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German cooperative museum in Delitzsch (axes): first store of the first commercial cooperative; Here in 1849 Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch founded a "Shoemaker Association" together with 57 Delitzsch shoemakers

Cooperative or cooperative (of cooperation ) refers to an association or association of persons ( natural or legal ) for the purpose of gainful employment or the economic or social promotion of the members through joint economic business operations .

Monument to the Burg- Meilen Well Cooperative (Switzerland)


In memory of the Eilenburger loan office, one of the oldest credit unions in Germany, founded in 1850. Location: Eilenburg, Nikolaiplatz.

In the Middle Ages , associations developed for a common purpose (“ unions ”). Examples are funeral cooperatives to enable the comrades to have an appropriate burial, or a cooperative to maintain a dike . The miners ' associations developed in the mining industry (example in Goslar ). In the Alpine region , the settlers formed "Alpine cooperatives" because the renewal of the alpine economy required a community effort. The cooperative regulated the common use of pastures and Alps and restricted the sale of common property.

The British entrepreneur Robert Owen (1771–1858) is considered to be the founder of the first cooperative movement : in 1799 he began an experiment in his cotton mill in New Lanark ( Scotland ) for more humane working and living conditions. This prompted further cooperatives to be founded. The first cooperative to be developed as a model for copycats was the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers : In 1844, 28 workers from the local textile industry founded a cooperative in Rochdale, northern England. Because of its greater market power, it should guarantee lower prices. “The cooperative model was based on the Rochdal principles of democratic decision-making and the reimbursement principle” (Hasselmann 1968).

German-speaking area

In the German-speaking region, two founding fathers created the first cooperative models around the same time and independently of one another. The credit union approach was particularly new in Germany. In 1847, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (1818–1888) founded the first charitable aid organization in Weyerbusch to support the needy rural population, the Weyerbuscher Brodverein . In 1852 he founded the "Heddesdorfer Charity Association", from which in 1864 the "Heddesdorfer Loan Fund Association" emerged. In 1862, a loan office was established in Anhausen in the Westerwald, which is considered the first cooperative in the Raiffeisen sense (see Raiffeisen ). Anhausen belonged to the Samtgemeinde (community association) Heddesdorf , whose mayor was Raiffeisen.

At the same time, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch (1808–1883) launched an aid campaign in Delitzsch that benefited the craftsmen in need. According to the principles of self-help, self-management and personal responsibility, he founded the “raw materials association” for carpenters and shoemakers in 1847 and the non-profit “advance payment association” in 1850. In 1849 and 1850, citizens of Bad Düben and Eilenburg founded “loan associations”. Even before Schulze-Delitzsch, its initiators relied on "solidarity detention" ( joint debt ). Schulze-Delitzsch converted his Delitzsch charity association into a loan association. Today the business area of ​​the three oldest Saxon credit cooperatives belongs to Volksbank Delitzsch eG (compare also the Catholic loan office in Münster ).

Even before Schulze-Delitzsch and Raiffeisen there were cooperatives and cooperative banks in Germany. The oldest known credit union in the world is the Privatsparkasse zu Lerbach. It was founded in Lerbach im Harz in the late 18th century as a death insurance for miners. In 2006 the private savings bank merged and is now part of the Volksbank im Harz. Volksbank Hohenlohe eG is the oldest cooperative bank at the site today. It was founded in 1843 as a private savings and loan fund in Öhringen. It is considered the oldest forerunner of the Volksbanks , because Schulze-Delitzsch recognized it in 1859 at the Association of German Advance and Credit Associations in Weimar as the cooperative bank of his model.

The ideas of the liberal cooperative movement initially spurred the founding of numerous commercial credit unions. In the 1860s they met with a great response in the newly founded German labor movement, in particular Ferdinand Lassalle's ideas of socialism were strongly oriented towards the cooperative idea. However, a larger wave of socialist cooperatives was only founded after the law was changed in the 1890s. There were considerable conflicts among the liberal as well as between the liberal and socialist cooperative movements, which also left their mark on legislation.

At about the same time, the cooperative principle was established in retail. In 1850, craftsmen and workers in Eilenburg again created the “Food Association”, the first consumer cooperative in Germany, whose tradition was continued until the recent past by the Sachsen Nord consumer cooperative . The Swiss retail trade is still dominated today by the Migros and Coop cooperatives .

The promotion of the cooperatives as a state task was included in the new state constitutions of Bavaria , Hesse , Saarland , Hamburg and Bremen .

German Democratic Republic

In the Soviet occupation zone , the new or re-establishment of cooperatives was regulated by orders of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD). With the order 146 of November 20, 1945, the rural Raiffeisen cooperatives were allowed to resume operations. In 1949 these were converted into "Agricultural Village Cooperatives". At the same time, the Association of Mutual Farmers Aid (VdGB) was established, which in 1950 was combined with the agricultural village cooperatives to form a mass organization . The re-establishment of the consumer cooperatives , which had been dissolved by 1935, was ordered by Order No. 176 of December 18, 1945. At the same time, the order stipulated that the old assets of the liquidated consumer cooperatives were to be transferred to the new cooperatives. The resumption of business activities of cooperative banks "for the purpose of the accelerated development of industrial production" was permitted by order 14 of January 15, 1946.

