Democracy & Justice

European Commission Fails to Deliver on Freedoms Fund

The European Parliament asked the Commission to create a new fund to support human rights groups in the EU. The Commission has failed to deliver. We compare what the Parliament asked for to what the Commission gave it.

by Israel Butler

Liberties has just published a paper that analyses how the Commission's proposal for a Rights and Values programme compares to the European Values Instrument (EVI) suggested by the European Parliament and civil society organisations, and whether the Commission's proposal marks a departure from the existing Rights Equality and Citizenship (REC) and Europe for Citizens (EfC) funding programmes.

The Commission's proposal effectively ensures a continuation of existing funding programmes, which treat NGOs as sub-contractors helping the Commission implement EU law and policy. It thereby fails to include any of the elements of the EVI that would support the creation of a healthy and sustainable NGO sector capable of promoting and protecting the values set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. Given the growth of populist authoritarianism, the Commission may be throwing away the last opportunity it has while progressive governments are still in a majority in the EU, to stem the rise of the far right by taking meaningful measures to build grassroots support for democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.

Want to learn more about the European Values Instrument? Click here.

The paper's main findings are as follows:

  • The substantive scope of the EVI would include activities that promote and protect European and international legal standards that guarantee pluralist democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. In contrast, the Commission's proposal is excessively narrow in scope. As a continuation of the REC and EfC programmes, the proposal limits support to promotion of specific pieces of EU law and policy or action at transnational or Union level.
  • The activities supported by the EVI would include advocacy, watchdog activities, monitoring and reporting to international supervisory bodies, litigation, public mobilisation and public education. The EVI would also build capacity of the non-governmental sector to communicate with the public more effectively. The Commission's proposal does not include these activities and largely continues to support the same activities as the REC and EfC programmes.
  • The EVI would provide operational funding to NGOs working at national and grassroots level, based on a more flexible interpretation of the EU's Financial Regulation, so as to remove barriers for grassroots NGOs, such as eligibility and co-funding requirements as well as reporting burdens. This could be achieved through the use of intermediary bodies that could regrant funds to smaller NGOs. The Commission's proposal makes no allowance for a more flexible interpretation of the Financial Regulation, which has been interpreted narrowly to date so as to effectively exclude grassroots organisations.
  • The beneficiaries of the EVI would be NGOs working to protect and promote the values set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. The size of the EVI would match the financial support given by the EU to NGOs promoting these values in third countries. This stands in the region of 2 billion EUR over 7 years. The Commission's proposal provides for a budget of 641m EUR, which is not exclusively dedicated to supporting NGOs, since it is open to any legal entity (public or private) in the Member States and a large range of third countries and international organisations.

Want to learn more about the European Values Instrument? Click here.

Click here to download our comparative analysis

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