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20th Jan 2019

UK and Hungarian thinktanks least transparent in EU

A handful of thinktanks in Britain and Hungary rank among the least transparent in terms of income, according to a new report out Tuesday (17 February) by the Tbilisi-based Transparify.

Researchers evaluated funding disclosure levels of 37 think tanks throughout the EU and found five out of the seven most opaque were based in the UK and Hungary.

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  • Transparify: 'More than a hundred institutions disclose little or no information on who funds them' (Photo: Jessie Hodge)

They rated, using a five star scale, “the extent to which think tanks publicly disclose through their websites where their funding comes from.”

A five star rating means the thinktank lists donors, identifies funding amounts, and sources of projects.

Three of the thinktanks evaluated are based in Brussels: Bruegel (5 stars), International Crisis Group (4 stars), Centre for European Policy Studies (3 stars).

UK and Hungary rankings

The least transparent of the bunch is the UK’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

Each received a zero star for providing no relevant information. The UK’s LSE IDEAS got a single star.

In Hungary, the worst performers are Political Capital, with a zero, and the Eotvos Karoly Institute, with one.

The best-ranked UK-based thinktank is the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) with four stars.

Hungary’s best performer, the Budapest Institute for Policy Analysis, received two stars.

‘Steepest decline registered worldwide’

Transparify’s survey looked at a total of 169 think tanks in 47 countries. Gains were broadly made in the US when compared to its first report out last year.

But one UK-based thinktank, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), plummeted from five stars to only two.

ODI’s drop is “the steepest decline registered worldwide”, notes the report.

According to ODI’s annual 2013-2014 report, turnover rose from £18.5 million in 2010–2011 to £28 million in 2013–2014.

It notes that more than 20 percent of its funding comes from the private sector, foundations and other non-governmental sources, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PriceWaterhouse Coopers and Coffey International.

Hans Gutbrod, executive director of Transparify, described ODI’s disclosure last year as “exemplary”.

“This year our raters couldn’t find comparable information, we checked again in order to see if we had missed anything,” he told this website.

Gutbrod said they contacted ODI to verify the lack of information but received no response.

“We got in touch with them again, which is slightly unusual because normally we validate once, you can’t actually expect to validate many times over, not least because transparency is not meant to be a goose chase or a treasure hunt,” he said.

ODI, for its part, says it publishes their audited accounts on their website on an annual basis, which they file with their regulators the Charity Commission and Companies House.

"These accounts are also publicly available through the Charity Commission website and contain a significant amount of information on our strategy, activities, financial performance and major donors,” Karl Askew, ODI's finance director, told this website in an email.

Transparify’s own donor gets zero stars

Meanwhile, Transparify has ranked its own US-based donor, Open Society Foundations, as last among the think tanks surveyed in the United States.

Transparify received just under $40,000 from the donor group.

“Open Society is not as transparent as we’d recommend think tanks and organistations to be,” said Gutbrod.

“We think it illustrates the integrity of our approach that our donor doesn’t come out too well,” he added.

Ranking of most transparent European think tanks

The following European think tanks received five stars and are considered ahighly transparent when it comes to donations.

1.Bruegel - Belgium

2.European Centre for Develop & Policy Management - Netherlands

3. Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) - Sweden

4. Center for the Study of Democracy - Bulgaria

5. Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) - Germany

6. Norwegian Institute for International Affairs (NUPI) - Norway

7. Policy Association for an Open Society (PASOS) - International

8. Stockholm Int’nal Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) - Sweden

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