Save the date : November 9th, 2017 at the European parliament in Brussels

Concept note for workshop 1 on employment and workers

cooperative Europe /CECOPA Europe

Workshop title:

“Cooperative answers to new employment challenges in Europe”



Cooperatives play an essential role in the European economy by combining profitability with solidarity, creating high-quality jobs, strengthening social, economic and regional cohesion and generating social capital.[1]

In Europe, there are more than 20 millions of SMEs active in all economic sectors and providing more than 1/3 of jobs to European citizens.[2] Among those SMEs, there are more than 176,000 cooperative enterprises, providing jobs to almost 5 millions individuals.[3]

Cooperatives are then playing a significant role in the EU regarding the economic, social, sustainable development and employment. Furthermore, cooperatives are a good illustration of social innovation, as cooperative enterprises are creating in new and innovative sectors, such as the collaborative economy. [4]


Main issues and challenges

In December 2016, in the EU28 the unemployment rate was 8,2%, which account for the unemployment of 20 065 millions of people. Amongst those, there are 4 219 million young people unemployed and aged under 25 years.[5]

The recent economic crisis has caused consequent enterprise failures and bankruptcies across Europe leading to massive job losses, even in sectors and activities which are still viable. According to the European Commission, around 200,000 businesses across the EU are confronted to insolvency and 1.7 million people are losing their jobs each year.[6]

In parallel, EU is facing a demographic challenge for coming decades with a transition towards a much older population structure. The number of retired persons is expanding with important consequences on enterprises survival as well: an increasing number of business, very often SME, owners are getting in retirement without succession. One of the answers to safeguard economical activities and jobs is business transfers to employees under the cooperative form. The cooperative model is more than relevant in terms of sustainable economic growth, considering that employees keep their activities and work locally.

Moreover, business transfer into workers cooperatives is an efficient way to ensure the sustainability of a company and to ensure a high rate of employment. It must be emphasized that the practice of business transfer to employees under the form of a cooperative becomes more and more common in some EU Member States. For illustrative purposes, there is in France a great development of business transfer into cooperatives: in 2015 out of 319 new cooperatives affiliated to CG Scop, 32% are result of “healthy” business transfers to employees, employees buyouts of enterprises in crisis and transformation of associations into cooperatives.[7]

In this regard, together with the Confédération générale des Scop (CG Scop, France), Cooperatives Europe is implementing the TransfertoCOOPS project (co-financed by the European Commission). This European project – led by CG Scop – aims to develop a practical and pragmatic approach to improve the environment for transferring businesses to employees/worker cooperatives and raise awareness about the cooperative benefits. [8]
This project takes inspiration from the French example, in which the practice of business transfers is well developed. Decades of experience in this practice not only in France, but also in Italy, in Spain and Scotland and more sporadic cases in other EU countries have given tangible proofs of its entrepreneurial sustainability, provided the necessary business support conditions (training, advisory services and financing) are met.

Another recent phenomenon exacerbated by the economic crisis is the fragmentation of the employment and the appearance of non-standard forms of employment (freelancers, auto-entrepreneurs, etc), mostly affecting young people, one of the major category concerned by unemployment in EU. Cooperatives, once again, have proved their ability to adapt to emerging societal needs and we are witnessing across Europe, an increasing number of cooperatives established among freelancers or self-employed persons. Additionally, to the advantages of shared costs and services, the model seems to seduce by the combination of autonomy and security that it provides, mostly in term of employment conditions and access to social protection schemes.

An interesting example in this field is SMart Belgium, a cooperative specialised in offering contract management services, insurance services, legal and consulting services, information and training, co-work spaces and mutual financial tools mainly to artists, and more recently it has opened itself to freelancers and people working in the so-called sharing economy.


List of reference documents

  • CECOP, Business Transfers to Employees under the Form of a Cooperative in Europe: Opportunities and Challenges, June 2013, 21p.
  • EP report on the contribution of cooperatives to overcoming the crisis (Rapporteur : Patrizia Toia) adopted on 12 June 2013, (2012/2321(INI))


List of relevant organisations specialised in the subject

1 Rapport du Parlement européen sur la contribution des coopératives à la sortie de la crise du 12 juin 2013 (2012/2321(INI)), Rapporteur : Patrizia Toia (ITRE).

2 European Commission, Annual Report on European SMEs 2015/2016, in

3 Cooperatives Europe, The power of cooperation. Cooperatives Europe key figures 2015, April 2016, in

4 Cooperatives Europe et LAMA, Cooperative platforms in a European landscape: an exploratory study, Septembre 2016, 35p, in ; Rapport du Parlement européen du 11 mai 2017 sur un agenda européen pour l’économie collaborative (2017/2003(INI)) – Rapporteur: Nicola Danti, in

5 Eurostat, communiqué de presse 22/20117 du 31 janvier 2017, in