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Les contributions des coopératives à une économie plurielle

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578 pages
Les coopératives, qui portent une conception de l'économie fondée sur le respect de l'être humain et sur la volonté de vivre et d'agir ensemble, participent à la pluralité économique : elles rompent la dualité lucratif-public, mettent l'accent sur la dimension collective de l'entrepreneuriat, sont plurielles par leurs formes. Les écueils ne sont cependant jamais loin : mécompréhension politique, banalisation par alignement sur les concurrents non coopératifs, opportunisme individuel...Š(Articles en français et en anglais).
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Les contributions
des coopératives
à une économie plurielle
Co-operatives contributions
to a plural economyCollection LES CAHIERS DE L’ÉCONOMIE SOCIALE
ENTREPRENDRE AUTR EMENT
Ce cahier constitue le septième volume d’une collection centrée
sur les thèmes majeurs de l’économie sociale et solidaire, en
étroite relation avec la Recma, Revue internationale de l’économie
sociale.
La direction scientifique de la collection est assurée par Jean-
François Draperi. La correction et la maquette sont réalisées par
la Ciem. La réalisation de ce volume a été assurée par Jordane
Legleye et Patricia Toucas-Truyen. Nous tenons à remercier Jesse
Bryant pour la préparation des contributions en anglais.
Ouvrages parus
Défis coopératifs. Alimentation, crédit, démocratie, développement
Cahier coordonné par Jean-François Draperi.
Les Cahiers de l’économie sociale – Entreprendre autrement, n° 6, décembre 2008
Pour une économie sociale sans rivages
Jacques Moreau (1927-2004)
Coord. André Chomel et Nicole Alix
Les Cahiers de l’économie sociale – Entreprendre autrement, n° 5, juillet 2005
Economie sociale et développement local
Coord. Danièle Demoustier
Les Cahiers de l’économie sociale – Entreprendre autrement, n° 4, avril 2004
L’émergence de l’entreprise sociale
Jean-François Draperi, Léna-Morgane Jan
Coll. « Entreprendre autrement », Fondation Crédit coopératif, octobre 2002
Les coopératives entre territoires et mondialisation
Coord. Jean-Marc Touzard et Jean-François Draperi
Les Cahiers de l’économie sociale, n° 2, juillet 2003
eCoopération et économie sociale au « second » xx siècle
Claude Vienney (1929-2001)
Coord. André Chomel
Les Cahiers de l’économie sociale, n° 1, juillet 2002Les contributions
des coopératives
à une économie plurielle
Co-operatives contributions
to a plural economy
Colloque européen de recherche coopérative
Alliance coopérative internationale
Lyon, France, 2-4 septembre 2010
Cahier coordonné par Jérôme Blanc et Denis Colongo
avec la collaboration de Jesse Bryant, Jordane Legleye
et Patricia Toucas-Truyen
Recma
24, rue du Rocher L’ H a r m a t t a n
75008 Paris











La Fondation Crédit coopératif
Le Crédit mutuel

La Caisse d’épargne Rhône-Alpes
Le LEFI, Laboratoire d’économie de la firme

et des institutions
CoopFr

La Confédération générale des Scop
L’URScop RA

La Société financière La Nef
Le Collège coopératif Rhône-Alpes

La région Rhône-Alpes
Le Grand Lyon
La ville de Lyon







© L'Harmattan, 2011
5-7, rue de l'École-Polytechnique ; 75005 Paris

http://www.librairieharmattan.com
diffusion.harmattan@wanadoo.fr
harmattan1@wanadoo.fr

ISBN : 978-2-296-56000-0
EAN : 9782296560000




Sommaire
Les contributions des coopératives
à une économie plurielle ......................................................................................................... 9
Cooperatives’contributions to a plural economy ............................... 23
Jérôme Blanc, Denis Colongo
La Recma et l’ACI,
un partenariat de quatre-vingt-dix ans plein d’avenir ............... 35
Recma and the ica :
a 90 year partnership full of promise ................................................................ 39
Jean-François Draperi
I – Des dynamiques contrastées du monde
coopératif : le problème de l’attractivité
Austrian Cooperative Law in a Changing World :
The legal framework for cooperatives since 1873 ............................. 45
Johann Brazda, Robert Schediwy and Holger Blisse
The social economy in Portugal ............................................................................... 63
João Salazar Leite
Institutional combination for cooperative development :
How trustful cultures and transformational mid-levelers
overcame old guard conservatism .......................................................................... 75
Reuven Shapira
Le soutien de l’Etat aux coopératives de transport
israéliennes, à l’origine de la perte des valeurs coopératives
dans le contexte néolibéral ................................................................................................ 91
Yifat Solel
5Scop Côté nature bio : un exemple coopératif
confronté aux réalités du marché
dans une économie plurielle en devenir .................................................... 105
Jacques Poisat, Daniel Goujon et Jean-Luc Mieszczak
Argentine : opportunité et limites de la dimension
coopérative pour les entreprises récupérées.
Un débat entre autogestion et coopération ............................................. 121
Nils Solari
The co-operatives’sources of efficiency : A catalyst
for the emergence of stable and localised norms ........................... 137
Marius Chevallier
Organisational variety in market economies
and the role of co-operative and social enterprises :
A plea for economic pluralism ................................................................................ 157
Carlo Borzaga, Sara Depedri and Ermanno Tortia
Formes coopératives hybrides .................................................................................. 181
Roger Spear
II – Les coopératives en Europe :
règles, aides, fiscalité et statut
de société coopérative européenne
Regard juridique sur une stratégie coopérative
face au droit communautaire .................................................................................... 209
David Hiez
Le principe de double qualité dans les sociétés coopératives,
un mécanisme anticoncurrentiel ? ..................................................................... 227
Willy Tadjudje
La fiscalité des coopératives au regard du droit européen
de la concurrence ....................................................................................................................... 243
Laurent Karlshausen
6Les aides d’Etat aux coopératives,
le droit européen pour les coopératives
et le droit européen de la concurrence .......................................................... 265
Ekaterina Islentyeva
La société coopérative européenne :
un nouveau modèle pour les groupes coopératifs ? ..................... 275
Laurent Gros
La coopération en Slovénie : entre reconnaissance et déni ..... 285
Franci Avsec et Primož Žerjav
III – Les coopératives
dans les services bancaires et financiers,
entre spécificités et banalisation
Credit cooperatives in the Italian legislation ...................................... 305
Rita Lolli
The legislation of the Greek cooperative credit system ........ 325
Simeon Karafolas
The development of the legislation
on cooperative banks in Finland ........................................................................... 337
Panu Kalmi
Legislation and structure
of the Lithuanian credit union system ......................................................... 355
Jurgita Igaryte and Sigitas Bubnys
La responsabilité sociale des institutions financières
au Canada : une analyse exploratoire des coopératives
de services financiers ............................................................................................................ 375
Élias Rizkallah et Inmaculada Buendía-Martínez
Les banques coopératives en France :
l’exception coopérative en question ? ............................................................... 395
Gérard Leseul et Nadine Richez-Battesti
7Do French financial co-operatives
still have a role in financial inclusion ? ......................................................... 417
Georges Gloukoviezoff
Margin or mainstream :
the impact of the financial inclusion policy context
on the development of credit unions in Wales ................................... 443
Jan Myers, Molly Scott-Cato and Paul A Jones
De la Nef (Nouvelle économie fraternelle) à la BEE
(Banque éthique européenne),
esquisse et enjeux d’une trajectoire ................................................................... 465
Béatrice Chauvin, Ariel Mendez et Nadine Richez-Battesti
IV – Les coopératives agricoles :
entre critiques et potentialités
Du marché paysan à l’épicerie solidaire :
vers une pluralité des formes d’entreprendre ...................................... 489
Jean Lagane
Les entreprises féminines d’économie sociale
en espace rural grec.
Etude de cas au département de l’Evros ................................................... 503
Stavriani Koutsou et Maria Botsiou
Dairy development through cooperatives : Approaches
for innovation and market orientation. A review
of Arsi zone cooperatives, Oromia region, Ethiopia .................. 519
Alemayehu Dekeba Bekele
Value chain management in agricultural cooperatives, Thailand.
Innovation for competitiveness and fair-trade approaches .... 541
Juthatip Patrawart and Saisuda Sriurai
Farmers’specialized cooperatives in China :
Past, present and future ................................................................................................... 557
Wu Xiliang, Wang Zhengbing
8Les contributions des coopératives
à une économie plurielle
Jérôme Blanc* et Denis Colongo**
e colloque européen de recherche de l’Alliance coopérative
internationale (ACI) s’est tenu à Lyon (France) du 2 au
L 4 septembre 2010. Il a été organisé via un partenariat entre
l’Université (université Lumière-Lyon 2, laboratoire Lefi) et
laChambre régionale de l’économie sociale et solidaire (Cress)
Rhône-Alpes. L’appel à communications a centré les débats sur
 (1)les contributions des coopératives à une économie plurielle .
De plus en plus nombreux sont les travaux qui théorisent ou
documentent le principe selon lequel les activités de production et
de circulation des richesses sont mues par des motifs pluriels : dans
le champ de l’économie sociale et solidaire ou en-dehors, dans un
cadre conceptuel empruntant à Karl Polanyi (référence majeure en
la matière) ou sans s’y référer. Joseph Stiglitz, prix de la Banque
de Suède en sciences économiques en mémoire d’Alfred Nobel,
dont la contestation du « fondamentalisme de marché » est mainte-
nant bien connue, fait de cette pluralité une condition d’une économie
plus équilibrée : « My research showed that one needed to find a balance
between markets, government, and other institutions, including not-for-
profits and cooperatives, and that the successful countries were those
 (2)that had found that balance . » L’objet de cette introduction n’est
cependant pas de fournir une théorie de la pluralité économique
mais d’y positionner le monde coopératif.
* Maître de conférences HDR, université Lumière-Lyon 2 et laboratoire Triangle,
UMR 5206. Mél. : Jerome.Blanc@univ-lyon2.fr.
** Professeur associé, université Lumière-Lyon 2, chaire d’entrepreneuriat en
économie sociale et solidaire, secrétaire général de la Chambre régionale de
l’écono mie sociallidaire (Cress) Rhône-Alpes. Mél. : dcolongo@cress-rhone-
alpes.org.
(1) Voir sur http://www.cress-rhone-alpes.org/cress/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=122.
(2) Stiglitz J., 2009, « Moving beyond market fundamentalism to a more balanced
economy », Annales de l’économie publique, sociale et coopérative, 80 (3), p. 348.
9
 Le monde coopératif participe en effet de cette pluralité, en
proposant en particulier un modèle entrepreneurial sensiblement
différent du modèle dominant : un accent sur la dimension collec-
tive de l’entrepreneuriat plutôt que sur la figure de l’entrepreneur
charismatique ; sur des motifs d’intérêt collectif (celui des sociétaires
en tout premier lieu, mais potentiellement celui d’une variété plus
large de parties prenantes) plutôt que d’intérêt individuel des appor-
teurs de capitaux que vient satisfaire la quête de profit ; sur
la recherche de solutions innovantes d’un point de vue social
davantage que technologique. La Déclaration sur l’identité coopé-
rative publiée par l’ACI en 1995 suffit à montrer que la coopération
n’est pas seulement une conception de l’entreprise : elle porte aussi
une conception de l’économie fondée sur le respect de l’être humain
et sur la volonté de vivre et d’agir ensemble. La coopération met
ainsi en œuvre l’idée d’une économie plurielle.
Le colloque visait à faire émerger des questionnements et
des analyses sur la place des coopératives dans cette pluralité. Celle-ci
peut être vue comme un moyen d’éviter un certain nombre de
problèmes issus de l’activité économique, parmi lesquels des problèmes
sociaux et environnementaux, ou, s’ils ne sont pas évités, d’en proposer
des solutions. Sur quatre-vingt-douze propositions reçues, soixante-
trois textes ont été acceptés et finalement présentés durant le colloque,
provenant en général de gestionnaires, d’économistes, de juristes et
de fiscalistes, et parfois proposés par des praticiens en situation de
réflexivité et des chercheurs impliqués dans la pratique coopérative.
Les débats se sont structurés autour de questions sectorielles et
de questions transversales. De manière peu surprenante, deux
principaux types d’activités coopératives ont été particulièrement
étudiés : d’une part, les coopératives de services financiers
et bancaires ; d’autre part, les coopératives agricoles. Un ensemble
moins abondant de textes a traité des coopératives de travailleurs.
D’un point de vue transversal, les questions européennes, autour
des problèmes de fiscalité et de droit de la concurrence, ont été
particulièrement traitées. En définitive, le problème de l’attractivité
des coopératives a constitué un important sujet de débat commun
à la plupart des textes. Analyser l’attractivité suppose d’entremêler
plusieurs dimensions de l’articulation des coopératives avec leur
10environnement, et cela constitue la problématique centrale de la
pluralité économique vue en perspective dynamique, dès lors que
l’on pense à une « économie plus équilibrée » ainsi que le formule
Stiglitz. Le présent ouvrage est ainsi assemblé à partir d’une
sélection de vingt-neuf textes structurés en quatre parties : attrac-
tivité, Europe, finance et agriculture.
Des dynamiques contrastées du monde coopératif :
lep  roblème de l’attractivité
La première partie de l’ouvrage se concentre sur les enjeux et
les difficultés de l’attractivité des coopératives. Il faut distinguer ici
ce qui relève du monde coopératif dans son ensemble et ce qui
concerne certaines activités en particulier. L’attractivité de lacoopé-
ration requiert un cadre légal et fiscal favorable, sur lequel ladeuxième
partie se concentrera dans le contexte européen, mais dont on
trouvera encore des échos dans la troisième partie, relative aux coopé-
ratives bancaires et financières. Elle est aussi favorisée par
unensemble d’organisations et d’institutions soutenant les dyna-
miques coopératives, et certaines développant des fonctions de
support des coopératives : représentation et lobbying nationaux et
internationaux, facilités financières, accompagnement à la création
et au développement, etc. L’attractivité d’activités coopératives
particulières dépend de leurs conditions : législation spécifique
(quipeut s’imposer aux coopératives comme à toute autre entreprise
d’un secteur, bancaire ou agroalimentaire par exemple), avantages
compétitifs éventuels liés au statut d’associé conféré aux usagers,
aux clients ou aux salariés, etc. Les textes de cette partie abordent
les dimensions principalement non fiscales de cette attractivité.
Quatre textes fournissent une vue des dynamiques juridiques
et historiques de la coopération en Autriche, en Israël et au Portugal.
Johann Brazda, Robert Schediwy et Holger Blisse dressent
unportrait historique du cadre légal des coopératives en Autriche
depuis 1873. Ils montrent que la fragmentation du cadre légal et
l’existence d’un certain nombre de dispositions non contraignantes
de ce cadre légal ont eu un rôle positif dans le développement
des coopératives, conférant à celles-ci une marge de manœuvre
11
 