The constitution of the GDR stipulated in its version of October 7, 1949 with regard to the role of the cooperatives in the economic system in Article 27 paragraph 4: Integrate peculiarity into the common economy. "

There were different developments in the housing industry. On December 10, 1953, the GDR Council of Ministers passed the "Ordinance on the further improvement of the working and living conditions of workers and the rights of the trade unions" on the approval of workers' housing associations as a voluntary association of workers, employees and members of the intelligentsia for cooperative construction and Receipt of housing . As part of the state housing policy, they were supported, among other things, with interest-free loans from the state bank. The non-profit housing cooperatives that existed before 1945 were not revitalized in the GDR until 1957 and transformed into non-profit socialist housing cooperatives (GWG). In Berlin, due to the division of the city and deviating legal jurisdiction, there was in some cases forced state or legal administration of cooperative property. In contrast to the AWG, membership in the GWG was not tied to a specific employer. What both forms had in common, however, was that the members had to provide practical work in order to build cooperative housing - either on the property itself or in the construction industry in general. It was not until the 1970s that these services were gradually replaced by the payment of shares by the cooperative members with the increasing mechanization of building activity and the introduction of panel construction. By 1988 the cooperative housing stock in the GDR rose to around 1 million.

As a commercial enterprise, the cooperatives were subject to state control and influence. For example, your role has been defined as follows:

  • "Organizational form of the voluntary, equal grouping of a certain group of people for the perception of specific economic interests predominantly in the production (production cooperative) and circulation sphere (consumer cooperative). The basis of the cooperative is the cooperative ownership. Cooperatives are collective bodies. They are of a limited, collectively oriented character and cannot be the sole economic basis of a social order; but they can form the economic basis for a class within society. The character of a cooperative is always determined by the prevailing production conditions. ”(Source: BI-Universallexikon A – Z, Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig (Ed.) 1989)

Furthermore, there were production cooperatives of the handicrafts (PGH), horticultural production cooperatives (GPG), production cooperatives of inland fishermen (PGB) and fishery production cooperatives of sea and coastal fishermen (FPG) in the GDR .


The International Cooperative Congress ( International Cooperative Day ) is the since 1923 International Co-operative Alliance celebrated and held annually on the first Saturday in July. Its aim is to raise awareness of cooperatives and to celebrate and promote international solidarity , economic efficiency , equality and world peace as successes and ideals of the cooperative movement. It is also intended to promote cooperation between the international cooperative movement and society at all levels.

In 1992, the first Saturday of July 1995 was proclaimed by the United Nations as the United Nations International Day of Cooperatives , UN International Day of Cooperatives, which has been celebrated annually on this day worldwide since then. The day refers to the joint contribution of the cooperative movement together with the United Nations to solving global issues. According to the objective set by the United Nations in 1995, it is intended to raise awareness of cooperatives, to point out the mutual complementarity and commonalities of the goals of the cooperative movement and the United Nations, and the contribution of the cooperatives to solving the issues raised by the United Nations underline. Like the International Cooperative Day , it is also intended to promote cooperation between the international cooperative movement and society.

2012 has been declared the Year of Cooperatives by the United Nations .

Umbrella organization

Worldwide, at least 700 million members are involved in cooperatives and are organized in the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). Cooperatives are communities of values ​​that usually pursue goals that go beyond pure economic operations. The ICA describes self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity as fundamental values . In the tradition of its founders, cooperative members trust in the ethical values ​​of honesty, openness, social responsibility and interest in other people, enshrined in the Statement on the Co-operative Identity . It contains the seven principles of a cooperative, in the form of a corporate identity :

Cooperatives in economics

In economics , a distinction is traditionally made between funding cooperatives and production cooperatives.

  • The conveyor cooperatives are as procurement - and Processing Cooperative is a joint venture of members, the means for the purpose of fulfilling certain functions for the vehicles economies (households, companies). The members are at the same time users of the cooperative services (buyer, supplier), co-owners (carriers of decision-making and control), and investors.
  • In contrast, in a productive cooperative, a company is placed in the cooperative that serves as a source of income for the members. The identity of the member and employee of the cooperative is present here.

In modern economies were and, more recently, start-ups by cooperatives in classical, but mainly recorded in innovative and / or "alternative" areas.

Cooperative system in Europe

European Union

In February 2004 the Commission of the European Union published a communication to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the promotion of cooperatives in Europe , stating that it is in Europe including candidate countries there are more than 300,000 cooperatives with more than 140 million members.

Since August 2006 it has been possible in the European Union to choose the legal form of the European cooperative for cooperative activities . This is intended to facilitate the organization of such companies at European level and thus represents a further step towards improving the internal market .

The largest European cooperative is Mondragón Corporación Cooperativa in Spain , which includes companies from various sectors such as mechanical engineering, automotive, household appliances, construction, retail (supermarket chains), banking and insurance.


The legal basis is the Cooperative Act of May 20, 1889. The main guiding principle is the legally prescribed support for members, which should primarily take place through service relationships between the member economies (private households, businesses) and the joint venture . In this respect, cooperatives primarily pursue economic purposes. The essential features that form the core of the cooperative identity are, in addition to the principle of support, the principles of self-help, self-responsibility, self-administration and the principle of identity. The latter means that the co-owners / sponsors are business partners (buyer, supplier) and equity provider at the same time (triple relationship).

While the sponsorship and the performance relationship with the cooperative are subject to the principle of voluntariness, equity participation is an obligatory consequence of acquiring membership. The central concern of cooperatives is to meet common economic , social and cultural needs.

