A major conference on employee share ownership financed by the European Commission entitled “Taking action: Promotion of employee share ownership: Debating concrete policy options” took place in Brussels on 30 January 2014. This was a major one-day conference on employee share ownership, organised by Professor Jens Lowitzsch of University of Viadrina at Frankfurt (Oder)/Freie University, Berlin, and attended by around 130 delegates from academia, employer associations, and national government bodies, but very few from trades unions.

Speakers at the conference included Michel Barnier (DG Internal Market and Services)(by video message), Olivier Guersent (Michel Barnier’s Cabinet), Pervenche Beres, Jens Lowitzsch, Graeme Nuttall (UK Government Independent Adviser on Employee Ownership), and Professor Richard Freeman (Harvard University).

The conference was funded by a grant from DG Internal Markets and Services to a multi-national team led by Prof. Jens Lowitzsch to consider the role of employee share ownership in the reform of corporate governance. Initially, the conference was intended to be the finale of the project in late 2014 but Prof Lowitzsch was asked by DG Internal Markets and Services to bring the conference forward to the start of the project. This is presumably because the current Commission will be retiring later this year.

The benefits of share ownership were framed in the context of desirable reforms to corporate governance and the desirability of taming the worst excesses of financialization. Some speakers also referred to widening inequality.

Prof Lowitzsch called for a 29th country taxation regime to promote use of ESO by multinational companies operating in several Member States. This was subsequently referred to in a talk by Phil Bennion (a UK Liberal Democrat MEP) reflecting on a recent own initiative report on ESO within the European Parliament. There had been some controversy over a 29th regime, with some Socialist group MEPs initially opposed to it, but the final report apparently accepts the desirability of a 29th regime. This report also reiterates previous views on ESO that it should be additional to base salary, should be voluntary for employer and employee, and that employee shareholders should have governance rights. There was also some discussion about the role of ESO in business succession in SMEs, linked to discussions about business transfers in the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan.

Videos of the conference can be viewed here.