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

Conclusions and some thoughts for consideration (1998)

March, 1998
(Source: Studies and Reports. Thirty-first in the series
The Impact of the European Union’s Enlargement on Co-operatives. Papers presented at a seminar held in Prague 3-4 November 1997,  p. 102-103 )
Conclusions and Some Thoughts for Consideration

The Seminar presentations were followed by working group sessions in the consumer, agricultural, worker and housing sectors.

Although some sector-specific questions might need special attention, co-operatives from each of the sectors appear to have a common approach towards European integration.

Co-operatives are aware that integration into the European Union may have some negative consequences for their development.  In order to face increased pressure from competitors they must immediately take measures to increase their competitiveness and the cost-efficiency of their businesses.

The reality of the open market means that only the strongest will survive.  In order to create economic strength, small and medium-sized co-operative enterprises will have to consider the possibility of mergers.  In this case, care must be taken to ensure that the social responsibility of co-operatives, i.e. the care of members, is not lost.

Another parallel solution could be an improved co-operation with co-operatives from other sectors.  If the mutual assistance system among co-operatives works well, difficulties are easier to surmount.  This is the basis of the 6th Principle of the international co-operative movement, “Co-operation between Co-operatives”.

The question was raised: Does enlargement represent an opportunity or a threat for co-operatives?  The answer is very complex, but one thing is certain - a lot depends on the co-operatives themselves, on national policies and on how they take advantage of this immense opportunity and minimise the possible threats.

Co-operatives and, more specifically, their national representatives, need to start preparation right away by:

The strong voice of a unified national co-operative movement can definitely exert effective pressure on authorities.

At the same time as co-ops are taking action at a national level, ICA can contribute to the following support activities at the international level by:

As a general conclusion, what was said in the foreword by Lars Hillbom must be emphasised, namely the necessity of follow-up to the Seminar, because the enlargement of the European Union will be the “big issue” in coming years and requires appropriate attention.