Notion: cooperative society
The emergence of the first coops dates back to the beginning of the 19th century when rural entrepreneurs and farmers decided to unite their resources and to provide each other with assistance in overcoming common problems, primarily due to a limited access to the market. By the time, coops began to be founded for providing the poor with assistance in avoiding generation of debts and ensuring an easier access to high quality goods and services. Since then, coops have developed in many areas, from production to financial services, encouraged by the wish for a fair way of doing business. In the European Union, the notion of cooperative denotes an autonomous voluntary organization democratically managed within which members are gathered to accomplish common economic, social and cultural goals.

Basic features of cooperatives are:

  • possibility of free, open-type ad voluntary association in and abandonment from a cooperative company
  • democratic structure in which every member has got one vote, decisions are made pursuant to the will of the majority and the elected management is liable to cooperative members
  • fair distribution of profit
  • autonomy and independence

Cooperatives exist as to fulfil the needs of their members who make contributions to their cooperatives in money, stakes and business control. In most cases, all enterprises do business to represent the interests of their majority owners, i.e. investors. However, cooperatives prefer other interests (e.g. integration of people with disabilities) over return of capital (which is in some cases allowed).

Data of the European Commission indicate the importance of cooperatives in the European economy; today, there are app. 250,000 cooperatives and 163 million cooperative members in the
EU (every third citizen of the EU). The cooperatives employ almost 5.4 million people. The significance of cooperatives in the EU economy reflects in relevant market shares in
various sectors in most Member States such as:

(83% in the Netherlands, 79% in Finland, 55% in Italy and 50% in France)

(60% in Sweden and 31% in Finland)

(50% in France, 37% in Cyprus, 35% in Finland, 31% in Austria and 21% in Germany)

trade / retail
(consumers’ cooperatives in Finland has a market share of 36% and in Sweden 20%)

pharmaceutical industry
(21% in Spain and 18% in Belgium)

information technology, housing and craft manufacture

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According to the same data published at the official webpage of the European Commission, cooperatives have a share of almost 15% in the entire economy of Italy. Also, cooperatives play an important role in the service sector, in providing groups of companies with catering, accounting, legal and marketing services (e.g. plumbers, hair-dressers, taxi drivers and similar). In the last years, the organizational form of cooperatives has had a great role in activities sector in the EU of general interest such as education, transport and energy. The Statute of European Cooperatives is leaned on the 2001 Statute of European Companies, but it has been adapted to the specific characteristics of cooperative organizations. Beside the cooperatives’ business, the Statute of European Cooperatives also regulates associations of all kinds of companies with the intention to achieve mutual common benefits such as penetration to new markets, achieving economics of scale, common developmental activities and similar. The Statute enables associations of five or more citizens of the EU coming from more than one EU Member State in a European cooperative (SCE – SOCIETAS COOPERATIVA EUROPAEA). The SCE (European cooperative societies) is, like all cooperatives, a legal entity whose members (physical or legal persons) conduct various business operations together while simultaneously retaining their independence. Members of European cooperatives are most often cooperative clients or suppliers and they are directly involved with the performance of cooperative activities and management. In line with the aforementioned, data of the European Commission reveal that there are app. 250,000 cooperatives with 163 million cooperative members in the EU (every third citizen of the EU). The cooperatives employ almost 5.4 million people. Pursuant to a survey conducted by an association named Cooperatives Europe Asbl in 2010, which is based on the 2009 data provided by its members, Italy is characterized by the biggest number of registered cooperatives and then come Spain and France. The below table offers an overview of the number of registered cooperatives (members of Cooperatives Europe) in EU Member State and other observed countries. It is vital to mention that the results of this survey relate only to cooperatives that are members of Cooperatives Europe Asbl. and that the research did not encompass French school cooperatives (50,000 of them with 5 mil. Members) nor cooperatives in the insurance sector which left the Cooperatives Europe in 2007. In other observed countries of the EU region, there are 20,499 cooperatives with almost 15 mil. members and 635,198 employees. If these figures are added to the figures in the above table, one will disclose the fact that in the observed countries of the EU region, there are 157,606 cooperatives with 122,858,410 members and with 5,357,246 employees.

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