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Guest blog written by Gustavo Franco Cruz, journalist and founder of BCNewt Barcelona-based coworking space

The European Coworking Conference took place last month in Milan, Italy, gathering over 400 thought leaders and coworking founders from across Europe.

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Many themes and topics were explored as participants shared their excitement with one another; their excitement to be on the forefront of reinventing the everyday work life and to be a part of revitalizing the Old World.

42% of coworking spaces are located in buildings over 50 years old, according to the Global Coworking Survey that was presented during the conference. Many coworking initiatives are revitalizing not only old buildings, but also the communities surrounding them.

Working with the European government

One of the topics discussed over the two day conference was coworking in a hyper regulated European market. The coworking movement is making quick steps to demand regulation from the European government authorities; the request for rules to define, protect, stimulate, finance, tax and, not so evidently, get to know the old school policy makers arising in this space, is seen as a priority by the coworking community.

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Ramón Suárez, president of the Startup Europe Coworking Assembly, shared his thoughts on engaging government authorities: “We had meetings with European Parliament members. We demanded that they consider and promote coworking spaces as businesses, offer them open access to finance, limit taxation, and use the spaces as platforms for innovation, knowledge and collaboration. We’re working with them first to help them define what a coworking space is. We don’t want them to consider a space that just has five members or a cafeteria that hosts people who go to connect their laptops to the internet as coworking spaces.”

Corporates and coworking

Tiscali, a telecom company based in Sardinia was featured at the conference. The company opened the first coworking space on the Italian island in 2013, when the company chose the location, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and far away from any European capital, to place its Open Campus for startups and entrepreneurs. Alice Soru, Head of the open campus shared, “I think that shared workspaces are taking us somewhere. For our Open Campus, we select members by choosing those that are the most interesting individuals, rather than those with the best ideas. We then try to figure out whether the person is motivated to go forward with their idea; the idea however, is not the decisive factor.”

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Jennifer Magnolfi, another speaker at the conference and a workspace consultant based in New York, believes that corporations are open to exploring the coworking movement and that established businesses would actually benefit from a collaborative culture as a low cost source of innovation.

There is a fear however, that large corporations will take over local public initiatives, disrupting the market. Public institutions are running coworking initiatives, or giving grants to do so, in locations where there are already private projects. Suárez shared his thoughts:

“This distorts the market and is unfair competition funded by our taxes. Many of them also offer spaces for free or heavy discounts, which make life harder for entrepreneurs who risk their capital to launch [coworking spaces].”

Freelancers and the coworking movement

The large tax differences between European countries, a large news story during the recent Euro crisis, was one of the topics discussed by Marco Torregrossa, Secretary of European Forum of Independent Professionals, during the conference. He talked about the operating costs of coworking spaces and how this makes coworking for freelancers increasingly expensive in many European countries. “In some European countries, independent professionals do not benefit from the same tax relief that other small businesses with premises have,” he shared.

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He also talked about other ways in which government can support coworking space founders, for example, he believes that local governments can do far more to allow access to underutilized space that could then be transformed into on-demand flexible space.

When asked how the coworking movement is benefiting freelancers, Torregrossa, shared that “the coworking movement can give a voice to [freelancers], but sadly, there is a lot of confusion around what the freelance economy is, and what or who, a freelancer is! Trying to define this new space is a bit like trying to explain art, you’ll know it when you see it.”

Photo credits: http://coworkingeurope.net/ and https://www.facebook.com/CoworkingEurope