 
 
 
 mobilisable dans leurs propres statuts. Dans le contexte d’une
banalisation des coopératives oublieuses de leur héritage et fondues
dans le capitalisme concurrentiel, les auteurs constatent que
les acteurs de la coopération ne sont pas particulièrement pressés
d’obtenir un cadre légal unifié, au contraire du monde universitaire.
Dans le cas du Portugal, João Salazar Leite souligne que
laConstitution portugaise inclut expressément le monde coopératif
depuis 1976, ainsi que le « secteur social » depuis 1989, tous deux
constituant un tiers secteur. Il n’en reste pas moins que le secteur
coopératif est très méconnu, et incompris jusque par ses propres
sociétaires. La reconnaissance juridique, voire constitutionnelle,
est un point essentiel, mais cela ne suffit pas ! Le cas israélien est
traité au travers de deux textes. Reuven Shapira s’intéresse au cas
des kibboutz et à la manière dont la grave crise financière qu’ils ont
traversée durant les années 50 et 60 a pu être résolue en renforçant
les valeurs coopératives, à la différence de la crise traversée
depuis les années 80, qui a engendré au contraire un retrait profond
des valeurs coopératives. Son analyse insiste sur des facteurs
institutionnels qui sont au fond très humains, car relatifs à des impul-
sions données par un leader charismatique appuyé par des hauts
fonctionnaires du ministère de l’Agriculture. Toujours dans
lecontexte israélien, Yifat Solel met l’accent sur une autre source
essentielle d’évolution, ici négative, du monde coopératif : les
politiques publiques. Elle présente en effet un cas extrême de
détermination politique de l’évolution d’activités coopératives, avec
la démutualisation des coopératives de transport, opérée sous
le prétexte de la privatisation pour des raisons d’efficacité. Le cas
israélien souligne hélas à quel point les orientations données par
les pouvoirs publics peuvent être destructrices. On pourrait ajouter,
en prenant appui sur l’expérience française de fusion entre les deux
réseaux bancaires coopératifs des Caisses d’épargne et des Banques
populaires, qu’en dépit de l’indépendance affirmée du monde
coopératif les pouvoirs publics ont la capacité de peser lourdement
dans ses orientations stratégiques – on pourrait rêver que ce soit
pour le meilleur, bien que le pire soit à craindre…
De manière générale, et probablement de manière croissante
dans les dernières décennies, comme en attestent les mouvements
12
 
 de démutualisation, le statut coopératif peut être vu comme une
possibilité parmi d’autres. Créateurs, dirigeants ou sociétaires sont
ainsi mis en situation d’opérer des choix statutaires lors de moments
de crise. Deux textes abordent à leur façon cette problématique
dans le cas de coopératives de production. Jacques Poisat, Daniel
Goujon et Jean-Luc Mieszczak (fondateur de l’entreprise) analysent
le cas de la Scop française Côté nature bio, dans le secteur extrê-
mement concurrentiel de la production textile. Ils soulignent en
quoi une coopérative doit gérer deux logiques potentiellement
contradictoires : d’un côté, les valeurs démocratiques et sociales
qui la fondent ; de l’autre, le besoin de compétitivité. L’activité
productive de la coopérative, en faillite, a finalement été reprise
dans le cadre d’une entreprise classique, dans laquelle la perfor-
mance économique est le premier objectif. C’est un mouvement
inverse de récupération de leurs entreprises par les travailleurs
qu’étudie Nils Solari, dans le contexte argentin de la grande crise
de 2001-2002. Parmi les centaines d’usines dont le contrôle a été
pris par les travailleurs, 94 % sont devenues des coopératives.
Ce chiffre masque cependant la diversité des situations et des orien-
tations données par les travailleurs à leur coopérative. Au-delà du
statut choisi, des tensions ont pu être très vives entre la volonté de
coller aux règles liées au statut de coopérative et celle de pratiquer
une autogestion potentiellement affranchie des règles coopératives.
Enfin, trois textes traitent des dynamiques coopératives d’unpoint
de vue théorique en interrogeant l’efficacité relative des coopératives,
la notion même d’efficacité, et la plasticité organisationnelle
qui conduit à introduire des variations nouvelles du modèle
coopératif. Du point de vue de la théorie économique, l’attractivité
du monde coopératif pourrait se résumer dans leur efficacité
relativement aux organisations non coopératives ; pourtant, la notion
d’efficacité est biaisée par son absence de prise en compte
d’externalités, et son usage vient en conséquence trop souvent à
charge contre les formes plurielles d’organisation de la production,
parmi lesquelles se trouvent les coopératives. Alors que la théorie
économique souligne généralement les champs d’inefficacité
des coopératives, Marius Chevallier estime qu’elle échoue à rendre
compte de sources d’efficacité qu’il faudrait aussi considérer. Cela
13
 permettrait de voir les coopératives autrement que comme des
formes organisationnelles archaïques ou provisoires dont la survie
ne tient qu’à l’imperfection des marchés. S’intéressant aux
coopératives et aux entreprises sociales, Carlo Borzaga, Sara
Depedri et Ermanno Tortia dénoncent deux hypothèses fondatrices
de la théorie économique : celle de l’individu maximisateur de sa
propre utilité et celle de la firme maximisatrice de son propre profit.
Sur cette base, lathéorie économique sous-estime généralement
le potentiel de croissance, le poids et le rôle des coopératives et
des entreprises sociales. Ils posent les fondements d’un cadre
théorique nouveau intégrant l’économie comportementale et des
approches évolutionnistes. Le plaidoyer pour la pluralité économique
est alors fondé sur une pluralité des motifs d’action individuelle et
sur l’élargissement de la vue classique, et étroite, de la notion
d’efficacité. Celle-ci devrait être définie autrement que par les seuls
profits privés et intégrer les bénéfices mutuels et publics. Enfin,
Roger Spear souligne que la pluralité s’exprime dans les organisations
elles-mêmes. Les coopératives ne sont pas exemptes de
transformations provenant de dynamiques internes ou contextuelles
qui complexifient ladonne : alors que certaines adaptations jouent
à l’intérieur des principes coopératifs, d’autres constituent des
hybridations où l’isomorphisme, poussé par la pression concurren-
tielle, l’emporte sur ces principes. Spear identifie trois grands types
d’hybrides coopératifs dérivant du type idéal de coopérative
marchande contrôlée démocratiquement par ses membres : les
coopératives contrôlées par leurs dirigeants, les coopératives
commerciales et les coopératives de service public-services sociaux.
Les coopératives en Europe : règles, aides, fiscalité
ets  tatut de société coopérative européenne
La deuxième partie de cet ouvrage traite du cadre européen, que
ce colloque a particulièrement privilégié. Ce cadre s’impose à
plusieurs niveaux pour les coopératives des pays membres de l’Union :
en matière de fiscalité, d’aides publiques et de droit de la concurrence,
mais aussi via le statut de société coopérative européenne (SCE) et,
enfin, via l’influence qu’il peut avoir sur les législations nationales.
14
 
