The International Co-operative Alliance and Europe

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         June 1994

               The International Co-operative
                  Alliance and Europe

                    by Graham Melmoth*

In Britain we say of Co-operators: "We are people who care". 
International Co-operation is the embodiment of that spirit.

History and Principles

In 1936, the Alliance issued a resounding declaration to the
peoples of the world in the face of the rising tide of
authoritarianism then threatening the globe, reaffirming the
Co-operative Movement's principles and claiming the right of
Co-operation to at least an equal place with any other form of
economic enterprise within the policy of any and every state.
Those were the principles which it was argued in the 1930s
defined the character of Co-operative enterprise, the
practical result of which was:

1.   to place service of the community before the profit of
     the individual;

2.   to put the supremacy of private capital on a lower plain
     than mutuality and active participation in an enterprise;

3.   to provide the wage earning consumer with economic
     independence through the dividend on Co-operative
4.   to secure a fair deal for the agricultural producer
     without exploiting the consumer;

5.   to benefit the community, irrespective of class or

6.   to provide a solution to the problems of employment,
     wages and working conditions.

I do not think a declaration we published today would neglect
many of the aspirations articulated nearly sixty years ago,
but when our draft charter is published in 1995, we must
compare notes because planning for the future has no meaning
without some understanding of our past.

In fact, there has been no pause in the debate on Co-operative
principles per se since the inception of the ICA. The ICA's
Vienna Congress of 1930, on the initiative of the French,
resolved to set up a Special Committee to enquire into the
conditions under which the Rochdale principles are applied in
various countries and if necessary to define them. The Special
Committee report was debated inconclusively at the London
Congress of 1934 but adopted with little dissent in Paris in
1937, when greater emphasis was placed on the reiteration of
the first four principles:

1.   open membership;
2.   democratic control;
3.   distribution in proportion to transactions; and
4.   limited interest on capital;

than the last three principles:

5.   political and religious neutrality;
6.   cash trading;  and
7.   promotion of education.

Thirty years later, as many in this audience will know very
well, the Principles Commission set up by the Bournemouth
Congress in 1963 was charged with the task of reviewing the
Rochdale Principles and its unanimous report was made to the
Vienna Congress of 1966. Political and religious neutrality
and cash trading were deleted and the sixth principle of
Co-operatives co-operating with each other was introduced. 

Almost thirty years later, coinciding in 1994 with the 150th
Anniversary of the foundation of the Rochdale Pioneers Society
and the next year with the Centenary of the Alliance, we are
approaching the climax of the third great debate in this
century on Co-operative principles. The President of the
Alliance, Lars Marcus, performed for us a lasting service
which will be his monument when he presented at the Stockholm
Congress of 1988 his paper on Basic Co-operative Values,
reminding us of the ethical platform on which Co-operative
enterprise rests in the second half of the 20th Century, lest
we forget.

Another Swede was charged by the Board of the Alliance to
undertake a global Co-operative Odyssey and to listen and
argue with Co-operators in all sectors in membership of the
ICA and from all continents. The result was a masterly
document of research and scholarship - Co-operative Values in
a Changing World - which no participant in the Social Economy
can afford to be without. It has rightly been described as a
vibrant personal statement, based on a lifetime in the
Co-operative Movement. Sven Ake Book presented his work to the
ICA Congress in Tokyo in 1992, which received it with much
applause and appreciation. Congress then gave Professor Ian
McPherson of Canada the task to draw all the threads together
to bring to the Centennial Congress in Manchester in
September, 1995, proposals for:
1.   a revision of the six fundamental principles set down in

2.   a clear Co-operative message for the next century in the
     form of operating principles or practices for each
     sector; and

3.   a Co-operative Charter for the Millennium and beyond.


