Sunday

21st Apr 2019

EU keen to strengthen NGOs, lacks money

  • NGOs have been particulary under pressure in Hungary and Poland (Photo: Iga Lubczanska)

The European Commission plans to prop up support for NGOs protecting European values in the next long-term EU budget in an effort to strengthen civil society, which has faced threats in several member states.

The commission unveiled its plans for a new Justice, Rights and Values Fund for the 2021-2027 budget on Wednesday (30 May), which bundles together several existing programmes, and contains roughly the same amount of money available in the current budget for the same purposes.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"At a time where we are confronted with extremism, radicalism and societal divisions, it is even more important to stand up for our common EU values," commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters.

For €642m, under the "rights and values programme", the commission plans to support "protecting and promoting rights and values as enshrined in the EU treaties, including by supporting civil society organisations, in order to sustain open, democratic and inclusive societies."

The other leg of the fund, €305m, would support access to legal service, help with costs and translations, or fund training of judges.

By creating a new chapter for "European values" the EU executive's goal is to simplify the programmes, but also to send a political message: the challenges NGOs face in Europe need to be addressed.

"Non-governmental organisations have a huge potential to promote European values, they operate close to the citizens," an EU official said.

The move comes a day after the government of Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban submitted a bill to parliament nicknamed "Stop Soros" threatening jail term for NGOs dealing with migration.

An earlier NGO law curbing the rights of civil groups by Orban's government has been referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) by the commission for breaking EU rules.

Polish NGOs also fear drying up of resources, as last year the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government set up an new agency under government control to hand out funding.

Not ambitious

Under the proposed fund, the commission hopes to support organisations that raise awareness of rights and values, of European culture and history and promote active participation in democracy.

However, the commission said the money will not only be targeted at NGOs, but could be directed to government authorities, public administrations, judicial networks or universities.

Critics say that will limit the funds non-governmental organisations will be able to get.

The EU executive will, for now, also do little to address the daily funding challenges for NGOs.

The money will be mainly made available through projects, and so-called "operating grants" for daily expenditures will continue to be available for large umbrella organisations and not to individual NGOs.

recent report from the EU's own Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) notes that one of the biggest problem for European civil groups is to find sustainable long-term financing as most rely on short-term projects.

"The preference seems to be given to supporting transnational cooperation rather than activities in local constituencies. This ignores the fact that many challenges to European values have local origins and are best dealt with on local level," MEP Michal Boni told Euobserver.

The politician from the Polish opposition Civil Platform (PO) was in charge of a European Parliament report calling for a "values instrument" in the new budget supporting civil society in Europe.

Boni said the commission's proposal falls short of expectations.

"Our goal was to set up a new robust instrument to support local NGOs which foster democracy, rule of law and human rights," he said.

Boni added the commission plans to allocate less resources to a much wider scope of activities than the EP proposal, such as violence against women and children.

"The importance of these other themes notwithstanding, it is likely there will be very little resources left for civil society organisations struggling to protect and promote democracy and rule of law. It is certainly much less than the EU has been spending on promoting these values beyond its borders, which is hard to justify given the many challenges to democracy within the EU," Boni added. 

He also criticised the commission for not cutting red tape, and simplifying access to EU funds for civil groups.

A Berlin-based network of national civil liberties NGOs said the commission's plans were too little, too late.

"From the information available, it looks like NGOs may end up with a slightly bigger slice of the funding pie compared to the funding programmes that exist now. But given the scale of the threat posed by the rise of authoritarianism, this is not the lifeline that NGOs fighting for rights, democracy and the rule of law need," Israel Butler, is the head of advocacy at the Civil Liberties Union for Europe told EUobserver. 


"The budget is too low, the programme won't fund the right kinds of activities, the topics it covers will be too narrow, and it will still be too difficult for grassroots NGOs to access funding. This the equivalent of sending a chain smoker to run a marathon on nothing but a pair of flip-flops and a half-eaten sandwich," Butler added. 

Poland, Hungary push back at EU budget 'conditionality'

EU affairs ministers held their first discussion on the Commission's long-term post-Brexit budget plans - with cohesion and agriculture cuts, phasing put rebates, and the overall size emerging as major divisions.

Opinion

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

Orban hosts Weber in Budapest for EPP showdown

The future of the Viktor Orban's Fidesz party inside the European Parliament's centre-right EPP political group hangs in the balance. On Tuesday, Orban and EPP chief Manfred Weber meet in Budapest in a final effort to iron out differences.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us