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EDITORIAL: NGO funding. Tricky business.

Dear friends from across the continent,

Hopefully your summer was as relaxing and inspiring as mine. I enjoyed the hospitality of the Albanians and the beauty of their nature.
Although the country has huge problems it also has a lot to offer.

In Brussels and Strasbourg people slowly return to ‘working mode’, emails start to pile up again and the communication amongst NGOs is livelier than ever before.

Indeed, due to the fact that the EC launched a call for so called Joint Actions, many NGOs are trying to put together proposals responding to the needs of the social sector and its structures at EU and national level. The focus of these joint actions is the implementation of EU policies and strategies. The EC seems to move toward a more conditioning way of supporting the activity of NGOs and civil society organizations become instruments to implement EU policies.

This can be interpreted in two different ways: as a way used by the EU to instrumentalise the role of NGOs or on the contrary as an opportunity to strengthen NGOs by funding their activities? In my view, it is a bit of both.

European Civil society organisations – as all other actors in society – need money in order to fulfil their mission and, trying to obtain it, they become more and more dependent on the EC. Luckily in most cases this is fine. The SIP, the recommendation on the rights of children, the structural funds framework have been developed with the contribution of NGOs and offer them many opportunities to work on their own agenda, in order to build a more equal and just society. Civil society represents the 5th power next to the 3 authority powers (legislative, executive, judicial) and the media. With the obligation of focussing on the EU agenda the risk is to lose the specific added value of representing the voice of committed citizens that care about the community.

On the other hand, we also could see this process of involving NGOs in the communication and implementation of EC strategies as a recognition – finally – of our position, impact and positive contribution to a well-established and worthwhile EU. Building a strong Europe that matters for people is indeed impossible without the full and active involvement of civil society at all levels.

So, dear friends from civil society, our challenge is to safeguard our independency knowing we’re interdependent.

Maybe I’m too concerned about the EC supporting civil society in communicating EU strategies. Maybe the EU is only aiming at bypassing national authorities that tend to ignore the EC in our field… But this might be a real concern!

Luk Zelderloo