The importance of cooperatives for European farmers has often been claimed but empirical studies to support this claim are scarce. This special issue presents a number of articles on the recent development and status of agricultural cooperatives in the European Union, based on original data collected in the EU-wide study ‘Support for Farmers’ Cooperatives’. The articles focus on trends in the internal organization, the institutional environment, and the strategies that cooperatives have developed in supply chains and markets. This introductory article presents data on the market shares that cooperatives hold in different sectors and countries, and introduces the three key determinants of performance of cooperatives: policies, strategies and internal organization. Finally, the article develops a future research agenda.