 Le maintien de l’originalité coopérative semble mise en danger par
les règles européennes relatives au marché et à la concurrence,
ce qui est paradoxal puisque l’Union européenne a adopté en 2003
un règlement portant statut de société coopérative européenne.
L’uned  es incertitudes tient au maintien de l’exemption d’impôt sur
les réserves impartageables, que beaucoup considèrent comme
unavantage indu pour les coopératives. Proposer des voies alter-
natives est certes important. Mais si l’on considère le cadre européen
comme une donnée, le problème central est moins de refuser
les règles européennes que de les clarifier et d’identifier les biais
par lesquels elles peuvent être compatibles avec les exigences
coopératives, tout en restant en éveil pour alerter les institutions
européennes lorsque les coopératives sont véritablement menacées.
Le texte de David Hiez pose d’emblée le problème : le monde
coopératif s’est senti agressé par les dynamiques européennes, au point
de lancer en 2008 une pétition défensive qui ne pouvait avoir d’impact
que politique. L’auteur repositionne le débat dans le champ du droit,
car les réponses efficaces aux menaces sur les coopératives peuvent
provenir du droit lui-même. Le monde coopératif a, il est vrai, unatout
non négligeable dans sa manche depuis 2005 : le statut de société
coopérative européenne. Le rapport à l’intérêt général est une autre
voie de légitimation (et de défense) possible, qu’il faudrait cependant
activer de manière particulièrement prudente et réfléchie.
Les règles européennes relatives à la fiscalité coopérative et aux
aides d’Etat font assurément débat. Dans deux textes différents,
Willy Tadjudje et Laurent Karlshausen analysent l’articulation
des règles coopératives et du droit de la concurrence. Le principe
même de double qualité et le contrat de coopération entre sociétaires
s’opposent à la notion de concurrence. Willy Tadjudje conclut que
ces pratiques devraient être tolérées dès lors qu’elles se déploient
dans le cadre de liens coopératifs et qu’elles ne contredisent pas
leprincipe de concurrence sur le marché. Laurent Karlshausen
se concentre sur le problème de la compatibilité des régimes fiscaux
des coopératives avec le droit de la concurrence européen. La question
de la nécessité de critères spécifiques aux coopératives pour traiter
du droit de la concurrence est posée. Il souligne que les règles et
les pratiques européennes sont désormais suffisamment flexibles
15
 
 
 pour embrasser toute la diversité des coopératives. Ekaterina
Islentyeva se concentre sur la légitimité des aides d’Etat aux coopé-
ratives et propose de les lier à la construction européenne des services
d’intérêt général, ainsi que le propose Coopératives Europe.
Laurent Gros, quant à lui, s’intéresse au statut de société coopé-
rative européenne (SCE) et tente d’évaluer son impact potentiel
tant pour les coopératives elles-mêmes, dans leurs dynamiques
d’internationalisation (qui n’avaient pas attendu ce statut pour se
déployer et qui depuis n’en ont guère tiré profit, puisque, en 2010,
seules dix-sept SCE avaient été créées), qu’en termes de structu-
ration du mouvement coopératif dans son ensemble. Il est vrai que
certaines législations nationales, et non des moindres (Royaume-Uni),
ne comprenaient pas de textes spécifiques pour les coopératives
– mais, là encore, cela n’empêchait pas le monde coopératif
d’exister ! Il n’en reste pas moins que l’un des mérites du statut de
SCE est de constituer un socle commun utilisable par les pays
membres de l’Union européenne pour bâtir leur propre législation.
C’est ce que montrent Franci Avsec et Primož Žerjav dans le cas
de la Slovénie : le modèle de la SCE a permis d’améliorer le cadre
juridique des coopératives. Il ne faut cependant pas surestimer
les effets possibles de ce statut nouveau – ni d’ailleurs de tout statut
de coopérative : si les lois portant statuts sont essentielles, les lois
et règlements qui concernent les activités elles-mêmes sont tout
aussi importants et peuvent représenter une contrainte affaiblissant
la position des coopératives, ou les alignant sur les autres entre-
prises – dans la banque, par exemple.
Les coopératives dans les services bancaires
etf  inanciers, entre spécificités et banalisation
La troisième partie de cet ouvrage porte sur les services bancaires
et financiers, qui sont historiquement l’un des points chauds de
lacoopération. Porteurs d’enjeux de démocratisation de l’accès
à lagestion de l’épargne et au crédit, ils concentrent aussi des enjeux
sur le financement des organisations de l’économie sociale elle-même
et ils sont donc l’un des facteurs déterminants dans son développement.
En ce sens, tout à la fois les populations à revenus faibles ou moyens
16
 
 et les organisations d’économie sociale ont eu besoin, et ont encore
besoin, de la pluralité des organisations bancaires et financières. Dans
les textes qui suivent, le secteur est abordé d’un point de vue juridique,
alimentant la discussion sur les conditions d’attractivité et de dyna-
mique des activités coopératives, mais aussi du point de vue des
spécificités du monde coopératif dans le secteur bancaire et financier,
conduisant à discuter des risques de banalisation.
La question juridique est assurément centrale et détermine pour
une partie non négligeable le développement éventuel des coopé-
ratives – par exemple, une loi espagnole récente favorise la trans-
formation des coopératives de crédit en banques commerciales.
Rita Lolli présente les effets de la distinction, en Italie, de deux
formes de coopératives dans le domaine financier, selon la loi
bancaire de 1993. Si les banques coopératives de crédit sont
conformes au modèle « mutualiste », les banques populaires dérivent
vers les sociétés de capitaux, notamment par l’usage des profits et
l’affectation des réserves. Or, les dispositions légales qui ont suivi
mettent en danger la spécificité mutualiste des premières : il y a
danger sur le monde coopératif italien dans les services bancaires.
Simeon Karafolas traite de la loi grecque de 1992, qui a établi
uncadre juridique précis pour les institutions financières coopéra-
tives et a stimulé leur développement. La loi distingue des banques
coopératives et des coopératives de crédit, celles-ci n’ayant pas
lestatut bancaire. Toutes deux demeurent cependant très marginales.
L’auteur met l’accent sur le fait que le statut coopératif est en lui-même
un facteur pesant sur leur compétitivité dans un marché bancaire
concurrentiel. Dans le cas finlandais, Panu Kalmi explique en quoi
la régulation des banques coopératives, dont l’émergence au début
edu xx siècle s’est faite sur le modèle Raiffeisen, tient à la fois de
facteurs internes (par auto-organisation et une grande autonomie
accordée par les autorités bancaires) et de facteurs externes (via
une législation tardive, datant de 1970, fortement influencée par
ces mêmes banques, mais aussi ensuite du fait de contraintes inter-
nationales telles que le processus de Bâle qui s’est imposé à toute
forme de banque). En Lituanie, les coopératives d’épargne et de
crédit ont émergé au début des années 90 sur le modèle canadien
des Caisses Desjardins, premier soutien financier du secteur naissant,
17
 
 expliquent Jurgita Igaryte et Sigitas Bubnys. La loi lituanienne de
1995, puis les modifications ultérieures du cadre légal fournissent
des conditions favorables au développement des coopératives
d’épargne et de crédit, bien que la fin de l’exemption de l’impôt sur
les sociétés les concernant leur complique la tâche.
Le droit construit ou valide certes des spécificités du monde
coopératif, mais on doit signaler que les politiques publiques (ainsi
que le montrait Yfat Solel dans le cas d’Israël), les règles internes
non juridiquement contraignantes (ainsi que le souligne Panu Kalmi
dans le cas de la Finlande), comme les pratiques des organisa-
tions, dans un sens plus large, jouent un rôle tout aussi important.
Dans le contexte canadien, où les coopératives de services financiers
sont largement soumises à la même législation que les banques dites
commerciales, Elias Rizkallah et Inmaculada Buendía-Martínez
étudient la manière dont les coopératives intègrent ou non lacontrainte
de rapport de RSE (responsabilité sociale des entreprises) qui pèse
sur les grandes banques commerciales de niveau fédéral. La concur-
rence pourrait en effet pousser à un tel alignement. Leur conclusion
est mitigée : alors que certaines coopératives développent
une communication implicite à ce sujet, d’autres publient des rapports
faisant état de leur contribution à la collectivité. Gérard Leseul et
Nadine Richez-Battesti interpellent « l’exception coopérative »
française, c’est-à-dire le rôle dominant de groupes coopératifs en
concurrence dans la banque de détail (près des deux tiers du marché).
Ils soulignent que la banalisation n’est pas une fatalité, dès lors que
seraient promus d’autres modèles de développement fondés sur
unsociétariat retrouvé. A partir d’un angle d’attaque plus spécifique,
Georges Gloukoviezoff étudie les banques coopératives françaises
sous l’angle de leur rôle dans l’inclusion financière. Son analyse
fournit un point de vue contrasté : depuis les années 80, elles se sont
banalisées en s’alignant sur les pratiques des banques commerciales
non coopératives. Cependant, et en dépit de différences sensibles
entre elles, elles demeurent globalement plus innovantes que
les autres pour construire des solutions aptes à promouvoir l’inclu-
sion financière des personnes fragiles ou exclues. Il insiste cependant
sur la nécessité de politiques publiques dans la lutte contre l’exclu-
sion financière, ce qui ne résout en rien le processus d’affaiblissement
18
 
