Readers note: European readers, TV viewers, citizens, in general, are regularly confronted with terms like the Austrian presidency or the Finnish Presidency of the EU Council. Newspapers and news broadcasters are often caught in the rush of breaking news to properly make these EU notions accessible to all. Fear not! We are here to help you navigate these institutional waters and then we will lead you to the country that is currently holding the Presidency.
The Council of the European Union, also known as the Council of Ministers, is an EU institution which represents the interests of all 28 Member States. Together with the European Parliament (which represents the European citizens), the Council decides on most European laws. Each 6 months, a new Presidency takes over the chairmanship of the Council’s meetings – which means there is constant rotation. Priorities are mainly decided on an 18-month basis but each Presidency also prepares a more detailed programme for its own 6 months.
At CECOP, we have proposed to our readers a focus on our national members when their country is holding the rotating Presidency of the EU. Until June 30, 2023, the Presidency of the European Union is held by Sweden.
Interview with Sven Bartilsson, Senior Advisor of Coompanion.
CECOP (C): Hello Mr. Bartilsson, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Sweden has taken over the presidency of the EU Council on the 1st of January and will keep it until the end of June. For Coompanion, what are the most pressing issues Sweden should address during this period?
Sven Bartilsson (SB): The Swedish presidency is being held in the shadow of the war in Ukraine and the perceived high energy prices. It is also taking place during a period when Europe is finally beginning to understand the urgency of taking action on the climate and biodiversity crises. Coompanion would like to see that the Swedish presidency facilitated the transformation of our Europe into a more sustainable and resilient society. And we would like our government to take action to give the social economy better opportunities to grow and contribute to the necessary changes. We have alternative business models, non-extractive models that build a more sustainable economy, which have been lost in contemporary political debate. The Swedish government has not been one of the outspoken advocates for the development of the social economy, so we hope that their role during this half year gives them input to change national policy in this area. One of the most important topics for Coompanion is more citizen ownership in the development of our energy system. We would like to see a rapid growth of energy communities as part of the electrification of our communities. And in relation to that, we hope that there will be new legislation that provides obvious benefits and lowers the thresholds for both energy cooperatives and data cooperatives. We would also be very happy if Sweden took the necessary steps for a European directive on platform work and favored cooperative alternatives. However, Sweden has been reluctant to this type of European legislation in the field of working life because of the Swedish model for social relations.
C: Companion is advising cooperative businesses. What type of support do you provide to cooperatives?
SB: Coompanion consists of 25 regional Coompanions. We provide support to cooperative startups in the form of advice on business development and legal advice. Many times, the cooperatives provide a new type of service, some kind of social innovation, this gives us a coaching role in the realization of their innovation, which also includes some kind of change for their stakeholders, such as the municipality. Then we support that change process. We have also been given the opportunity to channel financial support for innovation activities to our cooperative companies from the national authority for innovation.
We also provide training in various forms to existing cooperatives and other social enterprises that help them develop their business activities. Some Coompanions have more developed services for their members' business administration.
C: In September 2022, Sweden had elections and a new government coalition has taken office. What are your expectations in terms of the new government’s involvement in the development of work and social cooperatives in Sweden?
SB: The support of the new government for the development of cooperatives is still something that has not become clear. However, the financial support from the government for Coompanion's core business, the advisory services, has been granted for the next three years. We hope that the government takes steps that give the cooperatives better opportunities, unfortunately business advice is not the main driving force behind cooperative development, legislation and access to financing are more important. But we find it realistic that they will take measures that will pave the way for energy societies. Also that there will be changes in legislation that make employee purchases more favorable than today. The government has announced that they will do something about this.
C: 2023 will be the European Year of Skills. Training and accompanying enterprises are a crucial role that business associations play to create links, boost entrepreneurship, and capacity building. How do you see the role of Coompanion in this domain?
SB: This is what we do, and we are doing it well. And our services hold a high standard. At the local level we are seen as an important player for boosting entrepreneurship and capacity building, especially where the need for this is highest and in the regions that have difficulties.
C: What are the main priorities for Coompanion for 2023? What do you expect from the EU and your collaboration with CECOP?
SB: Our main priorities for 2023 are to take the step in our own digital transformation, for a better service and continued high relevance for our stakeholders in the future as well. We will also prioritize young people in school, energy communities, local food systems, care cooperatives and schools in our operations.
For Coompanion, relations with cooperative movements in Europe are very important. Over the years, we have received a lot of inspiration from colleagues and cooperatives in Europe for the development in Sweden. We have expectations that CECOP, together with its members, will influence European legislation so that it becomes more beneficial to start a cooperative in more industries. Although most cooperatives grow from the local initiative, we need to find ways so that they do not become isolated islands. When commercial enterprises operate across borders, we must find the cooperative way to be competitive. An area of great interest to us is collaboration around the management of data and common data infrastructure.
C: Thank you for your time!