CIRIEC study: "The Social Economy in the European Union" (2007):

"As mentioned in the European Commission’s Manual, co-operatives in the European Union are subject to very different and varied bodies of law. Depending on the country, they may be considered commercial companies, a specific type of company, civil associations or organisations that are difficult to catalogue. There may even be a total lack of specific legal regulation, obliging them to follow the rules for companies in general, which normally means commercial companies. In such cases, it is the co-operative’s members who include the operating rules in the articles of association which enable a company to be identified as a ‘co-operative’.

In terms of the business they conduct, co-operatives are found in both the non-financial corporations sector and the financial corporations sector and in practically every kind of activity.

In general, it would be fair to say that the vast majority of co-operatives in the European Union share a common core identity based on the historical origins of the co-operative movement and on the acceptance, to varying degrees, of the operating principles detailed in the Statute for a European Co-operative Society (SCE) .

Co-operatives are self-help organisations set up by citizens (they are private and are not part of the public sector) which are formally-organised and have autonomy of decision. In order to satisfy the needs of their members or conduct their business they operate on the market, from which they obtain their main source of funding. They are organised democratically and their profits are not distributed in proportion to the share capital contributed by their members. The 1995 ESA considers co-operatives to be market producer institutional units."


The main EU representative organisation for the cooperatives is Cooperatives Europe - the European region office of the International Co-operative Alliance. Its aim is to promote the co-operative business model in Europe by working to satisfy members’ needs.

On behalf of its 90 member organisations from 34 European countries across all busines ssectors it promotes the co-operative business model in Europe.

Its members represent 123 million individual member co-operators owning 160.000 co-operative enterprises and providing jobs to 5.4 million European citizens - a force for economic growht and social change.