 des spécificités coopératives dans la banque et la finance. Le texte
de Jan Myers, Molly Scott-Cato et Paul A. Jones apporte un regard
très complémentaire, à partir des contraintes que les politiques
publiques d’inclusion financière font peser sur les coopératives de
crédit au Pays de Galles, dont la dynamique très récente remonte
aux années 90. Celles-ci sont aux prises avec deux conceptions
contradictoires : l’injonction d’inclusion financière, qui les renvoie
à une approche philanthropique, et l’appel de la compétitivité par
laquelle elles joueraient de manière crédible un rôle commercial
sur l’activité concurrentielle des services bancaires. En France,
la coopérative financière La Nef, qui ne dispose pas de l’agrément
bancaire, est engagée dans un projet de fusion européen avec pour
horizon la création d’une Banque éthique européenne (BEE). Béatrice
Chauvin, Ariel Mendez et Nadine Richez-Battesti étudient lesmoda-
lités des transformations successives de cette coopérative, depuis
l’association qui en est à l’origine jusqu’à la perspective de banque
européenne. Elles soulignent les enjeux de ce projet mais aussi
les dangers qu’il fait courir sur les spécificités très fortes de la Nef :
la banalisation pourrait être au bout du chemin.
Les coopératives agricoles :
entre critiques et potentialités
La quatrième et dernière partie de cet ouvrage aborde le vaste
ensemble des coopératives agricoles. Elle aborde le rôle des coopé-
ratives en milieu rural, de leur impact social et de leur rapport
au développement rural avec l’activation de modes d’action coopé-
ratifs et partenariaux avec des terrains contrastés : production laitière,
rizicole, plus largement agricole dans des pays dits du Sud, mais
aussi coopératives et associations rurales en Grèce et modes d’entre-
prendre paysans en France.
La coopérative est-elle adaptée aux nouvelles orientations
environnementales et solidaires de l’activité agricole qui se
traduisent par la création de circuits courts ? L’étude de Jean
Lagane porte sur trois dispositifs non coopératifs en France :
un marché paysan, une Amap (association pour le maintien
d’une agriculture paysanne) et une épicerie solidaire, les deux
19
 derniers étant associatifs. Si l  ’organ isation en coopérative n’est
pas absente de ces dynamiques (par exemple, des Amap peuvent
être organisées en Scic, société coopéra tive d’intérêt collectif),
elle apparaît comme une possibilité parmi d’autres. Stavriani
Koutsou et Maria Botsiou se concentrent sur les organisations
de femmes dans la campagne grecque, comprenant des asso-
ciations et des coopératives de production. Celles-ci constituent
des moyens de dynamisation et de développement endogène des
zones rurales à partir de transformations économiques, sociales
et institutionnelles. Les femmes se défient généralement des
coopératives agricoles plus anciennes, associées aux hommes
et à unp  assé obsolète. Alemaheyu Dekeba fournit un instantané
des caractéristiques des coopératives laitières dans la région
Arsi, en Ethiopie, et montre leur importance pour les petits
producteurs (ils disposent en moyenne d’un peu plus de deux
têtes) en matière de commercialisation et de transport, ainsi
que de normalisation et de socialisation de l’activité. Il souligne
cependant le caractère inachevé ou partiel du travail de ces
coopératives : notamment, l’information n’est pas toujours
correctement partagée et les producteurs tiennent encore à
participer individuellement aux marchés locaux. En Thaïlande,
c’est sur des coopératives de commercialisation dur  iz de petits
producteurs que se concentrent Juthatip Patrawart et Saisuda
Sriurai, à partir d’un travail de recherche-action. Celui-ci a
cherché à élever la valeur ajoutée des productions et à améliorer
les résultats commerciaux de la coopérative, avec comme
perspective un rapprochement des standards de commerce
équitable. Xiliang Wu et Zheng-Bing Wang présentent les
dynamiques récentes des coopératives en Chine, leur importance
et leurs difficultés. Le monde coopératif du communisme chinois
est évidemment très éloigné de l’idéal coopératif formulé par
l’ACI. La transformation accélérée du pays depuis l’ère Deng
Xiaoping a cependant rebattu les cartes et les coopératives ont
changé. Une loi nationale de 2007 a engendré une dynamique
importante de création de coopératives agricoles, qui laisse les
auteurs dubitatifs tant l’opportunisme semble dominer : les
coopératives sont d’abord un outil de captation de rentes.
20Deux problèmes majeurs sont identifiés : l’absence de société
civile émergente dans les campagnes (contrairement aux villes)
et l’absence d’écosystème coopératif qui accompagnerait le
développement des coopératives agricoles.
Au fond, les coopératives participent à la pluralité économique
de plusieurs façons. D’abord, elles rompent la dualité lucratif- public ;
ensuite, elles sont elles-mêmes plurielles du fait de la grande variété
de leurs formes, que vient renforcer une dynamique continue
d’innovations organisationnelles ; enfin, elles sont fréquemment
parties prenantes de dynamiques de développement local où
une pluralité d’acteurs intervient dans des objectifs eux-mêmes
pluriels et irréductibles au seul motif de profit. Les écueils ne sont
cependant jamais loin : mécompréhension politique, banalisation
par alignement sur les concurrents non coopératifs et formes
d’opportunisme individuel font de ces éléments vifs de la pluralité
économique des espaces d’utopies pratiques.Cooperatives’ contributions
to a plural economy
Jérôme Blanc* and Denis Colongo**
he European research conference of the International
Cooperative Alliance (ICA) took place in Lyon (France)
Ton September 2-4, 2010. It was organized through a
partnership between academia (Université Lumière Lyon 2,
LEFI) and the Rhône-Alpes branch of a national network
(1)(CRESS) that promotes the social and solidarity economy .
The central theme of the conference was the contributions of
(2)cooperatives to a plural economy .
A growing number of studies analyze and document the fact
that production and exchange activities are driven by plural
m otivations. These studies can be found both in the literature on
the social and solidarity economy and elsewhere, and some of
them draw on Karl Polanyi’s conceptual framework (a key reference
in this area) while others do not. Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the
Bank of Sweden’s Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of
Alfred Nobel and well known for his work criticizing market
f undamentalism, believes this plurality is a condition of a more
balanced economy: “My research showed that one needed to find
a balance between markets, government, and other institutions,
including not-for-profits and cooperatives, and that the successful
(3)countries were those that had found that balance. ” However, the
* Associate Professor, Université Lumière Lyon 2 and Triangle research center
(UMR 5206). Email: Jerome.Blanc@univ-lyon2.fr.
** Visiting Professor, Université Lumière Lyon 2, chair in social and solidarity
economy entrepreneurship, Secretary General of CRESS Rhône-Alpes. Email:
dcolongo@cress-rhone-alpes.org.
(1) Funding for the conference and this publication came from CoopFr, Fondation
Crédit coopératif, Crédit Mutuel, Confédération générale des Scop, Urscop Rhône-
Alpes, the financial services company La NEF, Caisse d’Epargne Rhône-Alpes,
the Collège Coopératif Rhône-Alpes, the city of Lyon, the Rhône-Alpes region,
and Greater Lyon.
(2) http://www.cress-rhone-alpes.org/cress/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=122
(3) Stiglitz J., 2009, “Moving beyond market fundamentalism to a more balanced
economy, Annales de l’économie publique, sociale et cooperative”, 80 (3), p. 348.
23purpose of this introduction is not to provide a theory of economic
plurality but rather to situate cooperatives within it.
Cooperatives are part and parcel of this plurality by offering in
particular an entrepreneurial model that differs significantly from
the dominant model. The cooperative model emphasizes the
collective dimension of entrepreneurship rather than the figure of
a charismatic entrepreneur; collective interest (primarily the
interests of the members but potentially the broader interests of
stakeholders) rather than the individual interests of shareholders
looking to make a profit; and the search for social rather than
technological innovation. The Statement on Cooperative Identity
published by the ICA in 1995 alone shows that cooperation is not
just a business vision; it also puts forward a view of the economy
based on respect for people and a commitment to living and working
together. Cooperation is thus the concrete expression of the idea
of a plural economy.
The aim of the conference was to stimulate a discussion about
the role of cooperatives in this plurality. Cooperatives can be seen
as offering a way around certain problems that result from economic
activities, including social and environmental problems, or providing
solutions when the problems are unavoidable. Out of 92 papers
submitted, 63 were accepted and presented at the conference. In
general, they came from researchers in management, economics,
law and taxation as well as a few practitioners reflecting on the
issues and researchers involved in cooperative practice.
The discussions concerned both sector-specific issues and issues
that cut across sectors. Unsurprisingly, two main types of
cooperatives were particularly studied – cooperatives in financial
services and banking, and agricultural cooperatives. A smaller
number of papers looked at worker cooperatives. An area particu-
larly examined from a cross-sector perspective was European
taxation and competition law. Lastly, an important topic that most
of the papers considered was the issue of the attractiveness of
cooperatives. Analyzing the issue of attractiveness involves piecing
together the connections between cooperatives and their
environment, and this forms the central issue of economic plurality
seen from a dynamic perspective when one thinks about a
24“more balanced economy” in Stiglitz’s words. This book thus
presents a selection of 29 papers grouped into four sections:
attractiveness, Europe, financial services and agriculture.
Part One – The contrasting dynamics of cooperatives
and the issue of attractiveness
The first part of the book focuses on the challenges and problems
of attractiveness for cooperatives. A distinction needs to be drawn
here between cooperatives as a group and certain types of businesses
in particular.
In order to be attractive, cooperatives need a favorable legal and
fiscal regime, an issue that the second part looks at in a European
context and that comes up again in the third part, which concerns
cooperatives in banking and financial services. The attractiveness
of cooperatives is also enhanced by a group of organizations and
institutions that promote cooperative development, some of which
provide support functions, including national and international
representation and lobbying, access to finance, help in starting up
and developing cooperatives, etc. The attractiveness of particular
types of cooperatives depends on the conditions in which these
businesses operate, such as specific legislation (which may apply
to both cooperatives and other kinds of businesses in the sector,
as can be seen in banking and agriculture for example), possible
competitive advantages connected with the member status of users,
customers, employees, etc. The articles in this part mainly deal
with aspects of cooperatives’ attractiveness unrelated to taxation.
Four articles look at cooperatives in Austria, Israel and Portugal
from a legal and historical perspective. Johann Brazda, Robert
Schediwy and Holger Blisse survey the history of cooperative
legislation in Austria since 1873. They show that the fragmentation
of the legislation and the fact that so many of the norms were
non-binding played a positive role in the growth of cooperatives
by giving them ample leeway with their by-laws. In the present
context of the drift towards the mainstream in which cooperatives
have forgotten their heritage and blended into competitive capitalism,
the authors note that cooperative practitioners are in no particular
25hurry to obtain a unified set of laws, contrary to the concerns of
academic researchers. In the case of Portugal, João Salazar Leite
underlines that the Portuguese Constitution has explicitly included
cooperatives since 1976 and the “social sector” since 1989, which
together form a third sector. However, the cooperative sector remains
little known and poorly understood even by its own members.
Legal and perhaps constitutional recognition is essential but insuf-
ficient. The Israeli case is the subject of two articles. Reuven Shapira
looks at kibbutzim and how the serious financial crisis that they
experienced in the 1950s and 1960s was overcome by strengthening
cooperative values, in contrast with the crisis since the 1980s,
which has led to a profound retreat from cooperative values. The
author’s analysis emphasizes institutional factors that are actually
very human because they are related to the efforts of a charismatic
leader supported by high-ranking officials in the Ministry of
Agriculture. Also in an Israeli context, Yifat Solel highlights another
crucial and, in this case, negative factor in the evolution of
coo peratives – government policy. She presents an extreme case
of the impact of government policy on the development of cooper-
ative businesses with the demutualization of transportation
cooperatives, which was carried out under the pretext of
pr ivatization for efficiency reasons. The Israeli case sadly unders-
cores how damaging government policy can be. One can add that,
despite the independence asserted by cooperatives, governments
can still exert significant influence on cooperatives’ strategic
decisions, as can be seen in the French case of the merger between
the two cooperative banking groups, Caisses d’Epargne and
Banques Populaires. One hopes for the best while fearing the worst.
Over the past few decades, the cooperative form has been
generally and increasingly seen as just one possibility among others,
as the waves of demutualization attest. Founders, managers or
members have had to make a choice about the company’s form
during moments of crisis. Two articles address this issue in two
very different cases of worker cooperatives. Jacques Poisat, Daniel
