Choosing the right structure for doing business in Europe

Other cross-border trading options

The European Union (EU) Services Directive sets out the freedom to provide services principle. This removes any discriminatory legislation on foreign service providers setting up - or expanding - a business into another country.

It has effectively removed barriers that were preventing service companies from doing business in Europe and, to assist this, the EU has created some legal company structures.

Cross-border trading structures

There are three main structures for cross-border trade:

  • European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG) helps members to develop economic activities by pooling resources, activities or skills. Often used by groups of independent mall and medium enterprises (SMEs) in professional sectors - eg lawyers, accountants, surveyors, marketing agencies.
  • European Companies or 'Societas Europaea' (SEs) are public limited companies that can be set up in any EU member state. SEs can be formed by mergers, as a holding company or as a subsidiary of an EU company. Read more about European Companies.
  • European Cooperative Society or 'Societas Cooperativa Europaea' (SCE) - a legal structure that allows cooperatives to operate across the EU without setting up separate subsidiaries in every country. Read more about how to set up a European Cooperative Society.

When starting up a new business - or expanding an existing business - in the EU, you will usually have to follow the national laws of the country you wish to set up in.

Read more about the EU Services Directive.