My constituency in the Alliance is Europe - officially, I am
Vice President of the ICA for the European Region. Continental
Europeans are perhaps entitled to be somewhat confounded by a
native of "Albion Perfide", an isolated island off the north
coast of the continent, arguing for a stronger European Union.
But I so do.  And I also welcome its enlargement and the
prospect of the addition of Finland, Norway, Sweden and
Austria to the European Community. All of these countries, of
course, have a strong and distinctive Co-operative tradition.
But as regards the Commission and the European Union, some of
us in Britain have less problem with Government and Parliament
in Brussels and Strasbourg than those we have to contend with
in Whitehall and Westminster! But if nothing else justifies
the work of the European Commission in my eyes, it is its
progressively supportive policy and approach towards
Co-operatives, mutual societies and associations (SMEs). I
know that there are Co-operators, particularly among my German
friends, who are sceptical about the concept of the "Social
Economy" and have not given a particularly warm welcome to the
European Commission's embrace of it. ICA Europe understands
and respects that view. We do not wish for one moment to
dilute the essential distinctiveness of co-operation as a
mechanism for social and commercial enterprise. Nonetheless, I
would comment a passage from the Commission's proposal of 16th
February, 1994, adopted by the Committee relating to the
mutual annual programme of work (1994 - 1996) for SMEs. This
is what it says:

This sector is particularly skilled in the field of social
innovation, i.e. a field in which it is very much in the
community's interest to recognise, promote and utilise. This
can be done all the more easily and effectively, given that a
large number of firms in this sector constitute essential
vehicles for community policies. Whether the problems be
related to urbanisation, economic decline, job loss, the
increasing financial uncertainty among substantial sections of
the population or the management of human resources, these
entities come up with solutions which offer potential for
renewal and which they disseminate, often with the support of
public authorities, by way of the kind of networks in which
they occupy a very significant position.

The present programme of work thus sets out to provide backing
for Co-operatives and mutual societies, associations and
foundations in formulating a response to the dual challenge
now facing the community - economic development and social

If I were to attempt to describe the mission of the ICA in
general and the ICA in Europe in particular, it would be in
the words: "to promote economic development and social
progress" but, I would emphasise, in the context of
co-operation. The economic and trading impulse of Co-operative
activity must be as strong as its social conscience, but I
would not argue that this is the divine mission of
Co-operative Movements alone: there is much which can be
accomplished with our partners in the social economy, given
the drive being put behind this new emphasis by DG XXIII in
Brussels. We appreciate that in ICA Europe. Moreover, we
intend to take advantage of it and have made application for
funding towards our work programme over the next three years.
For the avoidance of doubt we, in the ICA, are prepared to
consider common cause with other entities in what some parts
of Europe call the Social Economy, but not at the risk of
losing or submerging our distinctive co-operative autonomy and
freedom of action. I have said elsewhere that the ICA's vision
of Europe is not confined to the Europe of the twelve or even
of the enlarged sixteen. We welcome the pending applications
to accede to the Union by Poland and Hungary and other likely
applicants from Eastern and Central Europe. But so far as ICA
Europe is concerned, its boundaries will be determined by the
Council of Europe definition. We are proposing to include
those countries (a) which are members of the Council of
Europe, as well as (b) countries granted the status of
`special invitees'. There are also three former CIS countries
(Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) which have applied for
special invitee status and are likely to receive it. They are
temporarily "borderline" cases in ICA Europe terms. The
situation of the former Yugoslavia (expelled in 1992 on human
rights grounds) will no doubt be resolved by the Council once
peace has settled on that troubled land. 

The ICA has been working closely with Co-op Network, whose
Board is chaired by Ota Karen of the Czech Republic. This is a
separate and related body whose task it has been to advise,
provide assistance and procure long-term aid to the
Co-operatives emerging from the ashes of the discredited
political institutions of the collapsed socialist regimes of
Eastern and Central Europe. As we all know, the old
Co-operative systems were heavily centralised and dependent on
ministerial support. The challenge of breathing democratic
life into the Co-operatives now taking their place in the sun
and encouraging decentralised membership participation is a
daunting one and Co-op Network will play a part in that.
Amongst the various priorities identified by ICA Europe is the
need to fashion the role of Co-op Network in its more mature
phase. We have to decide, now that its infancy is behind us,
whether we should formally admit Network into the ICA as an
integral part of the institutions or leave it to remain
ambiguously alongside. I have no doubt that we must haul our
friends from Network aboard The Armada!

