément et au soutien de l’entrepreneuriat social.
  • SAW-B (2017). Réforme de l'ordonnance bruxelloise: se donner les moyens de ses ambitions.
  • Zwarts, P. (2019). Inspirations et contingences dans la politique économique bruxelloise en matière d'entreprises sociales. En référence à l'ordonnance de 2018, Université catholique de Louvain.