The cooperative idea, strongly influenced by Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen , was included in the nationwide register of intangible cultural heritage in December 2014 . In March 2015, the cooperative idea was the first German nomination to be submitted to UNESCO for intangible cultural heritage .

In 2004 there were 5,470 registered cooperatives in Germany, in 2015 there were around 7,600 with around 20 million members. The vast majority of the cooperative members are from cooperative banks and housing cooperatives. In Germany at the end of 2013 there were over 2,000 housing cooperatives that manage over two million apartments and have more than three million members.

In 2012, the insolvency rate of registered cooperatives was only 0.06% (18 out of 28,297). In the first half of 2015, the bankruptcy rate was zero percent. This is explained by the close monitoring by the respective cooperative association (auditing association).

legal form

Share of more than DM 500 in Rewe Lebensmittel-Großhandel eGmbH on July 20, 1956

In Germany, the legal form of the registered cooperative ("e. G." or "eG" for short; formerly eGmbH for registered cooperative with limited liability and eGmuH for registered cooperative with unlimited liability ) is relevant in terms of tax law and social policy. Unregistered cooperatives are abbreviated to "Gen." according to the Duden .

A cooperative is in some ways similar to a registered association . It should be noted that the legal model of an association is the "non-economic association" ( § 21 BGB), that is, it is not designed for economic business operations. The economic association can only acquire legal capacity through a state grant ( § 22 BGB). However, since this rarely occurs, the cooperative can be viewed as a special form or further development of the economic association. In fact, the eG looks like a mixture of corporation and association. According to Section 43 GenG , members of the cooperative can have several votes if they “particularly promote business operations”. However, this must be stipulated in the statutes.

The purpose of the cooperative is to promote the acquisition or the economy of its members, or their social or cultural interests through joint business operations ( § 1 GenG). The registered cooperative is a legal person and according to § 17 GenG a form merchant . This means that the eG is automatically a merchant within the meaning of commercial law due to the selected corporate form .

A special feature is the possibility to limit the member's liability to the amount of the cooperative's share. The members of the eG are then only liable with their subscribed share. The cooperative, however, is liable with all of its business assets. However, the statutes of the eG must stipulate that the obligation of the members to make additional contributions - for example in the event of insolvency - is excluded.

An EG must be a member of an auditing association ; one of the umbrella organizations is the Deutsche Genossenschafts- und Raiffeisenverband e. V. (DGRV). The auditing association exercises control and supervisory rights vis-à-vis the eG. The cooperatives incur costs for the statutory membership and for the mostly annual inspection, which can represent a financial burden for new and small cooperatives.

There are cooperatives in various areas of the economy, for example the registration office for de-Domains ( DENIC ), as well as DATEV eG der Steuerberater and the publishing cooperative of taz (“Die Tageszeitung”, Berlin).

"The cooperative as a legal form is very democratic."

- Ralf W. Barkey, CEO of the cooperative association : Die Tageszeitung , October 29, 2019
Formation requirements

An EG must consist of at least three members ( § 4 GenG). It must have a statute with a legally prescribed minimum content ( § 6 ff. GenG). The cooperative is to be entered in the cooperative register of the competent local court ( registry court ) after an expert opinion has been drawn up by the auditing association .

Organs and members

The bodies of a cooperative are the board of directors, the supervisory board and either the general assembly or, depending on the number of members, the representative assembly, optionally or mandatory. At least two board members ( § 24 GenG) and three supervisory board members ( § 36 GenG) must be elected. In the case of cooperatives with no more than 20 members, the management board can consist of only one member and there is no need for a supervisory board. In this case, the General Assembly performs the duties of the Supervisory Board.

In the cooperative banks , housing cooperatives and consumer cooperatives , the members are at the same time customers or tenants (apartment users). In the case of trade cooperatives, agricultural cooperatives and craftsmen's cooperatives, on the other hand, the members (as retailers, farmers, craftsmen) are full-time or part-time entrepreneurs.

Social role

In German-speaking countries, cooperatives are mainly found in the following areas, here are a few examples:

Special features of credit unions

For credit unions ( cooperative banks ), in addition to the Cooperative Law, the Banking Act (KWG) applies . They are also subject to banking supervision by the Deutsche Bundesbank and the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin).

Auditing Associations

In order to carry out their tasks and to avoid the introduction of state supervision, individual cooperatives formed cooperative associations at an early stage. Today membership in such an association is compulsory. The associations should have the legal form of a registered association.

The task of the associations is to advise and support the affiliated cooperatives on legal, tax and business issues. They carry out the compulsory cooperative audit and offer their member companies other services. In housing construction, the public and the cooperative housing construction companies have joint associations, which also take over the auditing of the housing cooperatives.

A few years ago, the legislature introduced simplifications for cooperatives with total assets of less than one million euros. You do not have to have your annual financial statements audited every year, only every two years. This exception also applies to those cooperatives whose turnover is less than two million euros in the financial year.

Only when the balance sheet total exceeds 1.5 million euros and the sales revenue exceeds three million euros does the mandatory audit also extend to the annual financial statements including the bookkeeping and, if necessary, the management report. During this examination, the cooperative association is also obliged to check whether the provisions of the statutes have been observed.

Forced cooperatives

There are organizations in various areas that are organized in a similar way to a cooperative and are sometimes also referred to as “cooperative”. Sometimes all landowners in a particular area are compulsory members. These include B. the hunting cooperatives , dike associations and real communities . The Emschergenossenschaft is a public corporation in the field of water management.

