Co-operatives weigh in on Europe’s State of the Union Speech

Cooperatives Europe, Cecop and Social Economy Europe responded to Ursula von der Leyen’s speech

The co-operative sector has responded to the state of the union speech delivered today by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Ms von der Leyen explored current challenges and set out her priorities for the year ahead in the context of the EU’s next long-term budget.

Apex body Cooperatives Europe welcomed some of the commitments around an industrial strategy for the EU and a green energy transition and digital development made during the speech.

But the EU must also take into account international development, it said – adding that co-operatives are already making important contributions in this field.

A recent report from Cooperatives Europe exploring economic and social impact of the Covid-19 crisis found that the sector needs tailored support measures to help them face the aftermath of the crisis in order to thrive again.

“We thus welcome the Commission’s initiative to update the Industrial Strategy for Europe in the light of the consequences of the pandemic on businesses, especially SMEs. Such update should allow all types of businesses to thrive in this transition towards a greener and a more digital Europe,” it said.

Related: Cooperatives Europe survey reveals how co-ops coped with Covid-19

Ms von der Leyen revealed that the European Commission is proposing to increase the 2030 target for emissions reduction from 40% to 55%. The Commission will also put forward a Carbon Border Adjustment mechanism, which will introduce a carbon tax on imports of certain goods from outside the EU.

Cooperatives Europe said: “SMEs like co-operatives need to have the proper framework to not only be resilient but also to comply with Europe’s new requirements; the target emissions are increasing from 40% to 55%. In this regard, we remind that renewable energy co-operatives are able to support European energy transitions on a community ownership level.”

The apex body is also positive about the allocation of 20% of Next Generation EU funding towards digital development. Yet it adds that the EU must improve the functioning of the European Digital Single Market, “in order to enhance the capacity of European enterprises to operate in an economic environment based on a level playing field”.

Referring to Ms von Der Leyen’s commitment to human rights, democracy and partnerships worldwide and an upcoming pact on migration to be released next week, Cooperatives Europe said co-operatives are “a vector of creativity and employment for migrant entrepreneurs who use this business model to create jobs and business ownership opportunities for themselves”.

It added that it regretted that Ms von der Leyen “did not refer to the eradication of poverty, the creation of decent jobs and inclusive growth in partner countries”, arguing these should be essential elements of an international development policy.

“Therefore, we call on European Commission to take this into account during the on-going negotiations on the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and deliver a budget that supports partners contributing to resilient societies and livelihoods, such as co-operatives,” it said.

Cecop, which represents co-operatives active in the industry and services, also welcomed the focus on the green and digital transitions in Europe.

Secretary general Diana Dogvan said: “The efforts to support businesses transforming to climate-compatible business models and harnessing the benefits of digitalisation are both needed and timely, especially during this unprecedented crisis. However, both crisis support measures and transition programmes must not overlook the importance and needs of co-operatives in industry and services, as well as the broader social economy.” 

Cecop says it will work with various partners to contribute to the announced updated Industrial Strategy, to make sure that industrial co-operatives are reflected as key transition drivers.

Cecop president Giuseppe Guerini said: “Co-operatives have shown their potential to democratise the digital economy. From platform workers to the digital coordination of community projects, co-operatives are using digital tools, from platforms to artificial intelligence, to meet the needs of their members and their communities.” 

He added: “Our co-operatives have always been committed to the social and health protection of their worker-members, it is important that the EU commits to ensure adequate protection for all workers, especially the most fragile ones, in terms of welfare and health.” 

But Cecop said Ms von der Leyen’s address did not reflect the diversity of economic models or the crucial role of co-ops and the social economy. Many of the support instruments that responded to the COVID-19 pandemic failed to reflect the needs of co-operatives or misclassified worker members, it warned. This meant that many workers where not considered eligible for income support or fell outside the safety net of social protection.  

Cecop is now looking to contribute and advocate for the development and implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Social Economy Action Plan. 

Social Economy Europe, an organisation representing social enterprises, said on social media: “We believe that Europe needs a human economy, creating prosperity for all. The social economy representing 2.8 million enterprises should actively participate in social dialogue and the European Conference on the Future of Europe.”

The Conference on the Future of Europe is set to be organised by Parliament, Council and Commission and was expected to start in May 2020 and run for two years. The initiative was delayed by Covid-19. The European Council is expected to present a position on the format and organisation of the Conference in the coming months.