Co-operatives: the shield of Greece

Greece was one of the European countries who faced the hardest consequences of the 2008 financial crises and thereafter had to realize hard reforms to be able to stay in the European Union. In the business sector a great number of small and medium-sized enterprises went bankrupt: hundreds of thousands of businesses have been closed down since 2008.

co-operatives

While the welfare state crumbled a new emphasis was placed on the role of co-operatives in the future of Greece. The co-operative model is not unknown to Greece. ‘In fact, the Greek co-operative movement is vibrant and active in a variety of economic sectors. In agriculture, for example, there are around 3,000 co-operatives and 130 women’s agricultural and agro-tourist co-ops. There are 25 co-operative banks, four of which provide services nationally, and there is the Association of Co-operative Banks of Greece’.

During the long-term depression many socioeconomic groups, have turned to the co-op model for solutions. ‘The Greek government has also placed an emphasis on the co-operative alternative. In 2011 it passed a law that introduced a new civil co-operative model, the social co-operative enterprise (SCE), and three subcategories: the collective and productive purpose SCE; the social services SCE; and the integration SCE’. In total, 415 social co-operative enterprises resulted from this law, 322 of which belong to the first category. These SCEs have developed a wide variety of activities and services for example:

1) A spontaneous grassroots mobilization campaign, called Initiative 136, rose with its’ main purpose is to promote co-operative ownership of the water supply in Thessaloniki, which has so far led to the establishment of several water and sewerage co-operatives.

2) In the food sector, citizens have created food distribution networks to connect producers and consumers without intermediaries. Some of these initiatives have either transformed existing enterprises, or inspired the establishment of new consumer co-operatives.

3) Additionally, now 65 social services SCEs have been established in several Greek cities where they provide for example social care services to the elderly, the disabled and other groups in need.

4) In the energy sector, some individual efforts have led to the creation of energy co-operatives.

5) Similar efforts have been made in the waste management sector as well.

6) Even in the education sector that is mainly state-managed and profit-driven, siginificant initiatives emerged.

In summary the co-operative landscape in Greece is evolving. Cooperatives are a protection shield against the harsh market forces and the state’s weaknesses. It is clear that the social groups affected by the crisis have rediscovered the co-operative model as a solution to take solidary against all kinds of social exclusion.

Summary: The Greek co-operative movement during the financial crises (Douvitsa, I and Kassavetis, D., 2015)