Compulsory membership also characterizes the employers' liability insurance association (as the statutory accident insurance provider), whose membership all companies must have according to a defined industry allocation. However, these coercive cooperatives do not all have a legal form under the Cooperative Society Act.

Current trends

Energy cooperative

Initiated by the Renewable Energy Sources Act , energy cooperatives have experienced an upswing since the early 2000s: More than half of all new cooperatives are currently set up in the fields of energy, environment and water. More than 150 energy cooperatives were founded in 2011 alone. From 2008 to 2011, the number of energy cooperatives with renewable energies quadrupled. Most of the citizens' energy cooperatives are regionally located in the large territorial states of Bavaria , Baden-Württemberg and Lower Saxony ; currently more than 80,000 people in Germany hold shares in new energy cooperatives. Over 500 energy cooperatives founded in recent years have invested around 800 million euros in renewable energies.

Nursing or senior citizens' cooperative

At the end of September 2013, the new Dutch King Willem-Alexander proclaimed the “transition from a social to a participatory state” for his country as part of his first speech from the throne . There, as in Germany, in view of the demographic challenge of a society that is getting older and therefore in need of care, as well as the financial and personal difficulties to ensure humane care, the establishment of care cooperatives is seen as an (inexpensive) alternative to self-help. This form of organization is also a possible alternative for those who work in the care sector - corresponding to the more than 50 German medical cooperatives with over 10,000 members.

Social cooperative

A social cooperative is a form of organized self-help to carry out a project that answers a social need. Social cooperatives complement, among other things, the structures of welfare and offer support, for example to maintain multi-generational structures, to help families in everyday life or to enable people with disabilities to lead a self-determined life.

The Bavarian Ministry of Social Affairs established the "Future Initiative social cooperatives" to the structure to promote social cooperatives in 2012. Start-up financing is offered for model social cooperatives.

The legal form of a social cooperative exists in South Tyrol too , for example since 2002 for the House of Solidarity Onlus ; The South Tyrolean farmers' organization founded its own social cooperative for women farmers in 2006.


Regarding the legal form of a cooperative in Austria

Purpose of a cooperative

The purpose of a cooperative is to promote the profitability of its members. Funding and fulfillment of the funding purpose is an indispensable task. The intended purpose of the cooperative is fulfilled within the meaning of the Cooperative Act if economic and / or social services are provided for the members in the broadest sense in order to promote their members. In accordance with this basic mandate, the cooperative has to act entrepreneurially and market-shaping in coordination with its members - taking advantage of all network economic advantages in order to be able to offer the member optimal services.

Cooperative and Profits

The special feature of the cooperative compared to other legal forms (e.g. the GmbH ) is that it passes on the services it generates to its members. The pursuit of profit does not collide with the sponsorship mandate as long as the profits are not used for their own sake but as a means of promoting the members.

In other words, the pursuit of profit is not an end in itself for a cooperative. The non-distribution of generated profits only takes place insofar as this requires the financing of necessary investments (material and immaterial) to secure the operation of the cooperative with the aim of offering the members of the cooperative long-term benefits.

Equity and liability

The more dutifully or voluntarily subscribed business shares of the members form the total nominal amount of the business shares of the cooperative. The nominal value of a business share as well as the number of dutiful business shares are determined in the articles of association. They are to be determined according to the type and scope of the business activities of the cooperative and the resulting risks. The necessary capital resources and the expected number of members of the cooperative must be taken into account.

Accounting in a commercial cooperative

In view of the legal obligations and the particular importance as a control and management instrument, the establishment of a timely, complete and therefore informative accounting system is essential. This must be organized with particular care. Cooperatives that are required to have a supervisory board (i.e., permanently employ at least 40 employees) are also legally obliged to establish an ICS (internal control system) that meets the company's requirements. In the case of cooperatives, the accounting requirement depends on the amount of sales. Commercial cooperatives whose sales revenues (in accordance with the provisions of the UGB) are less than € 700,000 are not subject to accounting (i.e. no double bookkeeping would be necessary and no annual financial statements and no report from the management board would be required). Regardless of the UGB provisions, however, there are special statutory provisions on the accounting obligation - such as B. those in the cooperative law - to be given priority. The articles of association can contain stricter regulations regarding the accounting of the cooperative and thus also stipulate that - regardless of the size - annual financial statements are to be drawn up in any case. For all cooperatives with a turnover of € 700,000 or more, the general principles of the UGB apply to accounting regulations, valuation regulations and the preparation of the annual financial statements. In addition, a report by the board of directors or a management report must be prepared. For cooperatives that exceed at least two characteristics of the characteristics specified in Section 221 (1) UGB (that is € 4.84 million balance sheet total, € 9.68 million sales in the twelve months before the reporting date and the employment of 50 employees in the Annual average) the supplementary provisions of the second section of the third book of the UGB apply.

General legal and tax framework
  • Cooperatives do not have to pay any capital transfer tax when subscribing to capital. The cooperative is subject to corporation tax, but there is no minimum corporation tax.
  • For activities that are subject to the trade regulations, the cooperative requires the relevant trade licenses. A managing director under trade law in a cooperative can be a board member or an employee in accordance with the provisions of Section 39 GewO.
  • If the cooperative wants to acquire brands, a so-called similarity test must be applied for. The similarity test extends to whether such a trademark or a similar one is already protected.
Membership in a cooperative

Cooperatives are associations with an unlimited number of members and change by joining or leaving without any legal effect on the existence of the cooperative. The members are natural or legal persons as well as entrepreneurially active, registered partnerships, which mostly belong to a certain profession or branch of business. Membership is already acquired by the founders of the cooperative by signing the cooperative statutes; After the establishment, it arises through a written declaration of membership and admission decision by the body provided for this in the statutes. Admission to the cooperative cannot be enforced.