Goujon and Jean-Luc Mieszczak (founder of the company) examine
the case of the French worker cooperative Côté Nature Bio in the
extremely competitive textile industry. They highlight how a
26cooperative has to juggle two potentially contradictory concerns
– core democratic and social values on one hand, and the need to
be competitive on the other hand. The failing cooperative was
ultimately turned into a conventional company in which the main
objective is economic performance. The opposite scenario, in which
workers take over companies, was studied by Nils Solari in the
context of the huge crisis in Argentina in 2001-2002. Of the
hundreds of factories taken over by the workers, 94% became
cooperatives. However, behind this figure lies a complex range of
situations and orientations chosen by the workers for their cooper-
atives. Although the workers chose the cooperative form, heated
debates could arise between wanting to stick closely to cooperative
rules and practicing a potentially freer form of self-management.
Lastly, three articles look at cooperative developments from a
theoretical perspective by examining the efficiency of cooperatives,
the idea of efficiency itself, and the organizational flexibility that
enables introducing new variations of the cooperative model. From
the point of view of economic theory, the question of the attrac-
tiveness of the cooperative form might boil down to their efficiency
compared to non-cooperative organizations. However, the idea of
efficiency is biased by its lack of accounting for externalities, and
consequently it is too often used against plural organizational
production forms, which include cooperatives. While economic
theory tends to emphasize the inefficiencies of cooperatives, Marius
Chevallier thinks that it fails to take into account sources of
efficiency that should also be considered. This would allow
cooperatives to be seen differently instead of as outmoded or
marginal organizational forms that have only survived because
of market imperfections. Looking at cooperatives and social
enterprises, Carlo Borzaga, Sara Depedri and Ermanno Tortia
criticize two fundamental assumptions in economic theory: the
utility-maximizing individual and the profit-maximizing firm.
Based on these assumptions, economic theory has tended to
underestimate the growth potential, economic weight, and role of
cooperatives and social enterprises. The authors lay out the foun-
dations for a new theoretical framework that incorporates behavioral
economics and evolutionary approaches. The argument for
27economic plurality is thus based on a plurality of motives for
individual action and a broadening of the traditional, and narrow,
view of efficiency. Efficiency should be defined differently than
just by private profit and should include mutual and public benefits.
Finally, Roger Spear looks at plurality in organizations themselves.
Cooperatives are not exempt from changes stemming from internal
or contextual dynamics that complicate the situation. While some
of these adaptations respect cooperative principles, others result
in hybrid forms where isomorphism, driven by competitive pres-
sures, breaks with cooperative principles. Spear identifies three
main kinds of cooperative hybrids derived from the ideal type of
a trading cooperative democratically controlled by its members:
manager-controlled cooperatives, business cooperatives, and
public/welfare service cooperatives.
Part Two – Cooperatives in Europe:
rules, government support, taxation
and the European Cooperative Society
The second part of this book looks at the situation in Europe,
a topic which received special attention at the conference. There
are several key areas in European legislation that concern
cooperatives in the member countries of the European Union,
including taxation, government support, competition law, as well
as the European Cooperative Society statute (SCE, for the Latin
term Societas Cooperativa Europaea) and the possible effect of
these regulations on national laws. Maintaining cooperatives’
unique features appears to be under threat from European
regulations about the market and competition, which is paradoxical
because the European Union adopted the regulation creating the
European cooperative society in 2003. One of the uncertainties
is whether indivisible reserves will remain exempt from tax,
which many see as an unfair advantage for cooperatives.
Proposing alternatives is obviously important but, assuming
European regulations are a given, the central issue is less a
question of rejecting than clarifying European regulations and
identifying the ways in which they are compatible with the needs
28of cooperatives, while staying on guard to alert the European
institutions when cooperatives are truly threatened.
The article by David Hiez goes to the heart of the matter. Feeling
under attack by developments in European legislation, the
coo perative movement published a defensive petition in 2008 that
could only have a political impact. The author shifts the debate to
the area of law because effective ways of responding to the threats
facing cooperatives may come from legislation itself. Since 2005,
the cooperative movement has had an ace up its sleeve – the
European cooperative society statute. The relation with public
interest is another possible line of legitimacy and defense, but this
has to be handled with care and circumspection.
Naturally, European regulations on cooperative taxation and
state aid are also important topics of debate. In two different articles,
Willy Tadjudje and Laurent Karlshausen analyze the relationship
between cooperative rules and competition law. The very principle
of the dual role of member/user and the cooperative contract between
members can be seen as anti-competitive. Willy Tadjudje concludes
that these practices should be tolerated when used by cooperatives
and do not violate the principle of competition in the market. Laurent
Karlshausen focuses on the issue of the compatibility of the tax
regime for cooperatives with European competition law. He raises
the question of whether cooperatives need specific rules for dealing
with competition law and argues that European regulations and
practices are already flexible enough to embrace the whole range
of cooperatives. Ekaterina Islentyeva looks at the legitimacy of
state aid to cooperatives and suggests linking it with the creation
of European general-interest services, as Cooperatives Europe
recommends.
Laurent Gros turns his attention to the European cooperative
society (SCE) statute and attempts to assess its potential impact
both on individual cooperatives in terms of their international
development (cooperatives were already expanding across national
borders before this ruling and have hardly benefited from it; only
17 SCEs were created up until 2010) and on the structure of cooper-
atives in general. While the legislation in some countries, including
some significant cases (the United Kingdom), did not specifically
29refer to cooperatives, this did not prevent the existence of
coo peratives! Nonetheless, one of the benefits of the SCE statute
is that it forms a common basis which member countries of the
European Union can use for building their own laws. Franci Avsec
and Primož Žerjav illustrate this in the case of Slovenia. The SCE
model has made it possible to improve the legal framework for
cooperatives there. However, the possible impact of this new legal
form, and for that matter any law on cooperative business forms,
should not be overestimated. Although laws on business forms are
essential, laws and regulations governing businesses are just as
important and can represent a constraint that hinders cooperatives
or aligns them with other types of companies, as can happen for
example in banking.
Part Three – Cooperatives in banking and financial
services: cooperative features and the mainstream
The third part of this book concerns banking and financial
services, a sector that has historically been a major issue in the
cooperative movement. Central to democratizing access to
investment and credit, cooperatives in this sector also play a
crucial role in financing social economy organizations and are
thus one of the decisive factors in the social economy’s devel-
opment. Both low and middle income population groups as well
as social economy organizations themselves have needed and
still need today a plurality of banking and financial organizations.
The articles here examine both the legal issues affecting the
sector, adding to the discussion about the conditions for the
attractiveness and growth of cooperatives, and the specific
features of cooperatives in banking and financial services, which
leads to discussions about the drift to the mainstream.
The legal issues are unquestionably pivotal and can have a
substantial impact on the development of cooperatives. For example,
a recent law in Spain has facilitated the conversion of credit
co operatives into conventional banks. Rita Lolli presents the
implications of the differences between the two types of cooperatives
30in the banking sector in Italy according to the banking law of 1993.
While the cooperative credit banks fit a “mutualistic” model, the
popular banks have been drifting towards conventional companies,
particularly in the allocation of profits and reserves. Subsequent
legal provisions threaten the mutualistic features of the cooperative
credit banks and pose a real danger for Italian cooperatives in the
banking sector. Simeon Karafolas looks at the 1992 law in Greece
which established a precise legal framework for cooperative
financial institutions and stimulated their growth. The law makes
a distinction between cooperative banks and credit cooperatives,
which are not allowed to perform banking operations. However,
both remain very marginal. The author emphasizes the fact that
the law concerning cooperatives constrains their competitiveness
in the banking market. In the Finnish case, Panu Kalmi explains
how the regulation of cooperative banks, which emerged in the
early 20th century based on the Raiffeisen model, is connected
with both internal factors (by internal governance mechanisms
and a large degree of autonomy granted by the banking authorities)
and external factors (through late legislation dating from 1970,
which was heavily influenced by these same banks, as well as
international constraints such as the Basel process, which applied
to all banks). Jurgita Igaryte and Sigitas Bubnys explain that credit
unions in Lithuania emerged in the early 1990s based on the
Canadian model of the Caisses Desjardins, which provided the
initial financial support for the nascent sector. The Lithuanian law
of 1995 and later regulatory changes have provided favorable
conditions for developing credit unions, however they have been
hindered by the ending of the exemption from corporate tax.
Laws clearly create and reinforce some of the specific features
of cooperatives, but government policies (as Yifat Solel shows in
the case of Israel), internal rules that are not legally binding (as
Panu Kalmi highlights in the case of Finland) and the practices
of organizations in a broader sense also play an important role.
In the Canadian context, where financial services cooperatives
are largely subject to the same legislation as the so-called commer-
cial banks, Élias Rizkallah and Inmaculada Buendía-Martínez
examine whether cooperatives practice corporate social
31res ponsibility (CSR) reporting, which is mandatory for the large
federally chartered commercial banks. Competition could in effect
lead to such an alignment. Their conclusion is ambivalent. While
some cooperatives have an implicit communications strategy,
others publish reports presenting their contributions to the commu-
nity. Gérard Leseul and Nadine Richez-Battesti examine the French
“cooperative exception,” i.e. the dominant role of the cooperative
banking groups in competition in retail banking (nearly two-thirds
of the market). They stress that the drift towards the mainstream
need not be inevitable if other development models based on a
revitalized membership were promoted. From a narrower angle,
Georges Gloukoviezoff looks at the role of French cooperative
banks in financial inclusion. His analysis reveals a mixed picture.
Since the 1980s, French cooperative banks have been drifting
towards the mainstream by following the practices of conventional
banks. However, and despite significant differences among them,
cooperative banks remain generally more innovative than
c onventional banks by offering solutions that promote the finan-
cial inclusion of vulnerable and marginalized individuals. He
insists on the need for government policies that tackle financial
exclusion, but this will not prevent the erosion of cooperative
identity in the sector. The article by Jan Myers, Molly Scott-Cato
and Paul A. Jones takes a very complementary approach by looking
at how the government’s financial inclusion policy puts a strain
on Welsh credit unions, a very recent movement that started
growing in the 1990s. Welsh credit unions are caught in a balancing
act between the demand for financial inclusion, which takes them
back to a philanthropic approach, and the drive to become compe-
titive credible players in the banking sector. In France, the finan-
cial services cooperative La NEF, which is not an accredited bank,
is involved in a European merger project to create a European
ethical bank. Béatrice Chauvin, Ariel Mendez and Nadine Richez-
Battesti chart the stages in the development of this cooperative,
starting from its origins as a nonprofit organization through to the
planned European bank. They highlight what is at stake in this
project and the threats to La NEF’s very strong cooperative identity.
The process could end in the mainstream.
32Part Four – Agricultural cooperatives: criticisms
and potential
The fourth and last section of this book concerns the vast
agricultural cooperative sector. It looks at the role of cooperatives
in rural areas, their social impact and their relationship to rural
development through forms of cooperative action and partnerships
across a wide range of areas, including dairy farming, rice produc-
tion and agriculture in general in developing countries, cooperatives
and farmers’ associations in Greece, and farming entrepreneurship
in France.
Can the cooperative form adapt to the new environmental and
