End of year Q&A: Sam Emerson, policy advisor at Copa and Cogeca

A challenging year for European farmers and their agri co-ops

How was 2023 for Copa and Cogeca?

For our members, 2023 was always going to be a challenging year, following in the wake of Covid-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and an energy crisis. 

Nonetheless, our co-ops have proven resilient, embracing innovation to adapt in a way that allows them to remain competitive and embrace social and environmental sustainability. Our first Business Forum of 2023 focused on the role of agri co-ops in achieving affordable, secure and sustainable energy. This event took place during the EU’s Energy Week and showcased examples of how agri co-ops can produce clean energy, with energy costs for their farmer-owners and nearby residents.

2023 also saw continued recognition by the EU institutions of the role of co-ops in sustainable rural development. Indeed, following the explicit reference to co-ops by the Commission in its 2021 communication on the Long-term Vision for Rural Areas, and by the European Parliament in its  December 2022 resolution, this year we welcomed the Council’s Conclusions on this topic, which explicitly recognised the important role of co-operatives as contributors to the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of rural areas. 

Additionally, the role of agri co-ops in fostering generational renewal in agriculture was central to our activities. Cogeca and our member Spanish Agrifood Cooperatives organised a successful business forum in Tarragona on 9 November on this topic. This timely event came shortly after the adoption of the European Parliament’s October 2023 resolution on generational renewal, which recognises the need for co-operatives to address this challenge. Together we gathered over 250 participants from 20 countries across Europe. Following this high-profile event, Cogeca’s members approved a Tarragona Manifesto, which includes 23 aspirational objectives of agri-food and forestry co-operatives in support of young farmers and co-operators.

2023 was also a critical year for the European Green Deal, and a priority for Cogeca was advocating for agricultural co-operatives in the context of key legislative files including the directives on corporate sustainability reporting and due diligence, for example, through calling attention to the specific governance structure of co-operative enterprises, the need to reduce unnecessary financial and administrative burdens, and calling for support measures for SMEs. 

Cogeca was represented by President Ramon Armengol in many key events across Europe, with the San Sebastian Conference on Social Economy in November 2023, and the Agri-Outlook Conference in December 2023 being two key examples. These interventions emphasised the role of agri co-operatives in sustainable rural development, innovation and in generational renewal. 

Finally, 2023 was the European Year of Skills. Following the launch of the Pact for Skills last year, Cogeca and its co-operative members are committed to upskilling and reskilling efforts in the agri-food sector, which are necessary for the social sustainability and continued competitiveness of our sectors.

What are your hopes for 2024?

Looking forward to 2024, one of our key concerns will be the EU elections. Among our priorities for these elections, we are focused on ensuring that the specific needs and governance elements of co-operative enterprises are met to support the competitiveness and resilience of agri co-operatives, and also seeking enabling instruments and financing to support agri‑co‑operatives in the green and digital transitions.

Click here for more Q&As from 2023