Felice Scalvini, president of CECOP, gave a keynote address on the social enterprise phenomenon in Europe. Then spoke Jean Gautier, general secretary of CGSCOP, with a historical approach on worker cooperation and the social component of cooperatives over the last 150 years. Roger Spear lecturer at the Open University and member of the EMES network which specialises in the evolution of social enterprises in Europe, updated the participants on the present state of their research.

Four presentations then gave very diverse national pictures: Vilma Mazzocco, president of Federsolidarietà and president of the Italian Third Sector Forum, summarized the enormous importance of social cooperatives in Italy (6'159 enterprises, 220'000 member, 190'000 employees, 23'575 disadvantaged workers), and explained how the new Italian legislation on social enterprises had been passed, after an intense lobby by the national cooperative movement to make it sufficiently “social” to be acceptable to its own standards. She also highlighted to what extent the Italian social cooperatives had overwhelmingly been practicing cooperative worker ownership even though the 1991 social cooperative legislation does not make it an obligation.

Eva Johanssen from Nutek, explained the complex and fluid Swedish situation, where the cooperative movement is in the process of discussing the legal and policy framework of social enterprises. Pekka Pattiniämi, Principal of Civic Association for Adult Learning - KSL, President of Coopfinland and also collaborating with Kuopi University, explained the new social enterprise law in Finland and to what extent worker cooperatives could utilize it.

Bob Cannell, member of the Employee Cooperative Council of Cooperatives UK and member-worker at SUMA worker cooperatives, depicted the huge social enterprise promotion operation by the Blair government and the very contrasting situation on the ground as a result, with part of the social enterprises being in tune with the philosophy of worker ownership, and others being on the contrary clearly un-democratic and even individualistic. The worker cooperative movement needed to make alliances with the former while distancing itself from the latter, he said.

As a discussant, Roger Spear made a series of very useful recommendations to the European worker cooperative movement in facing the problem.

Bruno Roelants provided some additional information on the debates taking place on social enterprises and social entrepreneurship in international organisations (OECD, World Bank, IMF etc), and Mervyn Wilson, principal of the Cooperative College UK, made a high-quality conclusion, in which he reset the issue within the broader context of the cooperative movement in general, which was gathering in Manchester for the historical events described in the previous issue of CECOP LINK.

We encourage you to visit the website for a comparative table of social cooperative and social enterprise legislation in Europe, elaborated by the CECOP secretariat, and to re-visit it regularly, as we are gradually uploading the transcriptions of the various presentations, and launching a multilingual discussion forum on the topic.