Tuesday

28th Mar 2017

EU-funded think tanks defend their credibility

  • "We could afford to lose it," Ceps' Marco Incerti said (Photo: James Almond)

The European Commission will in 2010 pay €6.7 million in subsidies to a group of think tanks and NGOs.

The grants cover 58 organisations, ranging from some of Brussels' best known talking shops, such as Cafe Babel and the European Policy Centre (EPC), to niche bodies such as the European Paralympic Committee.

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The top 10 recipients are: the Platform of European Social NGOs on €700,000; Notre Europe €605,000; the European Council on Refugees and Exiles €500,000; the European Movement International €430,000; Association Jean Monnet €250,000; the Council of European Municipalities and Regions €240,000; the Association of Local Democracy Agencies €209,000; the Lisbon Council €200,000; the Fundacion Academia Europea de Yuste €195,000 and Friends of Europe €192,000.

The money is part of a larger €30 million a year pot in the commission's education and culture department, which pays for a scheme to promote "common values" and to get ordinary people interested in politics.

"I think it's fair that an EU citizen should learn about the European Union of which he or she is a part. We make no apologies for explaining what the EU is about," commission spokesman John Macdonald told EUobserver.

But for some, Brussels' generosity is not so innocent.

"They are setting up their own committees claiming that these are independent think tanks when, in fact, they are cheerleaders for the EU," Pieter Cleppe, from the British eurosceptic think tank, Open Europe, said.

"They do not question the EU to the extent they would if they were not being funded by it. That's the whole point of the grants."

Several of the beneficiaries, such as the European Movement International, Friends of Europe and the Union of European Federalists, have an openly pro-integration position. Just one, Statewatch, which gets 39 percent of its budget from the commission, is a devoted critic of the EU institutions.

Mr Cleppe's allegations are potentially the most damaging for policy analysts, such as the EPC, the Centre for European Policy Studies (Ceps) or Notre Europe, whose reputation for objectivity is central to their work.

EPC chief Hans Martens pointed out that its grant of €146,000 makes up just over five percent of its budget.

"You can't buy us for that price," he said. "There are no strings attached. We've never felt any pressure because of it. If we were to say something which offends the commission, tant pis."

Tant pis?

Ceps spokesman Marco Incerti took a similar line. "Our grant [€140,000] amounts to 2 percent of our budget. So if there was ever an attempt by the commission to influence us, we could afford to lose it," he said.

Mr Incerti noted that if you count all the EU projects in which Ceps takes part, EU institutions sign off on about a third of its income, however. For other think tanks, EU dependency is still more acute.

Pour la Solidarite gets 65 percent of its funds from the commission's education department grant. The Trans European Policy Studies Association is in for 58 percent. Notre Europe gets 54 percent.

"We get a big grant but we don't work for the commission per se. We are true to what we think," Notre Europe's funding officer, Jennifer Hoff, told this website. "We are really trying to diversify our funding because we do get criticised for this."

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