social trends in farming such as the development of producer-to-
consumer schemes? The article by Jean Lagane looks at three
non-cooperative schemes in France – a farmers’ market, an AMAP
(an association that supports small farmers through box schemes)
and a subsidized greengrocer (the last two are nonprofits). The
cooperative form is not excluded from this movement (for example,
an AMAP can be set up as a social or community-interest
co operative), but the cooperative form is just one possible option
among others. Stravriani Koutsou and Maria Botsiou focus on
women’s organizations in the Greek countryside comprising
voluntary organizations and producer cooperatives. These orga-
nizations help revive rural areas and contribute to local development
through economic, social and institutional change. Women gene-
rally distrust older agricultural cooperatives, which are associated
with men and an obsolete past. Alemaheyu Dekeba provides a
snapshot of dairy cooperatives in the Arsi region of Ethiopia and
shows their importance for smallholder producers (they own slightly
over two cows on average) in terms of marketing and transport as
well as for raising standards and networking in the sector. However,
he highlights the unfinished or partial nature of the work of these
cooperatives. For example, information is not always properly
shared, and smallholder producers still like to be involved
i ndividually in local markets. Based on an action-research project,
Juthatip Patrawart and Saisuda Sriurai look at agricultural marketing
cooperatives for small rice producers in Thailand. The aims of the
33project were to increase the value added of their production and
improve the performance of the cooperative while moving closer
to fair-trade standards. Xiliang Wu and Zheng-Bing Wang present
the recent developments in cooperatives in China, their importance
and their problems. The cooperative world of Chinese communism
is clearly a far cry from the cooperative ideal formulated by the
ICA. However, the rapid transformation of the country since Deng
Xiaoping has reshuffled the cards, and cooperatives have changed.
A new national law in 2007 has sparked a boom in agricultural
cooperative creation but leaves the authors doubtful given how
much opportunism there seems to be. Cooperatives are primarily
a tool for appropriating rents. Two major problems are identified:
the lack of an emerging civil society in rural areas (contrary to
urban areas) and the lack of a cooperative ecosystem to support
the development of agricultural cooperatives.
It appears that cooperatives participate in economic plurality
in several ways. First, they break the for-profit/public duality.
Next, they are themselves plural because they have a very diverse
range of forms, which further evolve through constant or ganizational
innovations. Lastly, they are often involved in local development,
where a plurality of stakeholders pursues objectives that are
themselves both plural and irreducible to the profit motive alone.
However, obstacles are never far off. Political misunderstanding,
the drift to the mainstream by following the practices of
conventional competitors, and forms of individual opportunism
turn these living examples of economic plurality into practical
utopian experiences.La Recma et l’ACI, un partenariat
de quatre-vingt-dix ans plein d’avenir
Jean-François Draperi*
a Recma franchit cette année le cap de quatre-vingt-dix
années de publications consacrées au mouvement coopé-
L  ratif. Son histoire est intimement liée à celle du mouvement
coopératif international et à celle de l’Alliance coopérative inter-
nationale (ACI). Les dirigeants de la Recma et les membres de son
comité de rédaction ont en effet, sans discontinuer, participé acti-
vement au comité de recherche de l’ACI dès 1921, à l’image, entre
autres, de Charles Gide, Ernest Poisson (alors secrétaire national
de la Fédération nationale des coopératives de consommateurs
[FNCC]), Jean Gaumont, André Hirschfeld, Georges Lasserre,
Roger Verdier, Henri Desroche, Claude Vienney et André Chomel.
Simultanément, à l’occasion de chaque congrès de l’ACI, la
Recma publie des articles présentant ou analysant les travaux de
l’alliance et de son comité de recherche, souvent sous la forme
d’un numéro spécial ou d’un dossier. A l’occasion du centenaire
de l’ACI, en 1995, poursuivant les travaux de Watkins et de
Desroche, deux articles se penchaient sur l’histoire de l’ACI, à
(1)partir d’une enquête sur ses congrès . En 2008, suite à la ren-
contre du comité de recherche de l’ACI de Dourdan, organisée
en partenariat avec le Groupement national de la coopération
(désormais CoopFR), la Recma publiait, dans la même collection
que celui-ci, l’ouvrage Défis coopératifs : alimentation, crédit,
démocratie, développement (527 pages).
Les raisons de la proximité de la Recma avec l’ACI sont
historiques : la Revue des études coopératives (Rec) naît de la
même réflexion que l’ACI autour de la définition du mouvement
* Rédacteur en chef de la Recma, Revue internationale de l’économie sociale et
directeur du Centre d’économie sociale travail et société (Cestes), au Conservatoire
national des arts et métiers (Cnam, Paris). Mél. : draperi@cnam.fr.
(1) Draperi J.-F., « Le centenaire de l’ACI : regard sur une histoire mémorable »,
Recma, n° 258, 1995, et n° 259, 1996.
35coo pératif, en vue de lui donner une doctrine et des outils
d’analyse de ses pratiques. A la fin du Xixe siècle, Edouard
De Boyve, Auguste Fabre et Charles Gide font l’analyse
comparée des pratiques de la coopération de production, dite
participationniste, et de celles de la coopération de consom-
mation, dont la conception « coopérativiste » va finalement
servir de fondement à la constitution de l’ACI en 1895. A
compter de cette date, la coopération de consommation domine
durablement les débats jusqu’en 1950, date à laquelle la Revue
des études coopératives ouvre ses pages à la coopération de
production et à la coopération agricole. Toute l’histoire de la Rec
est marquée par les plus éminents théoriciens du mouvement
coopératif : Charles Gide, Bernard Lavergne, Ernest Poisson,
Albert Thomas, Marcel Mauss, Célestin Bouglé, Jean Gaumont,
Vakhan Totomiantz, Louis de Brouckère, André Hirschfeld,
Ernest Labrousse, Georges Fauquet, Georges Lasserre, Edgar
Milhaud, Henri Desroche, Claude Vienney, André Chomel,
Jacques Moreau, etc.
André Chomel souligne que « l’année 1980 est sur le plan
coopératif l’année du congrès de l’ACI à Moscou et essentiellement
l’année du rapport Laidlaw sur “La coopération en l’an 2000”.
Celui-ci a un impact formidable en France et dans le monde
coopératif, dans la mesure où il propose une perspective, ou plutôt
une utopie qui faisait défaut depuis longtemps dans le mouvement de
Gide. Mais personne ne s’avise que ce chant a pour théâtre le bord
du gouffre pour les coopératives de consommateurs de plusieurs
pays. Un numéro spécial de la Rec, contenant tous les textes du
congrès, donne acte que les dirigeants de ces mouvements n’en ont
guère conscience. On hésite ici entre l’analyse, à l’approche de l’an
2000, de ce document remarquable écrit en 1980 et le déroulement
du film des événements où se lit l’histoire de la Rec et, à travers
(2)elle, celle du mouvement coopératif de consommation ». Sous la
direction d’André Chomel, la Rec saura vivre son deuxième
(2) Chomel A., 1994, « De l’école de Nîmes à l’économie sociale et à ses prolon-
gements, note pour l’histoire de la Revue des études coopératives (1921-1994) »,
Recma n° 268 (www.recma.org/histoire_recma). André Chomel a été directeur de
la Rec-Recma de 1984 à 1994.
36grand tournant, après celui de 1950, en s’ouvrant à l’ensemble
de l’économie sociale et en s’appuyant sur une nouvelle
organisation intégrant les mouvements coopératifs, mutualistes
et associatifs : la Rec devient Revue des études coopératives,
mutualistes et associatives (Recma) en 1986 et est publiée par
l’Association de diffusion de la Recma (Adrecma).
Depuis les années 90, prolongeant le renouvellement initié par
André Chomel, la Recma a étoffé et rajeuni son comité de rédac-
tion, élargi sa reconnaissance dans les milieux de la recherche,
noué de nouveaux liens avec des partenaires universitaires et
professionnels et est devenue une base documentaire incontour-
nable pour les étudiants et les acteurs de l’économie sociale et
solidaire. Ses pages attirent un nombre toujours croissant de jeunes
auteurs et touchent de nouveaux lectorats, comme les collectivités
territoriales. Son site est la première base de données en langue
(3)française sur la coopération et l’économie sociale .
Cependant, le modèle organisationnel des années 80 a sans
doute trouvé certaines limites. L’économie sociale française
peine et est en restructuration, et la Recma devra au cours des
prochaines années s’adapter à une situation qui n’est pas encore
stabilisée. Elle a d’ores et déjà engagé des actions communes
avec le Conseil national des chambres régionales de l’éco-
nomie sociale (CNCres) et plusieurs chambres régionales à
l’image de la présente publication. Par ailleurs, le maintien de
l’édition de la Recma en langue française rend, aujourd’hui plus
qu’hier, moins aisé l’essor d’une audience internationale. Le
comité a toujours souhaité maintenir le français comme langue
d’expression de la Recma, en lien avec l’existence de courants
français au sein de la pensée coopérative, un constat confirmé
par les débats autour de la conceptualisation de l’économie
sociale, de l’économie solidaire et de l’entrepreneuriat social,
du développement territorial, en particulier en Afrique du
Nord et subsaharienne, en Belgique, en France ou au Québec.
(3) L’intégralité des publications de 1921 à 1940 est déjà en ligne sur le site du
Cédias-Musée social (www.cedias.org) et celui de la Bibliothèque nationale de
France (www.gallica.bnf.fr/) ; les années 1946-2000 le seront prochainement.
Les années 2000-2012 sont quant à elles accessibles sur www.recma.org.
37L’effervescence actuelle de la recherche en langue française
sur l’économie sociale et solidaire ne devrait pas détourner
le comité de rédaction de la Recma de cette voie au cours des
années à venir. De ce fait, l’établissement de relations plus
étroites avec les correspondants internationaux de la Recma,
actuellement présents dans une vingtaine de pays, est une
autre priorité, que l’Année internationale des coopératives
proclamée par l’ONU nous aide à réaliser. Dans ce contexte,
la relation entre la Recma et l’ACI, forte de ses 90 ans, est
centrale.Recma and the ICA:
A 90 year partnership full of promise
Jean-François Draperi*
his year Recma celebrates 90 years of publications
devoted to the cooperative movement. Its history is
T intimately connected with the history of the international
cooperative movement and the International Cooperative Alliance.
Since 1921, the editors of Recma and members of its editorial
committee have actively and regularly participated in the ICA’s
research committee. The list includes Charles Gide, Ernest
Poisson (the then national secretary of the Fédération nationale
des coopératives de consommateurs, FNCC), Jean Gaumont,
André Hirschfeld, Georges Lasserre, Roger Verdier, Henri Desroche,
Claude Vienney, and André Chomel.
In addition, after each ICA congress, Recma has published
articles presenting and analyzing the work of the Alliance and its
research committee, often in the form of a special issue or a special
feature. For the ICA’s centennial in 1995, two articles building on
the works of Watkins and Desroche examined the history of the
(1)ICA based on a study of its congresses . In 2008, following the
meeting of the ICA’s research committee in Dourdan, organized in
partnership with the Groupement national de la coopération (now
CoopFR), Recma published Défis coopératifs. Alimentation, crédit,
démocratie, développement (527 pages) in the same series as this book.
The reasons for Recma’s close ties with the ICA are historical.
The Revue des études coopératives (Rec) and the ICA grew
out of the same discussion about defining the cooperative
movement so that a set of cooperative principles and tools for
analyzing cooperative practices could be developed. In the late
* Editor-in-chief of The Recma, Revue internationale de l’économie sociale,
and director of the Centre d’économie sociale travail et société (Cestes), at the
Conser vatoire national des arts et métiers (Cnam) in Paris. E-mail:draperi@cnam.fr.
(1) Draperi J.-F., « Le centenaire de l’ACI : regard sur une histoire mémorable »,
Recma, n° 258, 1995, et n° 259, 1996.
3919th century, Edouard De Boyve, Auguste Fabre, and Charles
Gide compared the practices of worker cooperatives, which
they called “participationist,” and consumer cooperatives,
whose “cooperativist” model would become the foundation for
establishing the ICA in 1895. From that point on, the consumer
cooperative movement would dominate the debate until 1950,
when the Revue des études coopératives opened its pages to the
worker cooperative and agricultural cooperative movements. The
whole history of Rec is marked by the most eminent theorists
of the cooperative movement, such as Charles Gide, Bernard
Lavergne, Ernest Poisson, Albert Thomas, Marcel Mauss, Célestin
Bouglé, Jean Gaumont, Vakhan Totomiantz, Louis de Brouckère,
André Hirschfeld, Ernest Labrousse, Georges Fauquet, Georges
Lasserre, Edgar Milhaud, Henri Desroche, Claude Vienney, André
Chomel, and Jacques Moreau.
As André Chomel explained, “For the cooperative movement,
1980 was the year of the ICA congress in Moscow and crucially the
year of the Laidlaw report, ‘Cooperatives in the Year 2000.’ That had
a huge impact in France and on the cooperative movement because it
proposed a vision or rather a utopia that had been missing for so long
in Gide’s movement. But nobody realized that this was a swan song
for consumer cooperatives in several countries. A special issue of Rec,
collecting together all the texts from the congress, showed that the leaders
of these movements were unaware of what was happening. As the year
2000 approaches, it would be interesting to analyze this remarkable
document written in 1980 but equally interesting is the sequence of events
reflecting the history of Rec and, through it, the history of the consumer
(2)cooperative movement. ” Under André Chomel’s direction, Rec
experienced the second great turning point in its history after the