Membership is terminated by the death of the member - unless the statutes provide for continuation by the heirs; in addition, through resignation, which is to be declared by the member by means of termination in compliance with the statutory notice period, as well as by exclusion of the member for a reason specified in the statutes and by transferring the business credit to another (new) member. In the case of legal persons as well as entrepreneurially active, registered partnerships, the articles of association can provide for the termination of membership if they are dissolved.

Membership ends with the transfer of the business credit (= all subscribed business shares) at the time of transfer, in all other cases regularly - if the articles of association provide for this - at the end of the financial year in which the dispute credit of the departing member is calculated. Payment will be made one year after this point in time at the earliest. There is no entitlement to the hidden reserves.

Rights and duties of a cooperative membership

Membership gives rise to rights and obligations for the members of the cooperative. The rights include:

  • the possibility of making use of the business-related promotional services of the cooperative
  • the right to vote in the general assembly, whereby most of the members - regardless of the number of shares taken over - each have one vote (head-to-head voting right). However, the articles of association can also provide for so-called share voting rights in such a way that each share grants one vote - this share voting right is usually limited to a maximum number of attainable votes (limited share voting rights) or modified in such a way that e.g. B. only one additional vote is granted for every three, five or ten fully paid-up shares.
  • the active and - for natural persons - passive right to vote in elections to the organs of the cooperative.

In contrast, the most important member obligations include the following areas:

  • Compliance with the statutes and the resolutions of the general assembly
  • Subscription and payment of shares in the minimum amount specified in the articles of association
  • Any payment of an entrance fee and / or membership fees (if the statutes provide for this to strengthen the equity of the cooperative or to cover the costs incurred by the cooperative from its promotional activities)
  • for cooperatives with limited liability: to be liable for the obligations of the cooperative in accordance with the statutes. In addition to the shares they have subscribed to, the members are liable in the event of bankruptcy or liquidation of the cooperative for at least a further amount (depending on the articles of association, a certain multiple) equal to the shares taken over. However, liability only exists towards the cooperative (or the trustee); there is no direct liability of the members towards the cooperative creditors.
Performance relationship between member and cooperative

The cooperative is not an end in itself and has to offer its members in their role as business partners (customer, supplier) services and problem solutions that make the member successful in his own economy (private household, company). The economic success of a cooperative depends on whether members use the services and maintain long-term business relationships with the cooperative. The scope of the service relationships is, among other things. influenced by the type of establishment, the size of the establishment, the employment situation and the financial performance of the members.

Accordingly, the cooperative has to offer tailor-made service, campaign, range and service concepts and packages in accordance with the various relevant requirements of the members. Members can be treated differently according to their own performance. However, this different treatment of one's own performance must of course not affect certain fundamental rights (such as voting rights stipulated in the articles of association).

When planning concepts, it should not be overlooked that professionally offered services result in costs related to goods or services, which must be covered by the prices for services rendered. In the cooperative, too, performance has its price. A transparent cost allocation based on the polluter pays principle should therefore be seen as a prerequisite for a performance-based funding policy as early as the planning phase.

Organs of the cooperative

Every cooperative must have a board of directors to be elected from among the members of the cooperative or their board members who are authorized to represent them and who represents them in and out of court. The cooperative agreement can, however, provide for appointment by the supervisory board instead. The members of the board, the number of which is to be specified or at least limited in the statutes, can exercise their function full-time or part-time. The election of the members of the Management Board, which is also subject to the provisions of the Articles of Association with regard to their implementation, is made by the General Assembly - unless an appointment by the Supervisory Board is provided for.

The function of the board of directors under cooperative law must be strictly separated from any contractual obligations (employment) between the board member and the cooperative. Once an employment relationship has been established, it is independent of membership in the board and is not automatically terminated, for example, even if it is dismissed. The Supervisory Board is regularly authorized to conclude service contracts with members of the Management Board who thereby become full-time employees. The decision-making process within the board of directors as a collegial body takes place jointly, if necessary via a more or less qualified majority. The representation of the cooperative by the executive board towards third parties takes place according to the statutes.

The supervisory board is the cooperative's controlling body. The supervisory board's monitoring activities extend to the management of the cooperative; In addition, Section 24e GenG assigns him mandatory controls and approval rights. In cooperatives with no more than 40 employees, the articles of association do not have to provide for a supervisory board. If a supervisory board is required by law, it must consist of at least three people.

The rights to which the members of the cooperative are entitled in matters of the cooperative, in particular in relation to the conduct of business, inspection and auditing of the annual financial statements and determination of the appropriation of profits, are exercised by all members of the cooperative in the general assembly. An ordinary general meeting must take place at least once a year (no later than the eighth month after the end of the previous financial year).

