Nick Matthews Chair of Co-ops UK 14th June 2016 Blog Europe Europe Share Tweet Next week the British people will make a fundamental decision about the country’s future. Are we in or out of the European Union? Like the UK population, co-ops are divided on the issue. As the Chair of Co-operatives UK, the network for Britain’s thousands of co-operatives, I know this as well as anyone. There is no single ‘co-op angle’ to the question of EU membership. As with any group of businesses, co-ops will have positive or negative experiences of the EU depending on the sectors they trade in, the nature of their supply chains, and who their members are. Some co-ops have chosen to speak out; many have opted for neutrality. There are 7,000 co-ops that are independent enterprises and will naturally take different positions. Many co-operatives, including our largest member, the Co-op Group, will not themselves take a formal position. The prominent exception is in farming, the second largest part of the co-operative sector. James Graham of the Scottish farming co-op body, SAOS, says “it is rare to speak to anyone in the industry here who advocates leaving.” Co-operatives UK has sought to understand the views of its members and had significant discussions at board level. We prepared a high level analysis of the impact the EU has on the co-operative sector in the UK which we shared before asking members’ views. The response indicates that members favour the UK remaining in the EU and the majority want Co-operatives UK to speak out on the issue. It is within this broad context that Co-operatives UK, led by its elected Board, is standing up for staying in the EU. There are practical reasons. A vote to stay means continuity for co-operative businesses. And, although little EU law relates to co-operatives specifically, farmer support is well established and many of the worker and consumer rights championed by the sector are reflected in European regulation. More than anything, and the reason why we believe in remaining in the EU, is that internationalism has been at the heart of the co-op movement since its origins. The purpose of the Rochdale Pioneers was not, after all, to open a shop in the north of England. It was to create a fairer economy for themselves and others like them. Their vision was for a ‘co-operative commonwealth’ that spanned nations and borders. Co-operatives UK is an active member of the global body for co-ops, the ICA, and its European arm, Cooperatives Europe. Co-operation might have its origins in the UK, but as in football, we can still learn from our European cousins – from France, Italy or Spain. Without shared support, learning and participation across Europe, the co-op sector would be weaker. The UK co-operative sector has always been about more than just business and, indeed, about more than just Britain. That’s why Co-operatives UK is voicing its support for remaining in the EU. This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Co-operative News.