Co-ops react to Von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech

Copa and Cogeca welcomed Von der Leyen’s speech but Cecop and Cooperatives Europe regretted the omission of the social economy

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen delivered her State of the Union Speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, announcing a range of initiatives, some of which will impact co-ops.

Among these is the “European Wind Power package”, which, she said, will “improve the auction systems across the EU” and “focus on skills, access to finance and stable supply chains”. With limited information available, it is unclear whether renewable energy co-ops will benefit from it.

Von der Leyen also called for “more dialogue and less polarisation” with regard to the agricultural sector, announcing the launch of “a strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture in the EU”.

“I am and remain convinced that agriculture and protection of the natural world can go hand in hand. We need both,” she said.

Copa and Cogeca, the apexes representing European farmers and their co-ops, issued a joint statement welcoming Von der Leyen’s message.

“As well as the mention of appreciation for the work and resilience of the European farming community in the face of the crises that have marked her term of office, Copa and Cogeca noted the confirmation of a renewed desire for dialogue and shift in method at the top of the Commission,” they said.

“This confirms the mission statement given to the new Commissioner in charge of the Green Deal, Maroš Šefčovič, just a few days ago.

“We, therefore, welcome this morning’s announcement to open ‘a strategic dialogue’ on the future of agriculture in Europe and we stand ready to contribute. Still, we await further details on the framework of this dialogue, which should form part of the preparatory work for the future CAP.”

They added: “To avoid polarisation, we need to move away from ideological solutions/targets and factually look at the consequences of political initiatives using science-based impact assessments. We, therefore, hope that this strategic dialogue will open with an analysis of the Green Deal policies already on the table and that any new proposals will be subject to feasibility and budgetary assessments to make EU ambitions on par with its resources.

“Finally, we welcome the announcements concerning the creation of an EU SME envoy and the Social Partner Summit. However, we remain concerned by the Commission president’s determination to conclude trade negotiations with the Mercosur bloc. We need a firm commitment from these countries to environmental sustainability.”

Von der Leyen also confirmed that the Commission will appoint an EU SME envoy, reporting directly to herself, before the end of the year. The Commission will also propose legislation to cut reporting obligations at the European level by 25%, measures welcomed by Cooperatives Europe.

“We want to hear directly from small and medium-sized businesses, about their everyday challenges. For every new piece of legislation, we conduct a competitiveness check by an independent board,” said Von der Leyen. “And next month, we will make the first legislative proposals towards reducing reporting obligations at the European level by 25%.

Co-operatives Europe said: “We’re optimistic about this development but stress the importance of ensuring this proposal benefits all enterprise types, including co-operatives, across all legislations.

“Additionally, we appreciate the emphasis on the twin transition and the continued investments in European industry, the Green Deal, and digital solutions. We underline the paramount importance of responsible, value-based AI development that’s transparent, human-centric, and empowers citizens. Co-operatives and social economy actors can set a precedent in this realm, but they need support in terms of accessible, interoperable, and open-source technologies.”

The apex, which represents co-ops in Europe, criticised the speech for its omission of the European pillar of social rights and the failure to mention the social economy.

“Our letter to the president emphasised that this was her golden chance to set the tone for the next political mandate and lead boldly in implementing the Social Economy Action Plan,” it said. “Given that the proposal for a Council Recommendation on framework conditions for the social economy, a product of the Action Plan, is under negotiation in the Council, this felt even more pressing. We’ll continue championing the importance of keeping the social economy atop the political agenda.”

The European confederation of industrial and service cooperatives (Cecop) approved von der Leyen’s “clear message of support to the EU’s industry and SMEs” but said it regretted the speech had “failed to give social Europe its rightful place until the end of the current term”.

“The EU’s economic prosperity needs to go hand in hand with social cohesion,” warned the apex. Cecop also argued that worker and social co-operatives are ideal actors to achieve the vision announced by von der Leyen and should benefit from appropriate support and recognition at the EU and national level.

The apex also called on the European Commission to keep the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Social Economy Action Plan high on the EU agenda and propose “a new tailor-made approach toward the industrial ecosystems”.

Von der Leyen concluded her speech by referring to the EU’s potential enlargement to welcome new members. Cooperatives Europe approved, adding that it supported “the ongoing financial aid to Ukraine and increased support for other candidate countries like Armenia and Moldova”.

“In these regions, the co-operative movement plays a pivotal role in fostering an independent and vibrant civil society,” it added, “all while bolstering their nation’s economic integration.

“This year will be fraught with obstacles. The European institutions will undoubtedly be on their toes, juggling negotiations on multiple fronts, the electoral campaign, and the persistent climate and socio-economic pressures. A lot hangs in the balance, but Cooperatives Europe remains hopeful, already setting our sights on the next significant event: the 2024 European elections.”

The speech is the last from von der Leyen before the end of her term and next year’s European Parliament elections. While has not yet confirmed if she will stand for a second mandate, her speech provided an insight into her possible priorities if she sought re-election.