“Co-operative contributions to the EU 2020 strategy” – EU conference organized with the EU Commission

Monday, 23 April 2012

This conference officially opened the European co-operative week. High-level representatives of the EU Institutions attended the conference and aknoweledged the contribution of co-operative enterprises to the EU 2020 strategy. 

Introduction

In opening the conference a speech prepared by Antonio Tajani, Vice President of the EU Commission, responsible for Industry & Entrepreneurship was read by his spokesperson. “At a time when Europe and our economy is striving for economic and employment growth” he stated, “we need now more than ever businesses which care about people’s needs, and therefore in particular we need co-operative businesses.” 

Sven Giegold, Member of the EU Parliament stated “We aim to get a wider recognition and integration of the co-operative business model in Europe. The specificities of co-operative enterprises must be taken into account when we are looking at financial legislation. It is not about giving a privilege to them, it is about recognizing their social and economic contribution”.

Staffan Nilsson, President of the European Social and Economic Committee, launched a message to the European Institutions: “both EU and national policies”, said Nilsson, “ should create a level playing field allowing social entrepreneurship and co-operatives to compete with other forms of enterprises without giving up their aims and working methods”. 

The Future Role of the European Co-operative Statute

Gianluca Salvatori, CEO of Euricse – European Research Center for Co-operative and Social Enterprises, moderated the discussion. He opened the panel with a general presentation of the SCE regulation.
 
Costas Andropoulos, Head of Unit, European Commission, Co-operatives, Mutuals, CSR and Support of Tourism Industry – DG Enterprise analyzed the status of the European Cooperative Society Regulation (SCE ‘Societas Cooperativa Europaea’). He presented the results of report on the SCE implementation that was presented in February 2012, according to which the most important benefit of setting up an SCE is to have a European image, because it allows people to stress their affiliation to the co-operative movement. The most important negative drivers to the success of the SCE statute are the set-up costs, the complex procedures to be followed, the numerous references to national law and the legal untertainty as to which the law applies in each case. Furthermore, the minimum capital requirement of 30.000 euro seems to be an obstacle. Finally, Mr Andropoulos presented a list of three main categories of provisions that may be revisited and amended if appropriate, and on which the Commission is willing to consult stakeholders. 
 

Dirk Lehnoff, Member of the Board of DGRV, the German federation of co-operative enterprises, stressed the fact that the SCE regulation is important as a law tool, but it is even more important as it is a concrete recognition of what co-operatives do in Europe. “it is a fact that – he said – on the State Aid issues, the European Court of Justice in September 2011 referred exactly the SCE regulation in order to make the difference of co-operatives role society in relation to profit companies”. The SCE could thus become another tool enabling co-operatives to move more easily in the EU context. In order to do this the SCE statute needs to be made more effective and applicable. Mr Lehnhoff insisted on the fact that there is a low awareness on the SCE, which would explain why the SCE model is only scarcely adpted by enterprises (download ppt presentation).  

Giuliano Poletti,  the Vice President of the Alliance of Italian Co-operatives stressed that “the issue is to try to strike a new balance between the legal form which is adopted for the EU co-operative and how that ties with the national legislation. ”  Mr. Poletti argued that for a long time big co-operatives were seen as not being true co-operatives but as we have seen in the European Court of Justice ruling in September 2011 big co-operatives are real co-operatives and highlighted that “we need to be sure that we have co-operatives which compete on a international levels. The co-operative business model is the best form available for us to drive forward the agenda of the EU 2020”.

Vania Boyuklieva, Vice President for Legal Affairs, Central Co-operative Union (Bulgaria) reported the challenges met in Bulgaria when an SCE was established. The procedure started in 2010 and finished at end of 2012. The core business is trade with Bulgarian and Sicilian goods but unfortunately the society cannot be registered in the Bulgarian registry. Ms Boyuklieva underline the limits of the SCE regulation: the minimum capital requirement of 30.000 Euro is too high, if compared to the 1 Euro need in Bulgaria to set up a limited liability company or the 25.000 Euro to set up a joint-stock company; in addition according to the Bulgarian legistlation the SCE has a mixed nature, combining features of capital company and the co-operative. For this reason Ms Boyuklieva calls for a significant simplification of the SCE statute, which would create real opportunities for co-operatives in Europe (download presentation in EN and BG).

Key support services for co-operative development in Europe

Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Cooperatives UK – the representative organisations of co-operatives in the United Kingdom, moderated the panel. He introduced the discussion stressing the need to restart economic growth in Europe, especially making sure that a new economic model is put in place, one which is smart, sustainable and inclusive.

Joana Drake, director at DG Enterprise – EU Commission, responsible for SMEs and Entrepreneurship, presented an overview of the priorities that are shaping the European Commission’s SME policy and described the main instruments that exist to support SME in Europe.

Anna Carendi, Secretary General of Coompanion – a Swedish agency supporting co-operatives in the start-up phase, presented the situation of co-operatives in her country. The Swedish co-operative movement has a longstanind tradition: 7 million people are members of a co-operative in a country which counts 9 million inhabitants. In 2011 Coompanion supported 575 business start ups, 2050 entrepreneurs working in 290 branches. Last year 4.500 people received corporate advice by Coompanion last year, with a client satisfaction rate of 92% (download ppt presentation)

Rostislav Dvorak Vice President of the Co-operative Association of Czech Republic – DACR stessed that co-operatives should make themselves more visible and reinforce mutual language inside and outside the co-operative movement. Co-operation between unions, associations and co-operatives should be enhanced in order to strengthen the relations and networking of the co-operative movement with new partners.  

Building a sustainable Europe through co-operation
 
The third panel was moderated by Sergi Corbalan, Executive Director of Fair Trade Advocacy Office together with Klaus Niederländer, director of Cooperatives Europe. 
 
Hilde Vernaillen CEO of the co-operative P&V showed how this enterpreise, the sixth biggest player in the Belgium insurance market, has manage to integrate successfully with other democratic organizations in their supply chain based on the co-operative values of loyalty, solidarity, integrity and responsibility. Ms Vernaillen stressed that they create genuine values with their intermediary organisations and clients; as a big co-operative enterprise they feel a great responsibility for society and  insure that their employees develop as not just on a professional level but also on a personal level. In spite of P&V’s expansion to a national scale they have remained faithful to the co-operative values. “It is important to treat all stakeholders equally and we can show that a successful co-operative enterprise is a place for cooperation and respect rather than domination and control” she said.

Christian Pées, was the second panelist who is the Vice President, Cogeca and the President of Groupe Euralis, a large co-operative in the South of France which works together with 50 000 farmers  to solve the challenge to produce more, but in a better way. He noted that because they are a co-operative enterprise they can afford to invest all their efforts and resources in local development: “we can do this – said Mr Pées – because it corresponds to the co–operative values, to promote a sustainable development of your local area” he added. 

Pernilla Bonde, presented the way HSB Riksförbund – the Swedish housing co-operative of which she is CEO – work to build a sustainable Europe. Ms Bonde stressed that as a co-operative business HSB aim is not to make profit : the profit is a means to make the good of more than 500 thousands members. As a co-operative HSB feels responsible for members : HSB does not build houses, it builds communities, and it builds the society. It is in this spirit that HSB has committed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50% by 2023 (download ppt presentation).


Watch the pictures of the conference on our Flickr account.

 


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