Cooperatives Europe Annual Meeting Opening Speech Dame Pauline Green Co-President
Colleagues and friends
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the third Annual Meeting of Cooperatives Europe. It was in Manchester in 2005 that we met and brought together the national members of the ICA’s Europe region, and the Brussels based representative bodies of the co-operative business sectors.
2006 and 2007 were the years in which we established Cooperatives Europe and put in place the detailed processes that are necessary for any new business. During 2008, the Executive and the Board moved beyond the initial set-up phase, and began to drive the work in the direction that we believe will pay dividends for our members.
On the administrative front, we now have a stable core staff team of six.
We have our own premises – Cooperatives House Europe – which now is home not just to Cooperatives Europe, but to CECOP, and a new initiative supported by our Swedish, Danish(?) and Norwegian colleagues to bring together the European co-operative housing sector, with greater focus on their shared ‘co-operative’ heritage.
On the financial front, after two years of small deficits as the organisation established itself, in 2008 we made a Euro 15,000 surplus, allowing us to begin the process of replacing the funds that we had to take from our reserves to support the deficits in 2006 and 2007. We were grateful for the support of the global Board of the ICA in allowing us to use the reserves which, whilst technically those of Cooperatives Europe, were actually built up by ICA Europe prior to 2005, and are subject to an agreement that requires the consent of the global Board before use.
So, you can be confident that we are using your resources well, building a young, but stable, developing and growing co-operative organisation.
But, what is most exciting is just what Cooperatives Europe is doing!
A lot has happened since 2005, but 2008 was, I believe, the year in which Cooperatives Europe began to show that it has the potential to fulfil the hopes and aspirations that we all had when we jointly created it in November 2005.
A key element of our role is, of course, to influence decision-makers in Brussels, and that work is ably led by my fellow Co-President Etienne Pflimlin, who will speak next.
The Executive and the Board of Cooperatives Europe identified several key areas of work that they believed we should pursue. However, we had a major constraint on taking this work forward, and that was of course, that our funding, overwhelmingly derived from the redistribution of a percentage of your subscriptions to the global ICA, was not sufficient.
Let me be clear, the ICA central office in Geneva has been engaged in a major reform of its structures and its subscription formula to create an organisation fit for purpose in the 21st century. Cooperatives Europe was very supportive of the need for reform, and has played a major part in supporting a radical change of direction for the ICA, to give more responsibility, and greater funding to its four regions in Europe, the Americas, Asia/Pacific and Africa.
As a consequence, over the last four years, we have secured an increase from 18% in 2004 to 43% this year in the percentage redistribution of subscriptions with a commitment to reaching 50% within the next two years. That increase has allowed us to build Cooperatives Europe into a credible organisation but, it does not allow enough to develop our work streams as we would like.
The response of the Board of Cooperatives Europe was to develop a portfolio of possible work streams, for example, activities around climate change and development, as well as two added value business services in energy and pharmacy. We then invited our members to invest in those work streams that best met their co-operative and business objectives.
As a result, we have received additional funding of just over Euro 100,000, with for example:
The European Union is now a major political and economic body in the global market. Inevitably some key co-operative businesses across the world will want to be kept in touch with policy and decisions taken in Brussels. As a result our colleagues from JA Zenchu the apex organisation for agricultural co-operatives in Japan, have contracted with Cooperatives Europe to keep them in touch via reports and the occasional seminar on developments within the European Union and our region. This is also an additional source of income.
And, of course, we are currently half way through a second project funded by the European Commission to explore how the co-operative model of business can become part of the social partners structure in the European Union.
I know that Rainer will look more closely at these initiatives, but it is true to say that we are already identifying some real business benefits for our members by working together across Europe in this way. Let me give you a quick example. During the pharmacy seminar hosted in Rome by Confcooperative, we brought together co-operative manufacturers, distributors and retailers engaged in the pharmacy business. During the day, a French manufacturer discovered that it was manufacturing a drug and distributing it through a private sector business, from whom the British retailers were buying. Before the day was through, they had an agreement that the British would buy directly from the French manufacturer, cutting out the private sector distributor and sharing the profit margin!
That is the benefit of working together, and there are many more deals like that waiting to be done. Working with you Cooperatives Europe can build the opportunities. Working together is a way to develop business synergies, strengthen and deepen our co-operative sector across the European continent and give greater profile and visibility to the cooperative model of business.
Thank you for your support in helping us to make this happen.
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