Cooperatives have several defining characteristics:
- an open and voluntary association
- a democratic structure with each member having one vote
- an equitable and fair distribution of economic results according to the volume of operations made through the cooperative
Cooperatives are enterprises that serve the needs of their members who contribute to their capital.
Why cooperatives are important
- EU economy - there are 250,000 cooperatives in the EU, owned by 163 million citizens (one third of EU population) and employing 5.4 million people
- Market share – cooperatives hold substantial market shares in industries:
- Agriculture - 83% in the Netherlands, 79% in Finland, 55% in Italy and 50% in France
- Forestry - 60% in Sweden and 31% in Finland
- Banking - 50% in France, 37% in Cyprus, 35% in Finland, 31% in Austria and 21% in Germany
- Retail - 36% in Finland and 20% in Sweden
- Pharmaceutical and health care - 21% in Spain and 18% in Belgium
What the European Commission does
The Communication on the promotion of co-operative societies in Europe (2004) focuses on 3 main issues:
- the promotion of the greater use of cooperatives across Europe by improving the visibility, characteristics and understanding of the sector
- the further improvement of cooperative legislation in Europe
- the maintenance and improvement of cooperatives' place and contribution to community objectives
Working Group on Cooperatives
The Working Group on Cooperatives was established in 2013 to assess the specific needs of cooperative enterprises with regard to a wide variety of issues such as the appropriate EU regulatory framework, the identification of barriers at national level and the internationalisation of cooperatives.
Upon the recommendations of the Working Group, 2 pilot projects are being implemented:
- Business transfers to employees creating a cooperative - This project aims to make it easier to transfer businesses to employees/workers in a cooperative. It will also raise awareness about the benefits of a cooperative model. 2 consortia have been chosen to implement the project. It started in April 2016.
- Reduction of youth unemployment and the setup of cooperatives - This project will support the development of entrepreneurship education, focusing on cooperatives. It will encourage cooperatives to employ young people and promote start-ups. This will help provide youth employment and ensure the generational renewal of cooperatives. 2 consortia have been chosen to implement the project. The project started in April 2017.
European Cooperative Society (SCE)
The European Cooperative Society is an optional legal form of a cooperative. It aims to facilitate cooperatives' cross-border and trans-national activities. An SCE must unite residents from more than one EU country.