The President of the International Cooperative Alliance joined Cooperatives Europe's (the regional organisation of the ICA in Europe) annual meeting, and visited ICA members in Bulgaria, Romania, and Moldova.
“The ICA with its regions, its sectors and its thematic committees, is an organisation that demonstrates that it is possible to act in unity from the enormous diversity that it represents. That is why I invite you to exercise dialogue, to seek consensus, and to defend everything we have in common, starting from the same base: cooperative principles and values", said Ariel Guarco to key representatives of the European cooperative movement, who came together at the assembly in the French city of Strasbourg on Thursday 6th.
The President was there to debate the role of the sector on the continental agenda - with the parliamentary elections of the 26 May still looming large which he had promoted a fierce advocacy campaign for.
"We need to raise awareness of how cooperatives contribute to conflict mitigation, promote dialogue, and construct solidarity-based communities" urged Guarco, who also praised the joint project between the ICA and the European Commission to foster development hand in hand with cooperatives.
In the days leading up to the event, the ICA President visited members in Eastern Europe.
His first destination was Sofia, Bulgaria, where he took part in the Central Cooperative Union's (CCU) (the country's main cooperative organisation) assembly, where he was welcomed by Biser Petkov, Minister for Work and Social Policy.
In talks with the minister and Peter Stefanov, CCU President and ICA Board member, all endorsed cooperatives as being central actors in the social economy, and explored how links with governments could contribute to the search to increase cooperatives' contribution to GDP and progress with regulatory frameworks more favourable to the sector's development.
In his address to the CCU assembly, the ICA President urged organisations working in the sector to open up space to young people: "We need to support new generations in choosing the cooperative model. We need to be able to include young people in our organisations, and have them participate in our projects now".
In neighbouring Romania, Guarco was received by the National Union of Handicraft and Production Cooperatives of Romania (Ucecom) and the National Union of Consumer Cooperatives (CentroCoop). He also visited a university campus, a college, and a kindergarten: all functioning under a cooperative model.
Among other activities, he went round the CoopExpo, a huge exhibition where Ucecom had over two dozen stands of handicrafts cooperatives; offering textiles, footwear, clothing, furniture, and tools among other products.
He also visited educational institutions which had been set up by - and are now led by - the Romanian cooperative movement, including a kindergarten, an arts and crafts college, and finally the Artifex university campus, where he received the distinction of honorary member of the academic community.
Lastly, he met with officials from MoldCoop, and - following a talk with students - he also received the distinction of honorary member of the University of Trade which is being developed by the cooperative organisation.
"All of us who feel like cooperators, and who follow the principles and values that have been handed down to us by our pioneers, are part of a huge cooperative family. With this distinction I too now feel part of this huge family, this cooperative academic community", he said.
The ICA President also met with Pavel Filip, the Moldovan Prime Minister, who expressed his support for the development of cooperatives in the country and the need to take inspiration from international experiences.
Before going back to Buenos, Aires Guarco returned to the Romanian capital Bucharest to speak at the international conference on social economy research hosted by CIRIEC. "We're counting on you to help us to uncover new issues, to think of new solutions, to develop technologies, and to improve the dynamics of our organisations", he said.
Caption: President Ariel Guarco with newly elected CCU Board