Culture and Language

When I emerged as the candidate of the European members'
meeting in Brussels in May, 1993, as Vice Presidential nominee
for the new ICA Region of Europe, I inherited as our agenda a
blank piece of paper; a nil budget; an excellent colleague as
Secretary of ICA Europe in Arsenio Invernizzi, (whom ICA
headquarters occasionally despatch to Latin America for
extended periods on "fire fighting" duties); and the promise
by the President, Lars Marcus, that he would "keep away". I
have had good cause to be grateful for that bountiful legacy!

In addition to Co-op Network operating in one part of the
Region, the nine Co-operative Sectoral Associations in the EC
in membership of the Coordinating Committee (the CCACC) had
been operating effectively for some time in Brussels. Was
there room in Europe, I asked, for the ICA? It was all very
well to put flesh on the bone structure already in place in
the ICA Regions in Africa, Asia and the Pacific and the
Americas, but Europe? Was there not already a surfeit of
committees, lobbies, regional bodies, coordinators and liaison
systems? Emphatically, the answer must be yes but is there
nonetheless a job to be done specifically in and for Europe by
the ICA operating out of a European but non-European Union
country? Again, experience of the last twelve months points
towards the affirmative. In saying so, I pay special tribute
here to the tolerance, understanding, vision and old fashioned
desire to co-operate which I have found universally so far in
the members of the CCACC. Its strength lies, of course, not in
itself but in the strong sector associations which that
Committee co-ordinates.

It is proposed that seven of these European Associations which
have made their mark in the Co-operative interest will by
special ICA Europe regulation have the right to representation
on the new European Advisory Council of the ICA, namely the
Association of Co-operative Banks, ACME (Co-operative
Insurance and Mutuals), CECODHAS (Co-operative Housing), CECOP
(Producer Co-operatives), COGECA (Agricultural Co-operatives),
Euro Coop (Consumer Co-operatives) and UEPS (Co-operative
Pharmacies). It is self evidently important that ICA Europe
is, and is seen to be, representative of as many forms of
Co-operative activity in Europe as possible.

If Co-op Network and its activity in Eastern and Central
Europe can be seen as one leg of the tripod on which ICA
Europe is to stand, and the sector associations of Brussels
the second, the third leg undoubtedly is the two Working
Groups set up by the ICA European Advisory Council to engage
with some of the major issues which concern all Movements in

The first Group is led by Lars Hillbom of Kooperativa
Forbundet (KF) of Sweden and its remit is based on our
internal concerns: (1) Co-operative identity; (2) East/West
relations; (3) management control and corporate governance;
(4) cross border transactions; (5) Co-operative development in
the South; and (6) considerations of gender.

The second Group is chaired by Giuliano Vecchi of
Confederazione Italiane and is concerned with external issues,
namely: (1) Co-operative image; (2) Co-operatives and schools;
(3) meeting European social needs with Co-operative solutions;
and (4) co-ordination and utilisation of information networks.
This Group too will seek to have regard to considerations of

Each of the tasks being undertaken by the Working Groups is
being separately coordinated by Co-operators drawn from
different countries and different sectors. The Working Groups
meet regularly to review their progress and to report on what
they have achieved since they set about their tasks last

I take pleasure in having as leaders of the Groups senior
Co-operators respectively from Northern Europe and from the
South. It is the richness and diversity of Co-operation in
Europe that is its strength and guarantees its endurance.
Co-operation in its 150 years has the resilience and
flexibility to absorb and take on the national characteristics
of each country where it is practised whilst retaining its
essential universality. Expressed differently, perhaps the
culture of Co-operation crosses national frontiers without
difficulty, but its language is more comfortably rooted in the
Nation State. ICA Europe today has sought to blend culture and
language across the Continent to arrive at common objectives
and in doing this is carrying on in a regional sense the
traditions of its global role during the nearly one hundred
years of its existence.

