As well as looking at how UK co-ops could be affected by the possible Brexit, we also asked for the view from Europe and spoke to Klaus Niederländer, director of Cooperatives Europe for his take on the June 23 referendum.
Klaus Niederländer, director of Cooperatives Europe
In Europe there is a lot of hype about the possible Brexit with emotions of anger and fear running high. Not a good climate for a sensible and rational discussion as well as evaluation of UK membership in the EU.
At the same time, membership in the EU should be free and open and if you don’t like your membership, you should have the right to leave just like in co-operatives – although this would be better if done for the right rather than the wrong reasons, as independence is an illusion in a globalised, interconnected and ‘inter-dependent’ world.
This crisis could actually make the EU more attractive over time as it needs to respond to members’ needs, no matter if Britain stays in or not. The EU has become the victim of its own success as it does not function properly anymore.
It’s a different ball game to be 12 or 28 members.
The elements being brought forward will, of course, often be economic, but the real issue does not lie there. It’s about identity, of who you are in this globalised world. And that’s not an easy question for a former empire. Do you want to co- operate or go on your own?
Co-operatives and the EU do have some common features: both are about embracing co-operation and solidarity born out of a survival crisis; for co-operatives it was the dramatic experience of the effects of the first industrial revolution; for Europe it was the traumatic experiences of the two world wars of the last century. And both have found it difficult to move on to a development agenda rather than falling back into survival mode.
But just like in co-operatives, you cannot create a membership ‘à la carte’
The past is not the only guidance for the future, and when you lose your spirit and the sense of community and solidarity, then it’s probably better to let go.
But just like in co-operatives, you cannot create a membership ‘à la carte’. That’s usually the beginning of the end of co-operation. And that’s the real issue here. Both parties will lose, if Britain leaves. But isn’t it already too late, anyway, when a member asks for special favours, just because it is a bigger member/country?
Co-operation among co-ops will continue in any case. Co-operatives from the UK might not be able to benefit from European projects anymore directly nor could they directly influence EU policy-making. However, they would still remain members of Cooperatives Europe, which takes a geographic view on Europe and that fact will not change for the UK (whether they like it or not!). So, they will stay involved in the EU as well.
Inter-co-operative trade will probably be affected for larger co-operatives in agriculture in particular.
Yet it is all still speculation, so let’s keep a cool head. In fact, Europe has much bigger problems than this with the refugee crisis, the growing inequalities to name just a few. So let’s get this over with quickly and move on.
- You can find all of our Brexit and co-ops coverage here.