Greece was one of the first European countries that faced the reality of the 2008 financial crisis and its severe impact on the social welfare system, labour market and individual enterprises. In the business sector particularly, a great number of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the prevailing Greek business model, have either stagnated, gone bankrupt or faced major economic damages.
The inability of the Greek business sector to adapt in times of crisis is shown in research conducted by the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen & Merchants (GSEVEE). According to the study’s findings, around 230,000 businesses have closed down since 2008, with a further 40,000 expected to follow this year.
The crisis has also influenced the public sector in terms of social welfare cuts and public property sellouts. Amid the erosion of the welfare state and the closure of small and medium-sized businesses, how are the most basic needs of the citizens going to be fulfilled from now on? This question, troubling the majority of Greek citizens, places a new emphasis on the debate about co-operatives and the role they could play in the future of Greece.
The co-operative model is not unknown to people in this country. In fact, the Greek co-operative movement is vibrant and active in a variety of economic sectors. In agriculture, for example, there are around 3,000 co-operatives and 130 women’s agricultural and agro-tourist co-ops. There are 25 co-operative banks, four of which provide services nationally, and there is the Association of Co-operative Banks of Greece (ESTE).
The housing co-op movement also has a strong presence, comprising almost 540 co-operatives with 120,000 members. In addition, practitioners within the same field of expertise have united into worker co-operatives. There are currently 23 electrician, 33 plumber and 41 pharmacist co-operatives. Furthermore, in the mental health sector, the idea of deinstitutionalisation has been promoted in Greece by the establishment of 16 social co-operatives that work in the field of mental health.
With the economic crisis turning into a long-term depression, various socioeconomic groups, based around new economic sectors and activities, have turned to the co-op model for solutions.
In 2011, for example, a spontaneous grassroots mobilization campaign, called Initiative 136, rose up against the full privatisation of Thessaloniki Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYATH SA).
Its main purpose is to promote co-operative ownership of the water supply in Thessaloniki, which has so far led to the establishment of several water and sewerage co-operatives.
In the food sector, citizens have created food distribution networks to connect producers and consumers without intermediaries. Some of these initiatives have either transformed existing enterprises, or inspired the establishment of new consumer co-operatives, mainly in Athens and Thessaloniki, the two most populated cities of Greece.
The Greek government has also placed an emphasis on the co-operative alternative. In 2011 it passed a law that introduced a new civil co-operative model, the social co-operative enterprise (SCE), and three subcategories: the collective and productive purpose SCE; the social services SCE; and the integration SCE. In total, 415 social co-operative enterprises have been formed under this law, 322 of which belong to the first category, the collective and productive purpose SCE. The latter SCEs have developed a wide variety of activities and services, from the collection and sale of agricultural products to book publishing and coffee shops.
The above legal form has also been chosen by VioMe, one of the first worker co-operative initiatives in Greece. Additionally, 65 social services SCEs have now been established in several Greek cities where they provide social care services to the elderly, the disabled and other groups in need, while a small number of integration SCEs was formed to facilitate the reintegration of vulnerable social groups, such as people with disabilities, HIV-positive individuals, drug users and ex-offenders.
In the energy sector, some individual efforts have led to the creation of energy co-operatives in Sifnos and Karditsa. Furthermore, several organisations have been promoting the co-operative model in the energy sector including the Dafni Network, Diktio Kappa, UniSse and Paseges.
Similar efforts have been made in the waste management sector as well, such as the recycling co-op Moikonos, while two major initiatives in Athens – Prosynat – and in Thessaloniki – an initiative for social waste management – endorse the idea of society’s involvement in waste management.
In Greece, the education sector is mainly state-managed and profit-driven, and it is only recently that significant initiatives have emerged in this sector, such as the Parents’ Cooperative of Halandri, in Athens, which provides tutoring classes for high school students. While co-operative education continues to be largely neglected by the state and co-ops, a new initiative, called the People’s University of Social Solidarity Economy (UnivSSE), has been organising lectures on social economy issues since 2013.
Following the crisis years, the co-operative landscape in Greece is still evolving. It is clear that the social groups affected by the crisis have rediscovered the co-operative model as a solution, taking social action against ongoing social exclusion and creating a number of poles of solidarity and social coherence.
Since co-operatives are a movement by the people for the people, the recent reawakening of interest provides great hope for the future of Greece, with co-operatives working as a protection shield against the impersonal market forces and the state’s weaknesses.
Association of Cooperative Banks of Greece (official page)
Gidarakou , I. (2007), “Women Cooperative
Nasioulas, I. (2012), Social Cooperatives in Greece: Introducing New Forms of Social Economy and Entrepreneurship,
In this article
- civil co-operative model
- Consumer cooperative
- Demosthenis Kassavetis
- Greek co-operatives
- Greek government
- Ifigeneia Douvitsa
- People’s University of Social Solidarity Economy
- social co-operative
- Social enterprise
- Worker cooperative
- North America
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