Obituary: Prof Hans-Hermann Münkner, co-operative law expert and pioneer

Co-operative law and its practitioners would not be where they are today without his contribution, says colleague Hagen Henrÿ

On 22 November the co-operative movement lost an important pioneer – Professor Hans-Hermann Münkner, one of world’s the leading co-operative law experts.

Born in Pomerania on 6 April 1935, Münkner studied law in Marburg, Mainz and at the Free University of Berlin and passed the first state law examination in 1961. In addition to his legal qualification, he pursued a training course run by the German federal government to qualify as a co-operative advisor for countries in the Global South.

In 1964 he started working as an assistant at the Institute for Cooperatives in Developing Countries at the Philipps University of Marburg and later became a lecturer at the Faculty of Law and Political Science, entrusted with the legal training of cooperative economists from African countries.

His published work included The organisation of registered co-operatives in the English-language countries in sub-Saharan Africa, a paper that established him as an expert in co-operative legislation in African countries. 

As an emeritus professor of domestic and foreign corporate law, economics and co-operative theory, he had a wide range of expertise, on co-operatives and co-operative law in German-speaking countries. He also headed the Institute for Cooperation in Developing Countries at the University of Marburg for many years and was an expert in the implementation of cooperatives and co-operative consulting in Europe, Asia and Latin America. He spent most of his adult life in Marburg, where he regularly organised seminars.

In a tribute, Hagen Henrÿ, the chair of the International Co-operative Alliance’s Committee on Cooperative Law, said that co-operative law and lawyers would not be where they are today without Münkner’s contribution. He added that the 1995 International Cooperative Alliance Statement on the Co-operative Identity, the 2001 United Nations Draft guidelines aimed at creating a supportive environment for the development of co-operatives, and the 2002 Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation (No. 193) of the International Labour Organization all carry his intellectual mark.

“Professor Münkner’s many friends, colleagues, and students around the world will understand that – to paraphrase an African saying – with him, an immense library of knowledge on co-operative law, co-operative theory, enterprise law, development theory and practice, land law … has gone,” wrote Henrÿ.

“Fortunately, his legacy is preserved in the hundreds of publications he has written in German, English, French, Spanish, and which were translated into other languages, including Polish, Bahasa Indonesia, Italian. It is also preserved in the memories of those who had the privilege to learn from him. However, nothing will replace his ability to capture the attention of his audience, from China to Honduras and Finland to South Africa, with the rare gift of explaining complex issues simply and uncompromisingly, but always fair vis-à-vis those who disagreed with him – and to do so in many languages, and at times to the bewilderment of his interpreters.

“His work spanned well beyond the field of co-operative law and certainly way beyond co-operative law in Germany. He wrote his doctoral thesis on co-operative law in Ghana, and many more publications on foreign laws followed. But co-operative law was his starting point, and that is where he anchored his many other interests. His sharp comments on co-operative law projects, at home, at the European Union level and further afield, always impressed [me]. He saw co-operatives and co-operative law as a means to improve the lot of the voiceless, about whom too many simply make a lot of noise. Co-operatives facilitated engagement without the noise.”