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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Mutual Societies

A mutual enterprise is an autonomous association of persons (legal entities or natural persons) united voluntarily, whose primary purpose is to satisfy their common needs and not to make profits or provide a return on capital. It is managed according to solidarity principles between members who participate in the corporate governance. It is therefore accountable to those whose needs it is created to serve.

In common with other social economy enterprise forms, they operate according to the principles of voluntary and open membership, equal voting rights (one member = one vote; resolutions carried by majority), autonomy and independence and no share capital.

Mutuals can be differentiated from co-operatives by the fact that they operate with their own, collective and indivisible funds, and not with share capital. Rather than purchase shares, members pay fees (for example based on insurance calculations).

Importance of the sector

Mutual societies, as a distinctive legal form of enterprise, exist only in a small number of Member States while in some countries this kind of insurance service is offered by cooperatives. Mutual societies exist mainly in Nordic and Western European countries and they account for 25% of the European insurance market. Almost 70% of the total number of insurance companies in Europe are mutual societies.

The lack of reliable and exhaustive statistics limits the possibilities to draw up an exact and accurate overview of the place of mutuals at the European level.

As a first step to obtain homogeneous, accurate and reliable data on the companies in the social economy in the EU, the European Commission has developed the "Manual for drawing up Satellite Accounts of Companies in the Social Economy: co-operative and mutuals", which was published in December 2006. The purpose of this manual is to establish the necessary initial directions and guidelines for drawing up a satellite account of companies in the social economy (cooperatives, mutual societies and similar companies) in the European Union (EU) in accordance with the central national accounting framework set out in the European System of National and Regional Accounts (1995 ESA or ESA 95).


Consultation Document on "Mutuals in an enlarged Europe"

In 2003 the Commission prepared a Consultation document on "Mutuals in an enlarged Europe", to improve the understanding of the sector by national and European authorities in order to ensure appropriate and suitable regulation, to consider the potential use of the proposed Statute for a European Mutual both to facilitate cross-border activities of existing mutuals and for the creation of new mutuals and to analyse the potential contribution of mutuals to enhancing competitiveness, to reaching the Lisbon objectives and to meeting the challenges of enlargement.

The Draft Statute for a European Mutual

In 1992 the Commission submitted to the Council three proposals for Regulations and Directives on the creation of the European Cooperative Society, the European Association (non profit institution) and the European Mutual (insurance society).

In Europe there exist two distinct types of mutuals:

· Health (providence) mutuals, which predate modern social security systems and cover risks such as illness, handicap, infirmity and death. They are normally subject to specific legislation.

· Insurance mutuals, which cover all types of risk (accident, life insurance etc.) and which are normally covered in general legislation regarding insurance.

National legislations are fairly homogeneous in respect of insurance mutuals, but highly diverse in respect of providence mutuals. The latter have tended to evolve according to the social security systems in each Member State. In some Member States they manage obligatory medical care insurance; in others they play a complementary role to obligatory regimes.

The Draft Statute for a European Mutual was withdrawn by the Commission in 2006 due to lack of progress in the legislative process. Nevertheless, the Commission is ready to continue the dialogue on the subject and to review the situation on the basis of new information.

Public consultation results of a study on the current situation and prospects of mutual societies in Europe

  • Syntesis report pdf - 108 KB [108 KB]
  • Contribution
    • German part 1 zip - 6 MB [6 MB] Deutsch (de)
    • German part 2 zip - 7 MB [7 MB] Deutsch (de)   
    • German part 3 zip - 7 MB [7 MB] Deutsch (de)
    • German part 4 zip - 7 MB [7 MB] Deutsch (de)
    • French part 1 zip - 6 MB [6 MB] français (fr)
    • French part 2 zip - 5 MB [5 MB] français (fr)
    • French part 3 zip - 7 MB [7 MB] français (fr)
    • Belgium zip - 2 MB [2 MB] français (fr)
    • Italy zip - 3 MB [3 MB] italiano (it)
    • Portugal zip - 5 MB [5 MB] português (pt)
    • Others zip - 6 MB [6 MB]  

Public consultation "Mutuals in an enlarged Europe" (2004)

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