watershed year of 1950 by embracing the whole social economy
and creating a new organization that incorporated the cooperative,
mutual and nonprofit movements. Rec became the Revue des
études coopératives, mutualistes et associatives (Recma) in 1986,
(2) Chomel A., “De l’école de Nîmes à l’économie sociale et à ses prolongements.
Note pour l’histoire de la Revue des études coopératives (1921-1994),” Recma,
no. 268 (1994). The article can be found at www.recma.org/histoire_recma. André
Chomel was editor in chief of Rec-Recma from 1984 to 1994.
4040published by the Association de diffusion de la Recma (Adrecma).
Since the 1990s, Recma has continued the revival started by
André Chomel. It has expanded and rejuvenated the editorial
committee, become more widely recognized in research circles,
developed new partnerships with academics and industry pro-
fessionals, and become a key reference source for both students
and the social and solidarity economy. Its pages attract an
ever-growing number of young authors and reach new audiences
such as local and regional government. Its website is the leading
(3)database on cooperatives and the social economy in French .
The organizational model from the 1980s has probably,
h owever, come to its limits. The French social economy is
changing, and over the next few years Recma will have to adapt
to a situation that is still in flux. It has already been involved in
joint projects, like this publication, with the Conseil National des
Chambres régionales de l’économie sociale (CnCres) and several
Chambres regionals. Continuing to publish Recma in French
makes reaching a wider international audience a bigger challenge
today than previously. However, the editorial committee has
always wanted to keep Recma as a French-language publication
because of the existence of French currents in cooperative
thinking, an observation confirmed by the debates about the
social economy, the solidarity economy, social entrepreneurship,
and local community development, particularly in North and
sub-Saharan Africa, Belgium, France and Québec. The profusion
of research in French on the social and solidarity economy
should keep Recma’s editorial committee on the right track in the
coming years. Establishing closer ties with Recma’s international
correspondents, currently in some twenty countries, is another
priority, which the UN’s International Year of Cooperatives will
help us achieve. In this context, the relationship between Recma
and the ICA, built up over the past 90 years, is central.
(3) All of the publications from 1921 to 1940 are already online on the websites of
Cédias-Musée social (www.cedias.org) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France
(www.gallica.bnf.fr/); the years 1946-2000 will soon be online, while the years
2000-2012 are accessible on www.recma.org.I – Des dynamiques contrastées
du monde coopératif :
le problème de l’attractivité
The contrasting dynamics
of cooperatives
and the issue of attractiveness Austrian cooperative law
in a changing world:
The legal framework
for cooperatives since 1873
Dr Johann Brazda*, Dr Robert Schediwy**, Dr Holger Blisse***
In our paper we describe the historical evolution and main
content of the principal law regulating cooperatives in view of
the practical necessities of cooperative life in Austria. Obviously
this point of view does not correspond totally to a strictly inter-
pretative attitude. The latter tends to establish systematic unity,
whereas the quite different economic and political basis of the
existing regulatory norms is obvious. The Austrian Cooperative
Societies Act is a typical product of laissez-faire liberalism.
So many of the norms of this law of 1873 were not binding and
thus could be modified by cooperative statutes (by-laws). This
fact has certainly contributed much to the continuing vitality
and flexibility of that law. Additionally, the text gives some
insight into the structure and recent development in both sectors
of Austrian cooperative banks, Raiffeisenbanks and Volksbanks.
* Professor and Head of Cooperative Studies, University of Vienna, Department
of Business Administration/Cooperative Studies, Wasagasse 12/2/1, 1090 Vienna,
Austria. Email johann.brazda@univie.ac.at.
** Researcher, Vienna. Email robert.schediwy@chello.at.
*** Research Assistant, University of Vienna, Department of Business Adminis-
tration/Cooperative Studies. Email: holger.blisse@univie.ac.at.
45The legal foundations of cooperative organization
in Austria
Cooperative organization in Austria is essentially based on
three important legal pillars. The most important of these is the
cooperative law of 1873 (Gesetz vom 9. April 1873, über Erwerbs-
und Wirthschaftsgenossenschaften, RGBl. Nr. 70/1873). This basic
law was modified by important amendments in 1920, 1974 and
(1)1982. There are a number of complementary laws. The most
important of these is the one that regulates cooperative auditing
(Genossenschaftsrevisionsgesetz 1997, BGBl. Nr. 127/1997). This
law integrated the provisions on cooperative auditing. It must be seen
as a – rather timid – consequence of Konsum Austria’s bankruptcy.
Besides these, there are special laws that concern cooperative
bankruptcy proceedings, mergers (the latter modified in 1980/1981)
and the cooperative register. Certain laws relating to other subjects
(for example the law regulating social housing, Wohnungsge-
meinnützigkeitsgesetz, and the law regarding credit institutions,
Bankwesengesetz and Firmenbuchgesetz) also contain certain
regulations that are specifically applicable to cooperatives.
Given this fragmentation of cooperative norms, a number of
experts have taken the view that global reform and a unification of
this legal subject should be advantageous (e.g. Kastner, 1986, p. 119).
These demands, however, come usually from academics. The
cooperative associations have not seen them with a very positive
eye. These latter have typically not been troubled by the lack
of systematic unity of the existing norms and have appeared to
be convinced that any parliamentary and public debate about
co operatives would be negative with regard to their interests (e.g.
(2)Fischer, 1994).
(1) The most important documentation regarding cooperative law are probably
Keinert (1988), Brazda, Dellinger, Schediwy (2001) and Dellinger (2005). See also
Kastner (1986). The present article is mainly based on Brazda, Schediwy (1996).
(2) In this comment a former secretary general of Austrian Raiffeisenverband made
clear that in Austria the legislator runs behind cooperative practice. Fischer (1994)
admits that this is partially due to the extreme reluctance of cooperative represen-
tatives in view of any initiative to change the law, “especially since certain reform
ideas were not qualified to raise the enthusiasm of the cooperative associations.”
46In the following we will try to describe the main content of
the principal laws regulating cooperatives in view of the practical
necessities of cooperative life. Obviously this point of view does
not correspond totally to a strictly interpretative attitude. The latter
tends to establish systematic unity, whereas the quite different
economic and political basis of the existing regulatory norms are
obvious. We want to try to analyze cooperative law as a kind of
superstructure of cooperative reality.
History
To start with, we can state that Austria’s cooperative law is
a typical product of laissez-faire liberalism, which dominated
in Austria only during the short period from 1867 to 1873. The
rather elitist parliament of this epoch (less than five per cent of
the population was enfranchised) tried to contribute to the solu-
tion of the “social question” by offering the poor the possibility
of economic association in order to be able to participate in a
cooperative way in market competition. The fact that many of
the norms of this law of 1873 were not binding and thus could be
modified by cooperative statutes (by-laws) has certainly contributed
much to the continuing vitality and flexibility of that law. We have
to note also that this law was rather theoretical and ideological in
its orientation because the real weight of cooperatives at this time
was extremely modest.
The cooperative auditing law of 1903 on the contrary was
strongly influenced by an already thriving cooperative sector and
by certain pressure groups that had been formed within this sector.
Instead of being extremely liberal, this law acknowledged the
necessity to control the existing cooperative sector via cooperative
auditing associations according to the German model. This control
was thought to be more efficient and thus to be preferred to state
control. In consequence of this law, the internal groupings of the
cooperative sectors already existing at that time (Schulze-Delitzsch
group, Raiffeisen group, workers’ consumer cooperatives) became
the concrete basis for three important auditing unions.
The law concerning cooperative bankruptcy (1918) and the
amendment of 1920 reflect the tendency to reduce the financial
47responsibilities of a cooperative member. They also are an expression
of the formation of giant cooperatives in which the direct democracy
of the convention hall was not feasible any more. Therefore direct
member voting had to be replaced by a representative system of
parliamentary structures. The laws of 1934 and 1936, products of
an authoritarian era, have to be seen in the context of the Great
Depression and its ideas to control “chaotic” competition and mar-
kets. These tendencies were very strong in the authoritarian and
fascist regimes of Italy, Germany and Austria, but elements of this
thinking can also be found in the initial phases of Roosevelt’s New
Deal. With regard to cooperatives, these laws made membership
with auditing associations mandatory. These associations were
also created to make in effect decisions about the formation of
new cooperatives, and their controlling power was reinforced.
This corporatist element was quite welcome among cooperative
associations after 1945, too. In fact Austria’s Second Republic,
started in 1945, has been seen by many political scientists as a kind
of neo-corporatist state. However, the German model with its even
stronger notion of Verbandszwang, i.e. obligatory membership in an
auditing union, was not directly adopted in Austria, and therefore
the “liberty of non-association” that has been evoked in Germany
(3)often with regard to cooperative unions is not applicable in Austria.
The changes of the last decades can be interpreted as a result of
the progressive reduction of differences between cooperatives and
other legal entities of commercial law. One can therefore speak of
a certain “banalization” of the legal entity of a cooperative. For
example, the amendment of 1974 explicitly allowed the sale of a
cooperative to non-members and the shareholding of cooperatives
in firms of other legal entities. These were rights that had been
more or less acquired by practice but were questioned from time
to time by a rather purist jurisdiction.
Cooperative mergers were favored, and the formation of a new
cooperative as a result of a merger was made possible (Genos-
senschaftsverschmelzungsgesetz 1980, BGBl. 1980/223). Before,
there had to be a receiving and thus “victorious” cooperative
(3) See also Schediwy, Zacherl (1986).
48which continued its existence, while the other had to lose its legal
existence. In this way the obstacle of members’ irrationalism was
reduced.
Finally, in the 1990s certain fiscal privileges of cooperatives were
eliminated as well as certain disadvantages for other legal forms.
This mainly concerns credit cooperatives. The extremely deplorable
collapse of Konsum Austria (1995) has led to a new round of
cooperative reform demands and resulted in the reform of Austrian
cooperative law in 1997 (Genossenschaftsrevisionsgesetz). The tasks
of auditing were put in more precise terms, and the individual audi-
tor’s role was somewhat strengthened. In 2004 Firmenbuchgesetz
merged the Austrian trade register and the register of cooperatives.
An Amendment in 2006 (Genossenschaftsrechtsänderungsgesetz
2006) transformed the EU’s concept of a European Cooperative
into domestic Austrian law, (SCE-VO (EG) Nr. 1435/2003) – so
far without any great impact.
Finally, it has to be mentioned, that there have been a number
of legal projects for laws directed against cooperative development,
mostly during the earlier part of the century. These laws have not
had any lasting success.
The first series of projects of this type was mainly directed
against the consumer cooperatives. These projects dating from
the beginning of the twentieth century were inspired by the
organizations of small businesses. A second wave of this type
found temporary success during the period of economic crisis and
authoritarian political systems in the 1930s. Court decisions seemed
to have been influenced from time to time by anti-cooperative
propaganda, too, which always tended to prefer that cooperatives
remain small group associations and should not concentrate their
capital thus becoming more similar to other enterprises.
The transformation of cooperative registers on an EDP-base
(Firmenbuchgesetz, 1991) has also evoked some anti-cooperative
stirrings.
Some details
The 1873 law was strongly influenced by the German cooperative
pioneer Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch. He practically formulated the
49Prussian law on cooperatives, and Austria has always tended to
follow its “big brother” in the North, who is regarded as “so much
more efficient.” However, it has to be said that some of the ideas
of Schulze were modified in the laissez-faire sense. For example,
Schulze and Raiffeisen were in favor of unlimited financial res-
ponsibility of cooperative members with regard to cooperative
debt. This was also written into the Prussian law.
Bavaria, England and France, on the other hand, had positive
experiences with the limitation of the financial responsibilities of
members, and Austria followed their example. The liberal idea
became in this context the idea of the future. By facilitating the
formation of cooperatives, the members of parliament in 1873
(mostly aristocrats and grand bourgeois) were also pursuing some
rather self-interested objectives. One of the explicit motives of this
law was to protect the workers from the “erroneous teachings of
communism,” and hope was expressed that “their practical situation
