Although the UK is leaving the EU, consumer co-operatives in Britain will remain members of Euro Coop, the European community of consumer co-operatives.
In an interview with Co-op News, Todor Ivanov, the secretary general of Euro Coop, talked about what Brexit might mean for consumer co-ops in Europe.
Mr Ivanov has been with Euro Coop since 2014. He says the close relationship between the UK movement and Euro Coop will continue after Brexit, as it was immediately confirmed after the 2016 referendum when leaders of UK retail societies sent an open letter to Euro Coop and Cooperatives Europe.
“The letter said that despite the referendum results, the UK co-operative movement is a natural ally and sees great value in continuing its relations with the wider European co-op movement, thus adhering to Principle 6 – co-operation among co-operatives,” said Mr Ivanov.
“This has always been the case, and should remain so for the future.”
In the same year as the referendum, UK membership of Euro Coop was transferred to the wider UK consumer co-op movement, represented within the Federal Retail and Trading Services (FRTS), the central buying group for co-operative societies in the UK.
“This move was a result precisely due to the growing wish of UK co-ops to participate in the European movement,” added Mr Ivanov. “From a technical point of view, it is important to emphasise that Euro Coop is not a EU organisation, but a European organisation. Fifteen of our 20 members are within the EU, with five from non-EU states.”
Asked whether the rest of the continent could be faced with oversupply in a no-deal Brexit scenario, Mr Ivanov said he did not believe it would come to that. “It is not realistic to think that a no-deal scenario means closing off the border and very little, if anything, can enter,” he said.
“We are talking about food and 66 million UK citizens will have to meet their daily needs. Business between the two sides was done before the existence of the EU, so it shall continue post-Brexit, regardless of the form and shape of the UK’s departure.
“Of course, perhaps there will be, especially immediately post no-deal Brexit, a decrease in European products supplied to the UK, but we don’t foresee it to be an amount that could drastically increase the supply on the mainland. Thus, oversupply is highly unlikely. Oversupply could mean waste (unsold goods), and manufacturers are very precise on minimising losses.”
In terms of coping with some of the challenges posed by Brexit, Euro Coop is advising members to work together to overcome common barriers.
Mr Ivanov said: “The modern form of co-operation, as we know it and practice it, exists since 1844; more than a century prior to the EU. Co-operatives have and will continue to find ways to co-operate amongst each other – it is what we do best.
“Euro Coop is an ideal platform for this, as it brings together consumer co-operatives of different shapes, sizes, and forms, with different national historic, political, socio-economic and even legal differences. Yet they are all united by the shared co-operative heritage – our co-operative principles, values and ethics; and specifically Principle 6.
“International organisations provide a forum for the national members, who are so rich and diverse from one another, to meet directly, discuss, share experiences, challenges and identify opportunities for mutual co-operation,” he added. “Brexit was brought about by governments, while co-operatives are in the business of bettering the everyday lives of their members, regardless of the circumstances.
“Of course, Brexit is not ideal, but having co-operatives around makes me worry less.”