The new midwives

Co-operatives Europe is an active and energetic network that brings us together, as part of the International Co-operative Alliance. Alongside this, there are specialist European networks for worker co-ops, consumer co-ops , co-operative and mutual banks and for agricultural co-ops. Right now, it is co-operative week in Brussels.

One main policy achievement recently has been a European Court of Justice judgement on ‘state aids’, which is very helpful as it sets out characteristics of co-operatives, not just small but large too, that create space for public support. This was of direct benefit to the Italian sector, but is of potential relevance more widely.

Across Europe, there is an active programme to mark the role of co-operatives. In June there will be a young co-operators forum in Bulgaria, with a linked programme in Italy, in Genoa in September.

Also in Italy, the cooperative sector has signed a Charter for equal opportunities and equality in the workplace and a number of coops are introducing minimum quotas for women on Boards – in line with Italian legislation for representation in listed companies. They are looking to launch in Rome later in 2012 a European Network of Women Co-operators.

An impressive speaker on a panel I chaired this week on support services for co-operatives was Anna Carendi, of the Swedish coop business agency Coompanion. Funded primarily through national and regional state funds, but with nine hundred members too, this is a large scale source of business support with 130 employees and 12m euro – helping 575 start-up coops last year and advising 4,500 businesses.

She describes the role of her staff, which is appropriate too for many in the UK, as being “midwives” for new co-operative enterprise and a fairer economy.

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