How EU-funded NGOs spend
These organisations are not just service providers, they often are powerful political actors
Maria Koleva, Brussels
30 June, 2017
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have become a central element of EU policy on all levels: in Brussels, in the Member States and outside of the EU. Nonetheless, EU funding to NGOs as a policy instrument is highly dispersed, complex, and diverse in terms of policy areas, and therefore accurately evaluating its impact is a great challenge, not always met by those entrusted with the task, pointed out Patricija Sulin, Slovenian EPP MEP, who hosted a conference “Evaluating Impact: EU funding to NGOs”, held on 27 June at the European Parliament in Brussels.
The discussion was organised by Mrs Sulin and Anders Primdahl Vistisen, Danish MEP from the Group of European Conservatives and Reformists and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, in cooperation with Tamar Kogman, a researcher at NGO Monitor, who took part in the discussion.
According to Mrs Sulin, “addressing this challenge is necessary if we wish to remain accountable to our constituencies and to our mission as European lawmakers.”
The issue has already been taken up recently by the EP Budgetary Control Committee with the report on EU funding to NGOs drafted by German EPP MEP Markus Pieper. The ECA also shed some light on the subject since a special report was requested.
Anders Primdahl Vistisen, who led the debate, commented on the impact of the EU funding to NGOs, that when such organisations receive public funds of €1bn a year as a total, it’s important that they are accountable and responsible about how they spend this money.
Saying that he doesn’t want to generalise, Vistisen asserted that there are NGOs which are rather fair, but there are others that follow a much politicised agenda and the taxpayers of the EU are not the ones who should finance special political opinions. I don’t think that the EU should finance ‘anti-TTIP’ or ‘pro-TTIP’, or should finance advocacy for more refugees or advocacy for less refugees, he urged, explaining that they can have their opinions but should not use taxpayers money to promote them. He also specified that the things the EU is supporting are often impossible to “quantify and qualify”.
Among the discussants from EU bodies, experts, civil society, academia, were Nicholas Hachez, senior research fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies and Manager of the FRAME Project, and David Zaruk, from the University of Saint Louis and the Odisea University Centre, who has been an EU risk and science communications specialist since 2000, active in EU policy events from REACH and SCALE to the Pesticides Directive.
MEP Sulin underlined that NGOs are a unique actor, relatively new on the international stage, which has changed the face of international politics over the last decades. One of the difficulties in assessing the impact of NGO involvement funded by the EU budget is that there is no unified definition of what is an NGO across the wide range of EU funding instruments. For this reason, it is almost impossible to evaluate the extent to which NGOs are financed, much less the impact of this funding, she urged.
Mrs Sulin added that EU-funded NGOs are not just service providers or policy implementers - they are often powerful political actors that lead worldwide advocacy in their respective fields and help shape the very policies they are funded to implement, they affect conflict zones and shift the discourse on bitter ideological disputes.