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Meet the Member: National Cooperative Council of Poland
National Cooperative Council (NCC) is the apex organization of Polish cooperative movement. It was founded in its actual form in 1995 after the nationwide Co-operative Congress, but it is successor of the Supreme Cooperative Council, which had existed in the years 1961-1995. NCC represents over 9,000 single cooperatives of 15 sectors of activity, among them almost 3,000 agricultural societies.
The general aims of NCC are to represent the whole cooperative movement in the country and abroad, to assist and to steer the development strategy of the movement, to promote it, to draft legal framework for the cooperatives etc. The main services for the members are training, legal advising, auditing cooperatives (the audit of cooperative societies is compulsory every three years), assisting in establishing international contacts. The modern and well-equipped office of the NCC, in the centre of Poland’s capital city – Warsaw, employs 40 experienced people. NCC, being an independent, non-governmental organization, has however good relations with governmental institutions involved in social issues, local development, labour, agriculture, small business etc. as well as with other non-¬governmental organizations dealing with these issues and is often consulted e.g. during the legislative processes. NCC is an active member of ICA and its European region – Cooperatives Europe. It also cooperates with COGECA. The specialized unit of NCC in charge of educational activity, cooperation with universities, expertises, international relations etc. is the Cooperative Research Institute.
The highest authority of NCC is its General Assembly whose 100 members are elected by the Co-operative Congress of Poland convoked every 4 years. Next Congress will be held in autumn 2016. The General Assembly elects its Chairman (at present Dr. Jerzy Jankowski) and appoints the 5-persons Board. The President of the Board is currently Mr. Alfred Domagalski, who is also member of the Board of Cooperatives Europe and member of the Executive Committee of ICAO. The director of the Cooperative Research Institute is Dr. Adam Piechowski.
Brief history of Polish cooperative movement
The beginnings of the Polish cooperative movement go back to the 19th century, the period of the partition of Poland between neighbouring countries i.e. Russia, Prussia and Austria. The first cooperative-like organization Hrubieszowskie Towarzystwo Rolnicze Ratowania się Wspólnie w Nieszczęściach (“Hrubieszów Agricultural Society for Common Rescue in Misfortunes”) was established in 1816 by Stanisław Staszic, catholic priest, scientist and politician, considered as the founding father of the Polish cooperative movement. Regular cooperative societies appeared on Polish territory in the second half of the 19th century. Among the first cooperatives were: the Cooperative Bank in Poznań based on the concept of H. Schulze-Delitsch (1861), the consumers’ society Merkury organized after the Rochdale model in Warsaw (1869) and the rural savings and credit society in Czernichów founded in 1890 by Franciszek Stefczyk, follower of F. W. Raiffeisen. In mid 19th century also several dairy and farmers’ marketing and supplying cooperatives were established. The first cooperatives were founded and operated under the legislations of the occupying countries. On Prussian controlled territory this was the Cooperative Societies Act of 1867. On the territory under Austrian rule cooperative activity was regulated since 1873 by a separate law concerning cooperatives. The most difficult situation was in the part of the country occupied by Russia where there were no specific regulations regarding cooperatives, and where until 1905 the legislative system was extremely restrictive with respect to independent initiatives. Nevertheless, the development of cooperatives in all three partitions was considerable. Before World War I there were almost 4,000 societies of all sectors on Polish territory with 1.5 million members. They played not only an important economic and social role but also a patriotic one, contributing to the preservation of the national identity.
Soon after Poland regained independence after World War I, the Polish Parliament passed the Act of 29 October 1920 on Cooperatives considered to be one of the best and most modern regulations in Europe at the time concerning cooperatives. The Act, with its further amendments, contributed to the spectacular development of the cooperative sector in the 2nd Republic of Poland, as the Polish state of 1918-1939 was called. At that period over 5,000 new cooperatives were created, a large part of them active in the countryside; they played an increasing role in the farmers’ everyday life.
The imposing of the communist system after World War II resulted in total subordination of the movement to state authorities, in its centralization and distortion of the original cooperative ideas. As a consequence, at the end of the communist era we observed unprecedented economic growth of the cooperative sector (due also to the imposed monopolization by cooperatives of certain branches of the national economy such as housing, retail trade or farmers’ supply and marketing system) accompanied by the atrophy of democratic structures and lack of cooperative identity among members. As a result, after 1989, when the former system failed, a negative attitude towards the movement became prevailing in public opinion as well as among politicians and journalists. Cooperatives were often treated as remnants of the old system to be eliminated in the “modern society” building market economy and democracy. All this brought about the numerous maelstroms around cooperative legislation, which Poland has been experiencing for the last 26 years, and the incapacity of the legislative authorities to pass a new, modern law. This attitude together with other factors such as the lack of well educated, modern managerial staff, the incapacity to operate on a free market, weak cooperation among cooperatives and last but not least some pathological practices (“wild privatization” i.e. taking over of cooperative assets by small groups of members) resulted in a dramatic decrease of cooperative potential in the 90-ies: the number of cooperatives fell by 50%, employment by 60% and the share in GDP fell to 1 – 1.2% (from 12% in the 80-ies). A slow but constant growth has been observed after 2000. At present there are 9,000 cooperative enterprises in Poland active in 15 sectors of economy, with over 8 million members and 400.000 employees. One of the main tasks of NCC and other cooperative organizations is to restore a positive image of the movement and to rebuild the confidence in the cooperative model among the farmers.