Co-operatives are an important part of European economic life and industry. There are 250,000 co-operative enterprises in the EU, owned by 163 million citizens (1 in 3 EU citizens) and they employ 5.4 million people.
A conference organized by the European Commission and Cooperatives Europe in Brussels today is aimed to highlight the social and economic importance of cooperatives. Vice President Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship will use this opportunity to consult stakeholders on whether and how to simplify the regulation on the European Cooperative Society (SCE from its Latin name ‘Societas Cooperativa Europaea’)
Co-operatives are enterprises that serve the needs of their members who contribute to their capital, own and control them, rather than to provide a return on investment. The objective of the statute for a SCE is to provide co-operatives with adequate legal instruments to facilitate their cross-border and trans-national activities. However, the success of the SCE has been relatively limited, mainly due its complexity (e.g. with its multiple references to national legislation).
The United Nations International Year of Co-operatives 2012 is intended to encourage governments and relevant stakeholders to establish policies and legislation conducive to co-operative growth. The Year highlights the strengths of the cooperative business model as an alternative way of doing business and sustainable socioeconomic development.
The importance of cooperatives is recognised by the Commission in its strategic documents Single Market Act and Social Business Initiative. The last one envisages that depending on the results of the consultation with the parties concerned, the Commission will present a proposal for simplification of the SCE Regulation. Following its Report on the implementation of SCE Regulation, the Commission intends to consult stakeholders on the need and the ways to proceed to simplification. For this purpose, the Commission is co-hosting two large conferences to celebrate the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives. The current conference is attended by stakeholders' organisations. The second will take place in September 2012, during the Cyprus Presidency, and will bring together representatives of the Member States.
Co-operatives hold substantial market shares in important industries in most Member States, especially in agriculture (83% in Netherlands, 79% in Finland, 55% in Italy and 50% in France), forestry (60% market share in Sweden and 31% in Finland) banking (50% in France, 37% in Cyprus, 35% in Finland, 31% in Austria and 21% in Germany) retailing (consumer cooperatives hold a market share of 36% in Finland and 20% in Sweden), pharmaceutical and health care (21% in Spain and 18% in Belgium) and information technologies, housing and craft production. In Italy cooperatives represented almost 15% of the total economy. Cooperatives also provide services such as catering, accounting, legal advice or marketing for a group of enterprises (e.g. plumbers, hair dressers, taxi owners etc.). In recent years cooperatives have also been present in sectors of general interest like education, transport, energy provision