should become better without any detriment to the property of the
possessing classes” (Schediwy, 1976).
To some extent this orientation was validated by the organiza-
tion of workers’ consumer cooperatives around 1900, which were
regarded as rather “petit bourgeois“ by the more radical members
of the labor movement. The rather liberal character of this law,
which left much room for cooperative by-laws, also made for its
flexibility in later decades.
In 1873 a number of provisions were introduced that are still
valid whereas they were – partly again – introduced into German
cooperative law in 1973, for example the possibility of weighing
voting rights according to the volume of shares (Art. 27/2). (The
regular case, however, remained the one person one vote principle).
Also the possibility of participating in the reserves (Art. 55/2
and Art. 79/2) and the possibility of partially withdrawing from
co operative membership (Art. 14) were also granted.
The cooperative institutions
According to Austrian law, the basic difference between
co operatives and other legal entities of commercial law is the
possibility of a changing number of owners (and shares).
50Cooperatives thus do not have any fixed capital. The other
elements of the definition of article 1 of Austrian coopera-
(4)tive law have mostly lost their significance. The so-called
“Förderauftrag” (task of member promotion), also based on article1,
is still however regarded as important by many. Some may hold that
this is a rather vague and non-operational concept, nevertheless it
has become an important topic in the German cooperative discus-
sion and may be adopted as one of the principles of international
cooperation, too (e.g. Grosskopf, 1990).
In order to found a cooperative it is necessary to have a written
statute (Art. 3) and the acceptance of a recognized auditing asso-
ciation (according to the law of 1934), but exemptions are possible.
These are the two requirements for getting listed on the official
legal register of cooperatives.
The basic legal organs of cooperatives are the Vorstand (board of
directors), Aufsichtsrat (supervisory board) and Generalversammlung
(general assembly). In view of the fact that these terms are iden-
tical with the terms in joint-stock companies and due to the fact
that cooperative law does not go into detail on many points, it is
customary to interpret these terms based on the law for joint-stock
companies. With regard to the Vorstand only nine articles, 15 to
23, treat its function. It can consist of a single person (in contrast
with the German example). In reality, however, it is always a com-
mittee. Today the board of directors usually consists of professional
managers (with the exception of the smaller cooperatives of the
Raiffeisen group). Members’ delegates have been mostly relegated
to the supervisory board during the recent decades. In addition,
the Vorstand usually represents the cooperative in its relationships
with the exterior world.
The legal rules regarding the supervisory board are also rather
scarce. Before 1974 a cooperative was allowed to have a supervisory
board if it wanted to do so (this was the rule). Since that time a
supervisory board has become mandatory for cooperatives with
(4) For example, the unity of members and clients, the so-called “principle of
legal identity.” During a long period, this principle became one of the weapons of
cooperatives’ competitors, who tried to push them out of the general market into a
ghetto of member-clients.
51
 more than 40 members (for reasons of co-determination, i.e. the
representation of workers on the supervisory board).
In reality the supervisory board exists in the majority of Aus-
trian cooperatives. Normally the supervisory board is a forum for
“important” members of a cooperative (union people, political
figures, managers of related companies). There has been, however,
a marked tendency in recent years for politicians to leave the organs
of cooperatives, especially if there was a certain danger of scandals
and a prospect of economic hardship ahead. Compared to the
supervisory board of joint-stock companies (which tend to have
a rather formal role except when they are the forum of family
shareholders), the equivalent organ of cooperatives tends to meet
more frequently and be involved in more decisions. However, its
capacity for independent control should not be overestimated, as
can be seen in the Konsum scandal (Nilsson, 1995).
The general assembly is the supreme body of a cooperative.
It holds among others the right to elect and remove the members
of the supervisory board and the board of directors. The general
assembly has to vote on the yearly balance sheet, the auditing
reports and changes in statutes (by-laws). Cooperatives with
more than 1000 members have the right to introduce a general
assembly of delegates instead of a general assembly of all the
members. This representative democracy was officially intro-
duced in 1918. It had existed before, but had been challenged
by certain court rulings.
Cooperative auditing
The law of 1997 sticks to the principles of material auditing, not
just formal control of orderliness, and it maintains the (marginal)
possibility of cooperatives leaving auditing unions. Thus the Ger-
(5) man problem of negative freedom of association is inapplicable.
Larger cooperatives have to be audited every year; the smaller
(6)ones once every two years. The auditors have to be part of a list
(5) The way to become a wildcat cooperative is a complicated one, though, and
necessitates a court decision.
(6) The present dividing line is €4.84m total balance sheet, €9.68m turnover and
50 workers (Art. 221 Abs. 1 Unternehmensgesetzbuch [UGB]).
52that is established at the Ministry of Justice. As a result of the
amendments of 1934 and 1936 the auditors are in general employees
of the auditing associations but some – very few – cooperatives
are audited by outside CPAs or certified auditors There was one
auditing association for the consumer cooperatives, (it is now de
facto merged with the Schulze-Delitzsch auditing union), another
one for the agricultural cooperatives and their banking sector, and
a third one for the cooperatives of the Schulze-Delitzsch tradition
(peoples’ banks), purchasing cooperatives for small businesses,
producer cooperatives, etc. and the Austrian federation of limited-
profit housing associations. However, the Raiffeisen cooperatives,
which is the largest group of cooperatives, also have regional
auditing associations below their federal auditing union. This
means the majority of Austrian cooperatives are members of an
auditing association (auditing union), but not all of them. The
German discussion about the “liberty of non-association” in a
context of cooperatives is therefore inapplicable even though some
have tried to start it nevertheless (Schediwy, Weber, 1977). Among
housing cooperatives, there is a common auditing association for
cooperatives and non-cooperatives to which the statute of non-profit
organization has been granted.
Genossenschaftsrevisionsgesetz 1997 (GenRevG) somewhat
strengthened the position of the auditor and improved the auditor’s
training which should now meet EU standards. The auditor is regarded
as independent with regard to his or her function (Art. 19 Abs. 2 Z
(7)3 GenRevG). The auditor’s position with regard to the follow up
process has also been strengthened (Art. 6ff GenRevG). In the case
of Konsum Austria, the auditors saw the coming problems very
early but obviously shied away from blowing the whistle too early.
In general, however, the role of the described auditing system
can be regarded as a positive experience for Austria’s cooperatives,
especially compared to its situation before 1934 when many “wildcat
(7) In the past the auditor was a simple employee and his or her power with regard
to a big cooperative was regarded as limited. Even an auditing association which
in reality was totally dependent on one giant cooperative was probably not really
free to exercise its controlling function, as has been demonstrated in the case of
Konsum Austria.
53cooperatives” not belonging to any auditing associations created
(8)serious image problems for the sector.
The specific problems of credit and building cooperatives cannot
be treated here for reasons of space. The relationship of Austrian
cooperatives to fiscal and anti-trust legislation cannot be treated
here either.
The 2006 changes to cooperative law
(Genossenschaftsrechtsänderungsgesetz 2006)
With the introduction of the European Cooperative (Societas
Cooperativa Europaea – SCE) two new legal institutions were
introduced into Austrian cooperative law: investing members and
minimal capital. Both aspects have so far remained foreign to
Austria’s cooperative practice. The pertinent legal provisions are
Art. 5a (2) No 1 and 2 GenG.
The minimal capital requirement is supposed to help Austrian
cooperatives meet the requirements of the International Accounting
Standards (ISA 32). Own capital is only accepted as such if it is
not refundable (Jud, 2007).
Open questions
For a while before Genossenschaftsrechtsänderungsgesetz 2006,
there was a – rather timid – discussion about the possible reform
of the cooperative law. Two working groups were constituted to
study the possibilities of reform that had been promised in the
government program of the ruling coalition in 1990 but was not put
(9)into practice before the elections of 1994. One issue of the reform
was to legitimize officially the system of “Verbund” (integrated
(10)federative system).
On 31 January 1997 a public hearing on the topic of “The reform
of Austrian Cooperative Law” was organized by the Austrian
Ministry of Justice in the town of Salzburg. A little later the contents
(8) The freedom of these wildcat coops to choose their auditors certainly did not
enhance the quality of control exercised by their auditors.
(9) The ruling social democratic conservative coalition was returned to power but
with a much smaller majority.
(10) See also e.g. Frotz (1991), Keinert (1992), Krejci (1993), Schediwy (1993).
54of this hearing were published by the ministry (Bundesministerium
für Justiz, 1997). This interesting publication still constitutes the
most up to date overview of the various positions of Austrian experts
(11)on cooperative law and it problems.
The distance of the members
To end this short survey, we would like to say a few words about
the position of cooperative members in Austria. The role of members
in the cooperative, which was so important in the beginning of
cooperative development, has somewhat diminished in Austria, as in
the whole of Europe, during the last decades. However, cooperative
legislation has reflected this development in a rather reluctant way.
The introduction of the general assembly of delegates in 1918 has
already been mentioned. The fact that it became more and more
difficult to arrive at a normal general meeting with a minimum
quorum of ten per cent of members participating was then confirmed
by the amendment of 1974 which officially introduced the “waiting
hour” (after this time it is not necessary any more to adhere to the
quorum of a ten per cent minimum of members present). The waiting
hour has been reduced to a half hour for practical reasons (Art. 32)
(Fischer, 1994). In the smaller cooperatives of the Raiffeisen group
the traditional general assembly still plays a rather important role.
While in many countries (e.g. France, Switzerland, Britain and
Sweden) the reduction of economic liabilities of the member to the
minimum level of its share can be regarded as traditional, Austria
has remained more conservative in this respect. Thus a member’s
liability minimally amounts to twice the value of the member’s
share (the amendment of 1920 offering the possibility of a consumer
cooperative with responsibility limited to the share was open only
to consumer cooperatives that would only trade with members, and
therefore this possibility was not taken advantage of). Even Kastner,
however, had to admit that in practical life the members’ liability
is more or less theoretical – in the cases of limited liability as in
the cases of unlimited liability – and “is only written on paper”
(Kastner, 1986).
(11) See also Dellinger, Oberhammer (1996 and 1998), Krejci (1997).
55After the collapse of Konsum Austria became imminent there
was some talk calling for the members to put in an amount of
money at least up to their full share. This, however, had to be
mostly understood in view of a political threat with regard to the
Austrian federation of labor unions.
It is true that the general participation of members at the grassroots
level of cooperatives (from the assemblies to elect local representa-
tives to the general assembly) is usually less than ten per cent (and
sometimes much lower) except in very rare cases. Even this rather
small percentage has often only been obtained by enticements
like little presents or a movie and music show. Thus we have to
admit that behind a more or less intact legal facade there are grave
functioning problems for cooperative democracy.
Recent reorganization in Austrian
cooperative banking groups
Raiffeisen banks and Volksbanks (people’s banks) are two
autonomous cooperative banking organizations in Austria. The
first creations were the Gewerbliche Aushilfskassenverein in
Klagenfurt (in the province of Carinthia) (1850/51), even before
the cooperative law was passed, and the Raiffeisenkasse Mühl-
dorf (in the province of Lower Austria) (1886). Following the
model of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, the local cooperatives
founded regional Raiffeisen banks beginning in 1894. The central
cooperative bank, Raiffeisen Zentralbank Österreich AG (RZB),
was founded in 1927 as Genossenschaftliche Zentralbank (GZB)
and was renamed in 1989. Today the Raiffeisen banks form a
three-tier group with the RZB at the top and 9 regional and
535 local Raiffeisen banks. The Volksbank group consists of
two tiers, Österreichische Volksbanken-AG (ÖVAG) at the top
and 63 local Volksbanks. The ÖVAG was founded in 1922 as the
central institution of the Austrian Volksbanks. The bank changed
its name and legal form from a cooperative to a cooperatively
structured corporation in 1974. Both, RZB and ÖVAG, hold
subsidiaries concentrating in different fields of financial ser-
vices, e.g. holdings for the banking operations in Central and
56