Enabling philanthropy could make EU society more resilient

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In its first opinion on philanthropy, the EESC asks governments to encourage philanthropic and citizen action, which raise close to EUR 90 billion per year

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has called on the EU Member States to establish an enabling environment for philanthropy in line with EU freedoms and fundamental rights, and promote it as a recognised and socially responsible form of contributing to the public good or the welfare of others.

In its recent opinion on philanthropy and its as yet untapped potential in Europe, the EESC also recommends that facilitating cross-border philanthropic activities should be a priority for both the EU and the Member States. Unlike commercial companies, philanthropic foundations and private donors cannot enjoy the benefits of the single market, making it difficult for them to extend their charitable actions across borders.

This exploratory opinion was requested by the current Romanian presidency of the EU, which has included philanthropy among its priorities.

This is the first time that the EESC has issued an opinion entirely dedicated to philanthropy, an activity that has rapidly grown in Europe over the last three decades. Figures show that there are more than 147 000 registered public benefit foundations in Europe, with an annual expenditure of nearly EUR 60 billion.

Other studies show that philanthropic contributions in Europe amount to at least EUR 87.5 billion annually, and this is only a conservative estimate. With technological developments such as crowdfunding and social media, and a rise in social investments and social innovation tools, it will only continue to grow.

The rapporteur for the opinion, Petru Sorin Dandea, said: Mechanisms for encouraging philanthropy and an overall enabling environment are essential for creating the culture of giving. This includes a favourable social culture and a legal framework which will stimulate charitable engagement.

We fully acknowledge the complementarity and innovative added value that philanthropy can bring to social cohesion by boosting common values and making our society more resilient, Mr Dandea added.

The EESC points out that philanthropy cannot be a substitute for a welfare state and strong social protection systems based on tax justice and effective employment policies. It believes these should be strengthened and further developed, which would also improve the capability of philanthropic organisations to "fill in the gaps" and complement funding in niche areas where public support is lacking.

Transparency in philanthropic action should also be promoted, the EESC stressed.

The opinion points to the diverse nature of philanthropy. Europe's philanthropic sector comprises various types of donor and philanthropic entities and covers public benefit causes which range from funding research, innovation and the arts to the integration of people with disabilities, minorities, the promotion of human rights and social justice projects and social economy enterprises.

Philanthropy will increase its impact if it is supported by public authorities, Mr Dandea said.

The EESC observes that some national governments in the EU are reducing the operating space of philanthropic organisations by introducing tighter rules or imposing restrictions on their work. In the EESC's view, such limitations might lead to increased public distrust of the valuable role played by civil society in promoting the development of society as a whole.

The introduction of foreign funding restrictions in some EU countries also hinders cross-border philanthropic investments, and tax non-discrimination principles are not yet applied equally and in a meaningful way by the Member States to philanthropic organisations trying to operate across borders.

Our message is: do not discourage philanthropic and citizen actions. Provide incentives for private giving for public benefit causes, in a context oftax justice   Mr Dandea emphasised.

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