Co-operation in all its Forms

The ICA consists of around 220 national Co-operative
organisations in more than 100 countries, plus nine
international organisations, collectively representing more
than 700 million individual members. In 1946, the ICA was one
of the first non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be
accorded United NationsU consultative status. Today, it is one
of the forty-one organisations holding Category 1 consultative
status with the United Nations' Economic and Social Council
(ECOSOC). The Alliance encompasses at least ten distinct
Co-operative sectors: Producers, Consumers, Fisheries,
Insurance, Banking, Tourism, Credit and Saving, Agriculture,
Housing and Energy; several other sectors adjacent to these
can also claim to fall within the ambit of the Alliance. In
this respect, I should mention integral health Co-operation
whose cause has been so vigorously promoted by Senor Josep
Espriu of Barcelona who, I know, is planning to gather some
kindred spirits around him to see what further progress can be
made in forging international links between Co-operatives
engaged in health activities. ICA Europe wishes him well in
that endeavour.

Reflecting the breadth of the ICA's global Co-operative
interest, ten specialised bodies operate across the Alliance's
four regions, most with a particular sector as its remit. But
there are gaps nonetheless in the reach of the Alliance. For
example, whilst on the one hand there is limited contact
between the European Banks, to which Friedrich Wilhelm
Raiffeisen gave his name, and the ICA on the other, the
contacts between these two international organisations, both
of which espouse the philosophy of solidarity, have, at best,
been tenuous over the century or so of their joint existence.
And this is good reason in itself to welcome the initiative of
the President of the ICA, Lars Marcus, and the President of
the International Raiffeisen Union, Baron von Verschuer, to
conduct a Joint Seminar in Prague on 27th October, 1994, at
the end of the first Regional Assembly of ICA Europe.  ICA
members in Europe can then explore with its practitioners how
Co-operation in the context of the Raiffeisen system works and
the ICA will be able to share with its Raiffeisen colleagues
views on the possibilities for joint action to further the
successful development of Co-operatives. In March of this
year, the two Presidents led a joint mission to Slovakia and
Hungary at the request of ICA members there to discuss the
role of Co-operatives within the new political framework in
those countries. I hope that there will be positive results
from these initiatives and more joint activity of this kind.


The ICA Region of Europe is not yet twelve months old. In
Prague at the first Regional Assembly in October, the
provisional European Advisory Council will be replaced by an
elected Council. We have yet to see how effectively the new
institutions will work. We may be criticised for the ambition
of our work programme. ICA members in Europe are receiving
questionnaires, enquiries, requests for information,
invitations to seminars and calls for support from the Working
Groups as we try to assemble the collective wisdom of national
Movements and sectors to find solutions to long-standing
problems and new challenges. In Prague at the Regional
Assembly, Co-operative democracy in action will enable us to
decide which of the issues to which the Advisory Council
initially chose to give emphasis should be taken further,
modified or abandoned.

Our aim must be to find a distinctive European Co-operative
voice is heard loudly and clearly in Manchester in September,

* Mr Melmoth is ICA Vice-President for Europe.
This text was adapted from a presentation to the ICA/CIRIEC
Colloquium held on 2 May 1994, in Seville, Spain
European Union Statistical Report on Co-operatives* 

Ed: Since the above report of the meeting in Seville on 2 May,
the two Working Groups have been definitively identified as

Group I is concerned with internal issues:

1.   Co-operative Identity:  Coordinator Sven Ake Book.

2.   Management Control Systems and Corporate Governance:
     Coordinator Moira Lees

3.   Transfer of Know-How to promote Co-operatives in Eastern
     and Central Europe: Coordinator Ivan Fidler

4.   Cross-Border Business in EU and EFTA countries:
     Coordinator Thierry Jeantet

5.   Co-operative Development in the South: CoordinatorBjorn

Group II is concerned with external matters:

1.   Co-operative Image in Europe: Improving Information &
     Communication: Coordinator Mary Treacy

2.   Co-operatives and Schools: Coordinator Walter Williams

3.   Promoting New Co-operative Enterprises and Sectors:
     Coordinator Rainer Schlfter.