Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

Centre-right MEPs revive anti-NGO funding bid

Centre-right MEPs are pushing to restrict EU funds for NGOs amid broader aims of weakening transparency ahead of a vote in the European Parliament on Thursday (14 September) in Strasbourg.

The move follows a series of amendments, introduced by the Christian Democrats early this week, to a report on the "transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions".

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German Green MEP Sven Giegold, who drafted the transparency report, described the amendments in a statement as an attempt to weaken European civil society and roll back efforts to shed light on who lobbies the EU institutions.

"All in all, these amendments are another democratic disgrace," he said.

The centre-right amendments impose, among other things, limits on the EU's transparency register, render access to documents more difficult, further cloak the legislative footprint of MEPs, and weaken revolving-door rules which help to prevent politicians from working for private companies in areas they legislated on.

One amendment aims to reduce the cooling off period of former EU commissioners before they can get jobs in the private sector.

A second removes a proposal on "minimum standards", which would disqualify candidates "due to corruption" from running in European elections.

Another one demanded changes in EU public procurement rules, so that politically-active organisations "are eligible for funding only if they argue by means of verifiable facts."

Some of the text behind the amendments had been broadly lifted from an anti-NGO report, first floated by German centre-right MEP Markus Pieper earlier this year.

The Pieper report followed moves by Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, to force civil society groups to register as foreign agents if they receive funding from abroad. Orban had himself compared the Pieper report to his own brand of civil society oversight.

Although Pieper's non-binding report was scrapped, its more controversial bits have now resurfaced and have been tagged onto Giegold's transparency document, which is set to be voted on in Strasbourg later on Thursday.

An EU parliament source said the amendments come from centre-right MEPs who "are very pro-Israel and against EU funding for Palestinian structures."

The initial idea behind Giegold's report was to help reform parliament's internal rules and lay the foundation for a mandatory lobbying register.

That included a ban on second jobs, greater disclosure on money earned outside normal parliamentary duties, and a stronger internal oversight committee on MEPs who break code of conduct rules.

But MEPs, led by the centre-right EPP group, had last September blocked a vote on the report at the committee level, creating a procedural deadlock that forced the transparency issue onto another MEP.

"In that way, they [the EPP group] had already hollowed out the tangible impacts of Giegold's report quite substantially," said Daniel Freund, an EU policy officer at Transparency International in Brussels.

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