Cooperative associations

In Austria there are currently five cooperative associations as umbrella organizations of the cooperative system:

  1. Austrian Association of Cooperatives (Schulze-Delitzsch) with members from the field of trade, commerce, crafts and professions as well as banks ( Volksbanken ).
  2. Austrian Raiffeisen Association
  3. CoopVerband - Auditing Association of Austrian Cooperatives
  4. Austrian association of non-profit building associations-revision association
  5. Tailwind - Promotion and Auditing Association of Common Good-Oriented Cooperatives


In Switzerland , the cooperative has a long tradition in the form of municipalities , guilds , brotherhoods or confederations , which developed over centuries in the alpine cooperatives and municipalities, especially in central Switzerland and in Graubünden . The term “cooperative” is therefore also important for the constitutional perspective of the Swiss Confederation. In agriculture , the cooperative has the most widely used. Farmers are organized in local cooperatives such as dairy cooperatives, cheese cooperatives or agricultural cooperatives. There are housing cooperatives in many Swiss municipalities . They are not for profit and rent their apartments to members at cost. The two largest retail chains Migros and Coop are organized as cooperatives. At the end of 2003, the ten Migros cooperatives had over 1.9 million members, Coop even more than 2.2 million. The Migros founder Gottlieb Duttweiler, for example, wanted to sell cheaper food to the lower classes of the population from 1925 onwards thanks to the cooperative structure than the established traders did. The Swiss furniture - one of the largest Swiss property insurance - and personal insurance companies - and the Raiffeisen Switzerland (the third largest Swiss banking group with about 350 legally independent cooperative banks) are established cooperatives, each with over one million cooperative members.

To found a cooperative in Switzerland, seven members ( cooperative members ) are required. The legal basis can be found in the Swiss Code of Obligations (Articles 828 to 926). As of January 1, 2019, there were 8,559 cooperatives registered in the commercial register in Switzerland. The cooperative association is a special form: at least three cooperatives can combine to form a cooperative association. This is a cooperative whose members are cooperatives. The best-known cooperative association is the Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund, which consists of the various regional cooperatives (see also association ).

Share certificate in the Beatus Cave Cooperative from October 12, 1904

At least three people - the majority of whom must be members of the cooperative - make up the board, which is called "administration" in the Code of Obligations. The cooperative must be able to be represented by a person who is domiciled in Switzerland. This can be a member of the administration, a manager or a director. The general assembly is the supreme body of the cooperative and usually only meets once a year; a universal assembly can also be called without observing a deadline . In the case of cooperatives with over 300 members, an assembly of delegates often takes on the tasks of the general assembly. In this case, the members of the cooperative regularly elect the delegates. The general assembly or the assembly of delegates elects both the board of directors and the control body that checks the bookkeeping. The cooperative acquires its legal capacity when it is entered in the commercial register .

There are cooperatives with share certificates and those without. Although the number and value of the shares per member is not limited, each member of the cooperative has only one vote at the general assembly. The share certificate is a receipt confirming personal participation in the cooperative capital; the share certificate has no meaning as a security . If the cooperative leaves or is dissolved, the articles of association can provide for the reimbursement of the share certificates. Likewise, dividends may be stipulated in the articles of association ; however, the net income must be diverted to a reserve fund until it reaches a certain percentage of the cooperative's capital. In order not to have to worry about reserve funds, profit taxes and distributions, some cooperatives reinvest the profit. In the event of the death of a member, the cooperative shares are paid out to the heirs , depending on the circumstances; or a representative of the group of heirs is appointed as a new member. In accordance with the Code of Obligations (Art. 833), the Articles of Association must state whether the members of the cooperative are personally liable and how the obligation to make additional contributions is regulated. In the event of the obligation to make additional payments, the board of directors must inform the members in good time about liquidity problems. If there is an obligation to make additional payments, members who have resigned are also liable for the cooperative if there is a year or less between the departure and the opening of bankruptcy.

Cooperative idea as a world cultural heritage

The Dr. On November 29, 2013, the Hermann-Schulze-Delitzsch-Gesellschaft and the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Raiffeisen-Gesellschaft jointly submitted a transnational application in the federal states of Saxony and Rhineland-Palatinate to include the “ cooperative idea ” in the nationwide register of intangible cultural heritage (created in As part of the national implementation of the UNESCO Convention for the Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage). In December 2014 this application was approved by the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs and submitted on March 27, 2015 as the first German nomination to UNESCO for international listing. On November 30, 2016, the intergovernmental committee of UNESCO, during its 11th meeting in Addis Ababa , decided to be included in the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of mankind .

Research institutions

At German universities there are a number of institutes and facilities that research cooperatives, such as the Institute for Cooperatives at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg , the Institute for Cooperatives at the Humboldt University in Berlin , and the Institutes for Cooperatives at of the Westphalian Wilhelms University of Münster and the Philipps University of Marburg as well as the research center for cooperatives at the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim.

Outside of universities, there is the Institute for Cooperative Affairs and Banking Siegen / Berlin (IGB), a research and advisory facility especially for cooperative banks and cooperatives from all branches of the economy.

