International co-op wants to break free from the state

A group of activists in Spain have set up a European Cooperative Society which will allow them to create a legal tool for co-operative projects. The society, Freedom Coop,...

A group of activists in Spain have set up a European Cooperative Society which will allow them to create a legal tool for co-operative projects.

The society, Freedom Coop, is aimed at individuals or collectives, including co-operatives, who are self-employed. It enables them to buy and sell products and services, or manage their own projects, without having to register as legal entities for these activities in their countries.

The project aims to minimise the groups’ interaction with nation states in terms of employment and administrative issues.

Freedom Coop allows members to use its legal form and collective tax-ID number, offers accounting services and can handle liaison with fiscal authorities.

It also tries to use its legal structure to help refugees and migrants become self-employed when they arrive in Europe without documentation.

The co-op is a flagship project of FairCoop, an independent co-operative affiliated to the Catalan Integral Co-operative (CIC) in Spain. FairCoop uses its own crypto currency, FairCoin, which is arguably the co-operative version of Bitcoin.

Enric Duran at a meeting with CIC members in 2012
Enric Duran at a meeting with CIC members in 2012

To be part of CIC, projects need to be managed by consensus and follow certain basic principles such as transparency and sustainability. The governance model includes two types of general assembly: a monthly assembly on one topic and a permanent assembly with an open agenda, to which anyone can contribute.

Groups affiliated to CIC cover between 20-50% of expenses through social currencies, including FairCoin and Bitcoin.

CIC includes around 600 projects across Catalonia, including co-ops and groups offering housing, food and other services. CIC is not a co-operative in the traditional sense – owned and operated by workers or members – but an “open co-operative”, which anyone can join, from co-ops to groups of people.

It provides these projects with a legal umbrella, as far as taxes and incorporation are concerned, and their members trade with one another using the FairCoin.

Freedom Coop is based on a similar model where members will be able to use resources and tools from the FairCoop ecosystem, including FairCoin and FairMarket, their online market, which enables members to make their products and services available in the alternative economy.

Those interested in setting up a project can use Freedom Coop’s VAT number to start their business, in return for a membership contribution and quarterly fee based on their profits. Freedom Coop intends to use FairCoin for membership fees, quarterly fees and transactions between members.

The first step to joining the Freedom Coop is to register on the Open Collaborative Platform. The membership fee costs 600 FairCoin (£1.44) for individual projects and 1,200 (£2.88) for groups.

“FairCoop is trying to build this global ecosystem to help develop transformative networks across the world, learning from all models,” says Enric Duran, one of the leading figures behind CIC.

Mr Duran started getting involved in co-ops 13 years ago. An anti-capitalism activist, he is known to the public as the “Robin Hood of banks”.

Between 2006 and 2008 he took out 68 commercial and personal loans from 39 banks. With the money obtained, he helped fun various anti-capitalism projects. He spent two months in prison before being bailed for €50,000.

“We are part of the global co-operative movement, but part of an open co-op model that is innovative,” he says. “We are connected to old tradition and learned from that and we are trying to build a more innovative updated co-op movement that works more openly and more integral. A lot of co-ops are isolated and we are trying to build a co-op but also an economic system, that works with those values.”

Mr Duran defines Freedom Coop as “a strategic FairCoop project, which creates toolkits for self-management, self-employment, economic autonomy and financial disobedience for all individuals and groups striving for fairer, more supportive and co-operative social and economic relationships”.

“Freedom Coop integrates their activity with some of the infrastructures linked to Faircoop,” he says. “So, for example, Faircoin is the main currency used inside Freedom Coop, and the Faircoop local centres act as a local Freecom Coop agents, doing the welcome work for new members and facilitating their activities. In fact, it is envisioned that a 60% of the Freedom Coop profits will be distributed to the Faircoop local centres, for building local self-managed infrastructures, from the local level.”

Having its own currency is crucial to CIC’s goal of creating a self-managed free society outside law, state control, and the market’s rules. FairCoop adopted the FairCoin to avoid using the banking system. The founders of the co-op regard transformation to a fairer monetary system as a key element in building a new global economic system.

“Freedom Coop has been launched this august, and the first members are just in the joining process,” adds Mr Duran. “However, we are so far talking about the first dozens of people joining Freedom Coop. They are from different parts of Europe, but an important part are from Spain where this model is very well known for the experience of CIC and other integral co-operatives. It is still too soon for analysing the sort of activities, but what is clear is that the legal framework we offer is ready for activities that don’t need to declare a physical space. Meanwhile, we will have more work for legalising activities based in spaces in different countries.”

Because the legal form of a European Cooperative Society was created to reduce existing cross-border obstacles for co-operatives, the members of an SCE cannot all be based in one country. Freedom Coop is working towards legalising the co-operative in each European country with a tax number in order to add licenses for the activities needed.

Online projects based outside Europe can also join Freedom Coop and use the European Co-operative Society’s legal identity for invoicing as if they were in Europe.

Freedom Coop aims to extend the work of CIC at a European level. Groups from Greece, Latin America and France have been in contact with the co-op to see how they could implement this model in their own regions.

With Freedom Coop, Catalan activists are looking to maximise the capacity of co-operative projects across the world, enabling collaboration between them.

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