The «social economy,» which includes about 900,000 cooperatives, mutual assistance funds, non-governmental and non-profit organizations in the European Union and accounts on average for 10 percent of employment, is least developed in Greece, where its extent is only 2 percent, Labor and Social Security Minister Dimitris Reppas said yesterday. «Volunteerism, both as a concept and practical offer of work, remains limited in Greece, and the slender presence of a citizens’ society is a negative peculiarity of Greek reality,» he told an international conference in Athens on the subject, which began yesterday. He said the government plans to provide incentives to boost the social economy – or «third sector» – which besides strengthening the social fabric also contributes to employment. «Where enterprises show no interest and the State cannot deliver, the collective and voluntary action of individuals can provide solutions» would be an apt motto for the social economy. Deputy Labor Minister Lefteris Tziolas, who is hosting the conference, noted that the various forms of social economy introduce important changes, such as part-time and volunteer work, and affect the role of the public sector, organization and decision-making. «They are schools of democratic participation and citizen involvement,» he said. Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys said the social economy can have especially beneficial effects on the farm sector, but did not attempt to explain why most Greek farm cooperatives have been in deep financial crisis for many years. Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos was partly critical of his party’s policies in this field in the 1980s. «We tried in two or three sectors, in regional policy, as well as in the fields of health and social services, apart from the farm sector, to promote agencies and initiatives in the social economy… We had some successes here and some failures there. What remained is a healthy knowledge which we have to use in a collective effort,» he said.