See also


History of the cooperative movement

  • Arno Klönne : The fight for the roof over your head. On the history of the housing cooperatives. In: Marx21 - Magazine for International Socialism , No. 26/2012, ISSN  1865-2557 , pp. 62–65 (PDF; 4.3 MB) .
  • The socialist cooperative movement as the third pillar of the labor movement - history and perspectives , in: Axel Weipert (Ed.): Democratization of Economy and State - Studies on the Relationship of Economy, State and Democracy from the 19th Century to the Present , NoRa Verlag, Berlin 2014 , ISBN 978-3-86557-331-5 .
  • Hans Münkner : Organize yourself in cooperatives! Doing business differently for a better world , Cologne Contributions to the Cooperative System No. 5, LIT Verlag, June 2014, ISBN 978-3-643-12423-4
  • Armin Peter: The transformation of cooperatives into stock corporations - a gift from the legislature , in the 2014 conference report on cooperative history, published by the Heinrich Kaufmann Foundation, Norderstedt 2015, pp. 99-109, ISBN 978-3-7392-2219-6 .
  • Holmer Stahncke: History of the housing cooperatives in Germany. In: Bärbel Wegner / Holmer Stahncke / Anke Pieper: Living with cooperatives. Basics. History. Projects. Ellert and Richter, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-8319-0456-3 .
  • Wilhelm Kaltenborn : The overwhelming: The German cooperatives 1933/34, the connection obligation and the consequences , Norderstedt 2020, ISBN 978-3750427723

General cooperative law and the EU

  • Helmut Faust: History of the cooperative movement: Origin and departure of the cooperative movement in England, France and Germany as well as its further development in the German-speaking area , Frankfurt / Main 1977, ISBN 978-3-7819-0168-1
  • Heinrich Bauer: Cooperative Handbook. Commentary on the cooperative law, on the transformation law, tax and competition law regulations as well as a collection of relevant legal provisions . Founded by Rolf Schubert and Karl-Heinz Steder. Loose-leaf edition, status 2007. Schmidt, Berlin, ISBN 3-503-00852-7 .
  • Theresia Theurl and Rolf Greve (eds.): Cooperative law in Europe . Shaker, Aachen 2001, ISBN 3-8265-9542-4 .
  • Marcus Geschwandtner and Marcus Helios: Cooperative Law. The new cooperative law and the introduction of the European cooperative. Haufe, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-448-07496-9 .
  • Hartmut Glenk: Cooperative law systematics and practice of the cooperative system. Text and study book. CH Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-63313-3 .

Literature on cooperative law in individual countries

  • Gerd Eichhorn: Cooperatives and cooperative law in France . Triltsch, Düsseldorf 1957.
  • Andreas Möhlenkamp: The French cooperative law amendment from 1992 . Regensberg, Münster 1997, ISBN 3-7923-0697-2 .
  • Hartmut Glenk: The registered cooperative (Germany) . CH Beck, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-406-40114-7 .
  • Claudia Fischer: Cooperative Law in Belgium . Regensberg, Münster 1999, ISBN 3-7923-0730-8 .
  • Christian Lucas: The Netherlands' cooperative law . Shaker, Aachen 2001, ISBN 3-8265-9141-0 .
  • Jorg Johannes Fedtke: Cooperative Law in Portugal . Shaker, Aachen 2002, ISBN 3-8322-0621-3 .
  • Robert Purtschert (Ed.): The cooperative system in Switzerland . Haupt, Bern 2005, ISBN 3-258-06917-4 .
  • Hartmut Glenk (introduction to): GenR-Genossenschaftsrecht . Beck texts in dtv. 5th edition. Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-423-05584-0 .
  • Hartmut Glenk: Cooperative law systematics and practice of the cooperative system . Textbook and study book (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). CH Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-63313-3 .

