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Financing of civil society organisations by the EU

EESC opinion: Financing of civil society organisations by the EU

In this own-initiative opinion the EESC calls on the European institutions to promote a positive image of CSOs, preserve their independence and strengthen their capacity for action.

Beside a detailed diagnosis of the situation and role of civil society organisations, the EESC presents 26 recommendations for better civil dialogue and access to resources, including ideas for the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework.
The EESC finds that financing of CSOs is essential for participatory democracy and that the article 11 of the TEU on structured dialogue with civil society must be properly implemented. It calls also for the establishment of an EU Ombudsman on civic space freedoms and of a European fund for democracy, human rights and values within the EU.


Background

Funding is one of the factors contributing to enabling active citizenship and participatory democracy.

Civil society organisations or NGOs do receive EU financial support (co-funding) either for projects or for policy work as structural funding. However, access to EU funding remains quite difficult for many associations as procedures are quite complicated and the administration is burdensome. Programmes that are more specifically targeted at citizen’s engagement at EU level are not adequately resourced. In addition, there is a lack of transparency and consistency of audit procedures because of diverging interpretation of rules in place and lack of harmonisation.

The opinion will contribute to reviewing the state of the art as regards the distribution and effectiveness of EU funding as contributing to participatory democracy and citizenship and will make recommendations in view of the review of the EU funding priorities.

The opinion could contribute to the current discussions and decision on revised financial regulations, and the upcoming proposal for a Multi Annual Financial Framework after 2020, as well as to the implementation of Article 11 of TEU on civil dialogue. It will also complement the EP own initiative report on budgetary control of financing NGOs from the EU budget.


Key points

The EESC:

  • considers that the European institutions should promote a positive image of CSOs, which are vital to involving the public and encouraging them to express their views.
  • considers that the European institutions should take steps to establish genuine European civil society dialogue on the basis of a commitment agreement with civil society. Discussions must be resumed on a statute for European associations and a statute for European foundations, and Article 11 of the TEU on structured dialogue with civil society must be implemented;
  • calls for a strategy facilitating the development of a strong and independent civil society in Europe and for the establishment of an EU Ombudsman on civic space freedoms to whom NGOs would report incidents related to any harassment or restriction of their work.
  • calls on the budget authorities to increase funding for CSOs, including in the form of operating grants and multiannual financing, and to ensure that voluntary work is properly valued in the new financial regulation.
  • calls on the Commission to propose a European fund for democracy, human rights and values within the EU, to be equipped with an ambitious budget, directly open to CSOs and managed independently, similarly to the European Endowment for Democracy;
  • believes that the Europe for Citizens programme should be endowed with a budget of EUR 500 million. Similarly, Erasmus+ actions targeting civil society should be increased;
  • calls for further involvement of civil society organisations in the future research framework programme.
  • calls on the European Commission to react promptly when national administrative or legal provisions restrict the access of national civil society organisations to EU funds.