The EESC encourages the European Commission to propose an overall strategy to promote civic participation and civil dialogue and the recognition of the role of civil society as the collective representation of citizens in a democratic European society.
Unlike other international organisations, the EU has not yet created a participatory status for European associations and NGOs. The EU acknowledges the existence of "enterprises" and "bodies of public authority", but non-profit associations do not belong to either of these categories. As a result, the "third sector" is not duly taken into account or is misrepresented in the policy and legislative framework and in its implementation. European not-for-profit associations should also benefit from freedom of movement for persons, services, and capital.
A future European association statute or other consistent measures could address several of these concerns. First of all, by defining a participatory status for associations or through specific labelling for accessing and structuring civil dialogue, based on a consistent and uniform definition; secondly, by putting in place legal provisions so as to remove hurdles to the cross-border activities of associations/NGOs, including equal treatment in donations and access to donations and related tax incentive aspects; thirdly by agreeing on guidelines and common standards on the right to association and civil dialogue to be implemented in all relevant processes including the European Semester and the Recovery package implementation and monitoring; fourthly by recognising and promoting the role of associations and NGOs in the European Union framework.
Such a legal framework at European level should respect the diversity, plurality and independence of the sector, promoting the European dimension of civic participation, and not create further red tape for associations/NGOs. It should never aim to replace national frameworks, but rather to complement these. Civil society organisations should be closely involved in the definition or change of provisions, legal, administrative, and fiscal measures affecting them and the exercise of the right of association, assembly and expression.
EU institutions and the European Economic and Social Committee, as the bridge with civil society, should contribute to the achievement and implementation of the various aspects of this statute. In particular, the EESC should play an active role in the recognition by the European institutions and Member States of European and national networks of not-for-profit associations organised at cross-sectoral level, alongside employers and trade unions.