Web links

Commons : Cooperatives (cooperatives)  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Cooperative  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Burchard Bösche, Jan-Frederik Korf: Chronicle of the German consumer cooperatives. Central Association of German Consumer Cooperatives V., Hamburg 2003, p. 5.
  2. Erwin Hasselmann : The Rochdaler principles through the ages . In: Publications of the Deutsche Genossenschaftskasse . tape 4 . Frankfurt / M 1968, p. 9/10 .
  3. Portrait: The Life of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen . In: Verbandsgemeinde Hamm (Sieg), undated, accessed on October 29, 2019.
  4. Peter Gleber: 175 years Volksbank Hohenlohe . Ed .: Federal Association of German Volksbanks and Raiffeisenbanks e. V. Band 9 . DG Verlag, 2018, ISSN  1866-5608 .
  5. ^ Association Day of German Advance Associations: Announcements about the Association Day of German Advance Association in Weimar on June 14-16, 1859 . Court printing house, Weimar 1859.
  6. Peter Gleber: Many roots - one thought. Creation of the Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken up to the merger . In: Federal Association of German Volksbanks and Raiffeisenbanks e. V. (Ed.): 40 years of the cooperative financial network Volksbanken Raiffeisenbanken . DG Verlag, Wiesbaden, p. 9-45 .
  7. Ralf Hoffrogge : From Socialism to Economic Democracy? A brief outline of ideas of economic democracy in the German labor movement. In: Marcel Bois, Bernd Hüttner (ed.): History of a pluralist left (= volume 3). Berlin 2011 (PDF; 56 kB) .
  8. Marco Althaus : Comrades against Comrades . In: Politik & Kommunikation , February 2012, pp. 42–43 ( online ).
  9. ^ Burchard Bösche : A great co-operative corporate personality , in: Gustav Dahrendorf - Hamburg Mayor of July 20, 1944, published by the Heinrich Kaufmann Foundation, Norderstedt 2004, p. 47
  10. ^ A b Cooperatives in the GDR In: .
  11. ^ Constitution of the GDR 1949 .
  12. BI-Universallexikon A – Z, Bibliographischen Institut Leipzig (ed.), 1st edition Leipzig 1988, ISBN 3-323-00199-0 , keyword “Genossenschaft”, p. 250.
  13. ^ ICA International Co-operative Day / United Nations International Day of Co-operative. (No longer available online.) International Co-operative Alliance ICA, archived from the original on July 6, 2010 ; accessed on July 3, 2010 .
  14. International Day of Cooperatives (IDC). (No longer available online.) Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives COPAC, archived from the original on June 22, 2006 ; accessed on July 3, 2010 .
  15. International Year of Cooperatives 2012. In: Retrieved July 24, 2012 .
  16. ^ Eric Viardot: The role of cooperatives in overcoming the barriers to adoption of renewable energy. In: Energy Policy . Volume 63, December 2013, pp. 756–764, here p. 757 (English; doi: 10.1016 / j.enpol.2013.08.034 ).
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  18. Commission of the European Communities: Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee, and the Committee of the Regions on the promotion of cooperatives in Europe. February 23, 2004 (online at EUR-Lex ).
  19. Jan Kuhnert, Olof Leps: Development of the non-profit housing until 1989 . In: New non-profit housing . Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, 2017, ISBN 978-3-658-17569-6 , p. 33–56 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-658-17570-2_2 ( [accessed March 5, 2017]).
  20. 27 Forms of Culture included in the German Directory of Intangible Cultural Heritage Press release of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs from December 12, 2014 on the website . Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  21. Cooperative idea takes another step towards cultural heritage. Die Welt , March 16, 2015, accessed April 2, 2015 .
  22. Matthias Bartke : Liberation of the cooperatives from excessive care by the legislature: Small cooperatives need neither foundation nor other compulsory audits. In: Journal for Legal Policy (ZRP). 2015, pp. 110-112.
  23. Bärbel Wegner, Holmer Stahncke, Anke Pieper: Living with cooperatives: Basics. History. Projects . Ellert and Richter, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-8319-0456-3 , p. 199 .
  24. Announcement: Most insolvency-secure legal form - cooperatives remain undisputed winners. ( Memento from January 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) In: Geno Portal Technologie, 2013, accessed October 29, 2019.
  25. ↑ The insolvency rate of cooperatives can hardly be measured. Genossenschaftsverband Bayern, July 27, 2015, accessed on January 2, 2016 (statistics from the credit reporting agency Creditreform).
  26. Beate Willms interviews Ralf W. Barkey: Head of the association on cooperatives: “We don't wait for the state”. In: . October 29, 2019. Retrieved October 29, 2019 .
  27. Section 63b (1) sentence 1 GenG.
  28. Robert Khromov: relief for small cooperatives. In: March 29, 2012. Retrieved July 25, 2012 .
  29. Section 53 (2) GenG.
  30. Reinhard Mecklenburg: The duty of the cooperative board to prepare and publish the annual financial statements in good time. ( Memento from May 20, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) BTR Rechtsanwälte, Berlin 2012, accessed on October 29, 2019.
  31. ^ Agency for Renewable Energies: Federal State Comparison Renewable Energies 2010. ( Memento from May 24th 2013 in the Internet Archive ) In: March 16, 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  32. Graphic dossier: Energy cooperatives in Germany. ( Memento from June 30, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Renewable Energy Agency, 2012, accessed on October 29, 2019.
  33. Press release: Citizens, municipalities and local businesses in good company. ( Memento of February 7, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) DGRV, September 21, 2011, accessed on October 29, 2019.
  34. Background on energy cooperatives .
  35. Kerstin Schweighöfer: Netherlands: Care as a trend model. In: Deutschlandfunk: Europe today. January 2, 2014, accessed October 29, 2019.
  36. Josef Martin: Senior Citizens' Cooperative Riedlingen e. V. In: January 4, 2014, accessed October 29, 2019.
  37. PM editor: Shaping regional health care. ( Memento from March 14, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) In: May 18, 2010, accessed October 29, 2019.
  38. George: Cooperatives in Nursing. ( Memento from January 3, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) In: October 12, 2006, accessed May 15, 2019.
  39. Announcement: Cooperative cooperation - actively shaping care. ( Memento from January 3, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) In: September 29, 2008, accessed May 15, 2019.
  40. ^ Bavarian State Ministry for Family, Labor and Social Affairs : The most important things at a glance: Social cooperatives. In: 2020, accessed February 16, 2020.
  41. ^ Bavarian State Ministry for Family, Labor and Social Affairs : History and Development: Social Cooperatives. In: 2020, accessed February 16, 2020.
  42. RIS - Genossenschaftsgesetz § 24 - Federal Law Consolidated In: , accessed on August 1, 2018.
  43. About us. Retrieved July 24, 2019 .
  46. Registered companies per legal form and canton. Federal Office for the Commercial Register.
  47. ↑ The cooperative idea and practice was included as the first German contribution to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage. In: Retrieved December 1, 2016 .
  48. Frequently asked questions about the INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGE document of the German Commission for UNESCO from April 2018 on . Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  49. Cooperative idea nominated. on the website of the state government of Rhineland-Palatinate, accessed on December 15, 2014.
  50. ^ Daniel Römer [i-fabrik GmbH]: News: The cooperative idea is the intangible cultural heritage of mankind. (No longer available online.) In: Archived from the original on December 2, 2016 ; accessed on May 15, 2019 .
  51. ^ Idea and practice of organizing shared interests in cooperatives - intangible heritage - Culture Sector - UNESCO. In: Retrieved December 1, 2016 .
  52. Homepage of the institute: .
  53. Homepage: Institute for Cooperatives.
  54. Homepage: Institute for Cooperatives. University of Munster.
  55. Homepage: Institute for Cooperatives. Philipps University of Marburg.
  56. Homepage: Research Center for Cooperatives. University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim.