European Elections Interview with EESC President Oliver Röpke

Cooperatives Europe sat down with Oliver Röpke, President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) to talk about social dialogue, workers’ rights, and democracy in shaping a resilient and inclusive European economy. Röpke shares his vision for leveraging the power of cooperatives and democratically governed enterprises to drive sustainable growth and social innovation across Europe. We explore the vital role that civil society and the social economy play in fortifying our democratic foundations and fostering economic integration within the EU and its neighbouring regions.


Your career has been marked by a strong commitment to social dialogue and workers’ rights. Why is it important for you and the EESC to advance the EU’s social agenda on workers’ rights, collective bargaining and democracy at work? What role can cooperatives and democratically governed enterprises across Europe play in this?

“At the EESC, we know that social dialogue at the national and European level plays a key role in shaping economic, labour and social policies that promote the upward convergence of living and working conditions across Member States. It can drive economic and social resilience, competitiveness, and sustainable and inclusive growth. The Member States where social dialogue is strong have proven to be more resilient and cohesive. Workers’ rights also strengthen social cohesion and worker participation has proven to foster stability during crises and reinforce democratic principles. Social economy actors help generate around 8% of GDP and 13 million jobs. This shows their importance in terms of employment. It is our view that social dialogue plays also an essential role for social economy actors – including cooperatives.

Cooperatives have at their core the principles of democracy, sustainability, solidarity, and trust. These are very much needed to face the socio-economic transformation that will come with the twin transition. Our economy will need to leverage the power of collaboration if we want to have a fair, sustainable and digital Single Market, and cooperatives can teach us a lot about that, as well as about promoting local communities and driving economic growth through social inclusion. In the EESC we support inclusive and responsible financing to generate a positive social impact. Think about the participatory company model: of course, we all know the Mondragón example – the largest cooperative ecosystem of social innovation in the world.”


Your 2023-2025 manifesto places the defence of democracy and the strengthening of civil society at its heart, including with civil society in candidate countries. Why is that? Cooperatives Europe is a strong advocate for cooperatives and civil society in general as driving forces for good governance, civil dialogue and economic integration in candidate countries. How can EU Institutions better support civil society’s actions in the European neighbourhood?

“Civil society is the backbone of any democracy. As the House of organised European Civil Society, which gathers employers’ associations, trade unions and civil society organisations (CSOs) from all 27 EU Member States, it is only natural that we are strong advocators of a meaningful civil and social dialogue not only in the EU Member States but also in those countries that are at the doorstep of the EU. We believe that strengthening democracy in our neighbourhood is crucial for safety, prosperity and democracy in the European Union. In this regard, I welcome that Cooperatives Europe is involved in our joint work, in particular with Ukraine and Moldova.

On the EESC side, we have taken several initiatives relating to enlargement, which is also one of my political priorities. I am proud that as of February, 146 representatives from EU candidate countries – the “Enlargement Candidate Members” – can work alongside EESC members in drafting opinions on issues that matter to them such as cohesion policy, the single market, or the rule of law. We don’t need to wait for the accession to start working together – this is the essence of the gradual integration.

In addition, we have extended our rule of law and democracy health checks also to the EU candidate countries. The first of these visits took place in Moldova last month and we intend to repeat the same exercise in Serbia in autumn.

We have seen that CSOs are often the main drivers of their countries’ European integration. Just a few days ago, this was shown in a remarkable way in Georgia where citizens and civil society were protesting against the foreign agent law. We want to play our part by providing a space for the CSOs from partner countries and involving them in EU civil society networks.”


The last few years have been particularly fruitful for the social economy at the European level, with the publication of the European Social Economy Action Plan (2021) and the Council Recommendation on framework conditions for the social economy (2023).  How does the EESC intend to continue promoting social economy with the new Commission and new Parliament?

“It is true that in recent years we have witnessed a real momentum for social economy, with the adoption of the very first European action plan on the social economy – the EESC has called for this plan for many years, and is ready to play an active role in its implementation – and the Council recommendation to the Member States. It is now essential to maintain this focus, and in order to do so, partnership is essential.

We need to build on the good initiatives that were launched in the last years: apart from those two that I just mentioned, we should push for the implementation of the San Sebastián declaration as well as the Liège Roadmap. We need to make sure that EU institutions, Member States, businesses and citizens fully grasp the importance of the social economy and partner up for the recovery and the future of our economy.”


We are witnessing the rise of extreme movements in many European countries, an increase in precarity and economic hardships, the feeling of weakened social cohesion, etc. With the European elections rapidly approaching, what are your hopes or expectations for the next mandate? 

“It is clear that the stakes in the European elections are high. Democracy is losing ground globally and unfortunately, some of our Member States have fallen prey to this. Turnout for the European elections has been in decline since the first elections in 1979. Back then, around 60% of the EU population eligible to vote actually did. We have not been able to reach that level since. So, before we talk about hopes and expectations of the next mandate, I first want to encourage everyone to go and vote. Do not let someone else decide for you.

As for expectations and hopes, the EESC will soon adopt a resolution calling upon the new Commission and the new European Parliament to act on what we believe is vital for the next five years. I do not want to give too much away as we are now finalising the resolution, but I can outline in general terms that we call for an EU that protects its citizens against the threats that shake our foundations, whether fundamental rights or the rule of law; an EU that creates and ensures a resilient economy which safeguards the well-being of our citizens and that of the environment; and an EU that ensures dialogue and participation from and between social partners and civil society. It’s a tall order but we trust that our elected MEPs and Commissioners will rise up to the job.”


The UN has declared 2025 the International Year of Cooperatives. Cooperatives Europe and its members, along with the International Cooperative Alliance, intend to highlight the cooperative model and its contribution to a fair, democratic and sustainable society. Does the EESC plan to organize something for the occasion or join the celebration?

“The cooperation between the EESC and Cooperatives Europe is very solid: just to mention recent examples, in January a partnership event “SE4Ces Conference on the Future of Social Economy Education” took place at the EESC with the active involvement of an EESC member as speaker. Also, Cooperatives Europe participated to a public hearing organised by the EESC in the context of an opinion on taxation framework for social economy entities. We are fully on board when it comes to showcasing the role that social economy actors, such as cooperatives, play for our economy and our citizens. Moreover, we will certainly exchange ideas with the rotating EU Presidencies that will take the lead next year to discuss the possibility of organising a dedicated event or workshop, for example.”


Read more about the cooperative community’s priorities for the European Elections here.

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