European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his annual State of the Union speech on 13 September, highlighting the key areas of work for the coming year.
Cooperatives Europe, the regional body of the International Co-operative Alliance, welcomed the speech, which looked at issues such as the need for better regulation within the EU, action on climate change and tackling migration challenges.
But it criticised the speech for omitting the recently signed New Consensus on Development, which it had contributed to, and the lack of any mention of the social economy and co-operative enterprises.
The speech follows a white paper on the future of Europe, published on 1 March 2017, which put forward five scenarios of how the EU could evolve. Mr Juncker called for a “sixth scenario”, beyond the single market.
“As people-centred enterprises that are upheld by their values and principles, co-operatives must thus propose their vision for the Future of Europe,” said the Cooperatives Europe statement.
“Co-operatives have the necessary tools to address the issues put forward in the scenarios and in the white paper. Their power and inclusive values can be the driving force for bringing the European Union closer to its citizens by establishing and promoting people-centred, value-driven enterprises that contribute to the economic growth of the EU as well as job creation.
“The future of Europe cannot be only addressed at the institutional level. It is about the men and women of Europe.”
Cooperatives Europe has set up a reflection group to draft a common proposal on behalf of European co-operatives in response to the white paper, which it intends to present in December, parallel to the next meeting of the European Council.
Ed Mayo, the vice-president of Cooperatives Europe and the leader of Future of Europe Reflection Group, said: “The challenges of the future addressed in President Juncker’s white paper require co-operation to resolve and solidarity to do so in ways that sustain European unity.
“Co-operatives must thus lead the conversation, and together with our members I look forward to reflecting on the common vision for creating a more co-operative Europe.”
In a blog post examining the future of Europe, Mr Mayo points out that Ernesto Rossi, one of the forefathers of European federalism, was a member of a co-operative.
Rossi was co-author of the Ventotene Manifesto, which he wrote in conjunction with Altiero Spinelli while they were both prisoners on the Italian island of Ventotene during World War II. The manifesto calls for a free and united Europe but also suggests reform by extending workers’ ownership through co-operative ventures and employee profit-sharing.
“That Europe is still the future,” argues Mr Mayo. “So, in the spirit of Ernesto Rossi, working through Cooperatives Europe, we are looking to explore the future of Europe through the hopes and dreams of our members.”