June, 1998
(Source: ICA News, Issue No.2/1998, pp.2-4)

News from the Regions - Europe

ICA's Official Status with the Council of Europe
The ICA has been granted consultative status with the Council of Europe (CoE) as an international NGO, as from 15 January 1998.

The Council of Europe is the oldest political inter-governmental organisation in Europe and will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. Based in Strasbourg, it has 40 member states and is concerned with strengthening political, social, legal and cultural co-operation and promoting human values throughout Europe. Its Parliamentary Assembly consists of members of the national parliaments.

The difference between the CoE and the European Union is that the EU has only 15 member states and its primary aim is to achieve economic and political integration. The European Parliament is the assembly of the European Union whose members are directly elected in European elections.

The present number of NGOs enjoying the same status as ICA has increased substantially during the past few years and has reached 350. This figure indicates the growing attention the Council of Europe pays to the role of NGOs in the national political and economic structures as well as in promoting the objectives of the Council of Europe.

The consultative status entitles ICA to take part in the annual plenary meeting of NGOs. The first one ICA attended took place on 28 January in Strasbourg. It was organised by the liaison committee of NGOs that has been in existence for the past 20 years.

For the first time in its history the NGO Committee was invited to the summit of the Heads of State and Government last October and submitted a statement.  ICA will also be entitled to take part as an observer in the Parliamentary Assemblies.

Before the ICA Regional Assembly for Europe was set up in 1994, the countries entitled to belong to the European Region were defined according to the criteria of the Council of Europe.

The CoE has created special schemes of co-operation with Central and Eastern European countries (CEEC) to help them establish their democratic reforms and involve them in the CoE activities. Today 16 CEECs are members and some others are permanent invitees.

The activities carried out in the Council of Europe affect all our lives, and its work programme covers a broad range of questions of crucial importance to society, many of them of direct interest to the ICA member organisations.

These are the following:

Human rights, media and communication, social and economic affairs, education, culture and heritage, sports, youth,  environment, local and regional government, legal questions.

Member States
There are currently 40 member states in the Council of Europe. These are: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom.

Belarus Welcomes ICA Europe

Lars Hillbom, President of ICA Europe and Gabriella  Sozanski, Regional Director visited Belarus on 11-13 May. The purpose of the trip was to get acquainted with the activities of the 147 consumer co-operatives integrated in Belcoopsoyuz. As the President of the movement, Victor Vladyko, explained, their activities are developing dynamically. Several stores have opened in the capital although the majority of their units are still in rural areas where co-ops are the only service providers. Private businesses is, however, starting to grow. Consumer co-operatives are involved in a wide range of activities such as retail trade, production of various consumer goods, purchasing and processing of agricultural products, export-import business, public catering, construction and transport. In recent years joint ventures have been launched with Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, Latvia and Russia. Belcoopsoyuz has set up its own bank and an insurance company.

Close to 2 million members belong to the consumer societies where in addition to working members some 118 000 employees are engaged. Roughly 50% of the population use the services of consumer societies.

There being no legislation regulating co-operatives, agreements are signed annually on collaboration with the government. A law is being drafted as it was mentioned during a meeting with Mr. Sergei Ling, Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus.

Regional Assembly for Europe

The meeting will take place in Paris, 15-16 October 1998. The main theme of the Assembly will focus on the challenges co-operatives are facing today both in the Eastern and Western parts of Europe.

Keynote speakers will share with us their experiences on very real threats to co-operatives - for example the attempt to buy out CWS or "demutualisation", the conversion of co-operatives into companies - analyse the reasons and propose solutions. Others will talk about opportunities for expanding co-operative activities, setting up new co-operatives and creating jobs.

A feature of this year's Regional Assembly will be the election of the ICA European Council. Nominations for a Chairperson, two Vice-Chairpersons and ten Council members must reach the ICA Regional Office for Europe by 14 September at latest. Possible candidates should be discussed now and women encouraged to submit their nominations.

The Regional Assembly will be preceded by meetings of several ICA Specialised Organisations and of the Regional Directors.

Immediately after the Assembly the ICA Board and the COPAC Board will meet.

The French host organisations are planning to provide a pleasant environment  during both the work sessions and the social events.

For any further information please contact ROEP, the ICA Regional Office in Geneva, Gabriella Sozanski, Regional Director, at  fax (4122) 798 4122 or e-mail icaeurope@coop.org. More information can be found on the new  ICA Europe Web page: http://www.coop.org/europe.

ICA European Workshop -  Conclusions and Recommendations
In order to evaluate the provisional results of the ICA-EU Project "Statistics and Information on European Co-operatives" and to support its final stage of implementation, the ICA European Workshop on Statistics and Information on European co-operatives was held on 7-9 May, 1998 in Geneva  at the ILO HO Conference Room 4. Participants totalling 34 from 16 European countries and two European Associations (Acme and Cecop), ICA staff and consultants, ILO observers and EU-DG XXIII representatives were present. Analyses, lectures and discussions focused on:
- the provisional results on European co-operatives statistics; technical characteristics of ICA Databank;
- co-operative statistics and information by country; guidelines for future data updating and distribution;
- testing the ICA Databank at ICA Head Office.

The workshop provided the opportunity for all the national co-ordinators to present and comment on their National Co-operative Statistical Profile, approving it and/or asking for amendments.  After a day and half of very open and intense debate, which put in evidence  the specific national and sectoral classifications and statistics, the participants approved the following conclusions and recommendations:

- to agree on the finalisation of the actual ICA-EU project, assuring the collaboration of the country co-ordinators for the validation of the co-operative statistics by 15 June 1998;

- to make efforts to progressively improve the elaboration of essential  comparable co-operative statistics within Europe and to render more  coherent the traditional classification by economic sector;

- to analyse the convenience of adding new types of co-operative classification, based on the relations existing between co-ops and their members and the characteristics of the co-operative membership (users/consumers; entrepreneurs; workers);

- to ensure that the co-operative statistics and information be updated annually on the ICA's initiative with the collaboration of national co-ordinators, permanently appointed by decision of the ICA members of each country;

- the next updating should be supported by revised simplified questionnaires and proposals for sector classifications and co-operative definitions (e.g. subsidiary enterprises aspect);

- to present the validated statistics of European co-operatives at the Regional Assembly for Europe, Paris.

Development Workshop
A European Development Workshop will be held in Paris on 13 October, immediately before the Regional Assembly.

Information on development needs as well as on assistance offered has been received from members in response to the questionnaire circulated within the framework of the European Statistical Project. The survey indicates that assistance is most needed in the areas of management training, financial services, marketing and legislation.

As a follow-up to the survey, and wishing to respond better to the requests for assistance, ICA Europe would like to organise a workshop to discuss development issues. The workshop aims at providing a forum for discussion between East and West as well as provide an opportunity for the ICA to identify development areas of common interest that could form the basis of regional or sub-regional programmes.

All ICA interested member organisations in Central and Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States will soon receive a letter requesting more detailed and specific information on their development needs. A discussion paper based on these contributions will be prepared and submitted to the Workshop for discussion.

Did you know?
The European Flag was chosen by the Council of Europe in 1955. It is composed of a circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background. The number of stars is invariable, 12 being the symbol of perfection. The same flag was adapted by the European Community (now European Union) in 1986.

The European Anthem, adopted by the Council of Europe in 1972, is a musical arrangement by Herbert von Karajan of the Prelude to the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Europe Day, which has been celebrated since 1964 on 5 May (the anniversary of the Council of Europe's foundation), aims to involve Europe's citizens more fully in the process of European unification.