We understand the benefits of working together. We know that with the success of co-operatives brings benefits to the people and communities they serve.
But in a society that measures performance by profit and wealth, it’s not always an easy task to sell the intangible benefits of co-operation.
It’s a battle that has faced co-operatives for decades: how do we get the co-operative difference across? And a similar debate is being played out in the EU referendum.
Co-operatives and the EU are similar in that they bring together people for a common cause
How can people understand the intricate and indiscernible relationship with the rest of Europe? There may be economic arguments to stay in, or out, of Europe, but I’ll leave those up to qualified economists.
From the perspective of a co-operator, it’s simple. It’s all about co-operation. Working together. Being stronger together. Co-operatives and the EU are similar in that they bring together people for a common cause.
A few weeks ago, Nick Matthews, the chair of Co-operatives UK, said his board is supporting a Remain vote. Though, in true co-operative fashion, he wrote that it was up to individual co-operatives/members to decide which way to vote was best for them.
The biggest co-op sector that will be hit by a Brexit will be agriculture. Many co-operative farmers rely on the Common Agricultural Policy payments, especially in a market where the income is declining.
Earlier this year, James Graham, chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, said the CAP is “a social policy that enables rural areas to maintain communities, economic activity and infrastructure”. So, it’s understandable why he said: “It’s rare to speak to anyone in the industry here who advocates leaving.”
At the same time, Derek Walker, chief executive at the Wales Co-operative Centre, said: “Social enterprises and co-operatives have been helped to grow and create new jobs as a result of business advice, grants and loans funded by the EU.”
Klaus Niederländer, director of Cooperatives Europe, added: “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.”
Additionally, Dame Pauline Green, former president of the International Co-operative Alliance and an MEP for 10 years, has examined the accountability of the EU compared with some other global organisations that the UK is a part of.
The EU is accountable to its members. But, and just like a co-op, it’s only truly accountable to those members who want to engage within its structures and want to see and share in its success.