Following pressure from the UK and international co-operative movements, the Polish Parliament has rejected proposed legislation which threatened to turn co-ops into shareholder companies.
The campaign to prevent the damaging changes were spearheaded by the Polish co-op sector, enthusiastically supported by International Co-operative Alliance President Dame Pauline Green and Felice Scalvini, President of Co-operatives Europe.
Two new laws under consideration would have had the effect of threatening to demutualise the entire co-operative sector in Poland.
One piece of proposed legislation threatened housing co-ops, while the other Bill would have allowed the Polish Government to interfere with the governance of co-operatives — moving the country away from the accepted principles of the global movement.
Dame Pauline hailed a breakthrough in the European Union recognition and acknowledgement of the co-operative model of business when she recently attended a meeting with the 27 industry ministers of the European Union’s Council of Ministers, when they discussed future strategy to improve European business competitiveness in Gdansk, Poland.
The invitation to Dame Pauline came after she had met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland during the recent successful campaign to prevent right wing deputies from the Civic Platform in the Polish Parliament, from adopting legislation that would effectively have broken up the Polish co-operative movement.
An earlier campaign by the same political group in the Warsaw Parliament succeeded in forcing some housing co-operatives to hand over their housing stock to the tenants without compensation, and to end their co-operative service business for those properties. Further attacks on the credit union legislation followed.
The most recent battle and potentially the most damaging, sought to do two things. To complete the closure of the remaining housing co-ops; and change the general co-operative legislation by making fundamental changes to the governance of co-operatives.
At the request of the Polish movement, Dame Pauline was invited to Warsaw to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pavlak, the leader of the minority party in the Polish coalition Government; the senior adviser to the Prime Minister; and an advisor to the President of Poland. She made a speech in defence of co-operation to nearly 4,000 Polish co-operators in central Warsaw, and met with the combined leadership of the Polish movement.
Letters of support were also sent to the President of the Polish Co-operative Council, Alfred Domagalski, by Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-ops UK, and by the Co-operative Group.
This strong, combined campaign led to the Parliamentary Bill sponsored by deputies from the majority Government party Civic Platform, being defeated in the vote with the junior partners in Government giving their support to the co-operative model of business.
It was in private discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister after the Rally that Dame Pauline was invited to address the Council of Ministers, as it sought to find the way to boost the competitiveness of the European economy. This was the first time that a representative of the co-operative movement has ever addressed a Council of Ministers.
Dame Pauline said: “The invitation to speak to the European Council of Ministers is a real breakthrough. If co-operative enterprise, a member owned, socially responsible and ethically based model of business is to be taken seriously in its claims to play a full part in a more diversified global economy, it has to start punching its weight in these political discussions.
"This is exactly what the refocussed ICA is determined to do in the coming years, and the 2012 International Year of Co-operatives gives us the opportunity to maximise that influence, and build on this European experience."
Mr Domagalski said: “I would like to thank Co-operatives UK and its members for their support in relation to the recent legislative threats to co-operatives in Poland. I am sure it helped with contacts with politicians, but it also helped to build a better sense of unity across co-operators in Poland.
“For now, the immediate threat, in the form of two legislative initiatives, has gone away because of the energetic response across the co-operative movement inside and outside Poland. But we are still vigilant. The two draft laws threatened to demutualise Polish housing and wider co-operatives, but have now been withdawn.”
Commented Co-operatives UK Secretary General Ed Mayo: “This is a welcome reversal, but the threat to the co-operative sector will reappear unless the movement is organised. International support is key to this.”