Yesterday, January 30th, German Centre Right MEP and member of the budgetary control committee Ingeborg Grassle made the claim that in 2013 the EU handed down €4.49 billion in grants to some 8,275 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), representing about 3.5-4% of its total budget.  Given the size of the business, UKIP Daily set about asking the question “what do WE get for our money?”

So, to begin with: What is an NGO?

Broadly speaking, according to the Deputy Director-General of DG “Budget”, and Eurocrat since 1983, Manfred Kraff, NGOs are not created to generate profits, have no compulsory participation, are independent from Government, are not self-serving in aims and are providing specific knowledge.

This checklist raises a few questions: for example, our NGO can generate charges but not profits, as the monies accrued only become profits if they are returned to investors. So long as the money taken in is spent there is no problem.  The lack of compulsion does not preclude full time paid officers and activists.  Something can be independent of Government while agreeing with it, and even being funded by it.  For something to be considered not self-serving our NGOs have a vested interest in broadening their reach and expanding their competence.

But here we are already running into tricky waters because, despite Mr Kraff’s broad definition of an NGO, there is no definition, or even mention, of NGOs within the EU’s Financial Regulation or its Rules of Application.  So, in other words, we, like Mr Kraff, have an idea of what an NGO ought to be, there really are no rules actually stating what it should be.  As long as our NGOs meet the criteria setting out what a Not For Profit Organisation (NFPO) is – being non-profit making and co-funded – they enjoy a carte blanche.  To put it another way, there is no compulsion for our NGOs to even be independent of Government and be self-serving without the need for them to produce specific knowledge.

Who are the NGOs, and why should we care?

Amongst the recipients there are nine of what Christopher Snowden of the Institute of Economic Affairs refers to as the ‘Green Ten’, the world’s largest environmental groups.  Only Greenpeace does not receive EU funds despite offers from Brussels. According to Snowden:

The Green 10 has its own website (http://www.green10.org/) where they openly admit that one of their roles is to lobby for legislation. “While campaigning at EU level, Green 10 NGOs: encourage the full implementation of EU environmental laws and policies in the Member states and lobby for new environmental proposals, as appropriate”

A 2008 European Commission document discusses at length how funding of the Green 10 and forty three other green organisations is designed “to promote the activities of European environmental NGOs” who will, in turn, “support policy development.” In practice, this means lobbying MEPs and issuing coordinated press releases, position papers and memoranda to EU presidencies. EU funded NGOs also reply regularly to public consultations and are invited to help create policy.

In other words, the EU is paying the NGOs to develop and promote policies for the EU that will, necessarily, result in broader and deeper European integration.  The justification being that without EU funded NGO pressure we would have a sub-optimal situation that benefitted only the commercial interests of the Member States.  To put it another way, the EU considers Governmental failure as being market failure and licences itself to rebalance using more governance.

The activities of the Green Ten have been most visible in the area of Climate Change and Energy, and they have helped the EU score numerous victories enabling a fundamental reshaping of the power mix in the face of market forces, or the affordability to the customer base.  One could say that the EU is deliberately funding, with no reference at all to the Member States, the NGOs to buy pressure from them and legitimise their policy agenda.  And if that sounds conspiratorial consider this latest reporting of activities of other EU funded NGOs:

A number of organisations such as ENAR and UNITED Against Racism and their affiliates, have decided to raise awareness, within our constituencies, about the importance of the European Union and the need to mobilise for the EP elections, by actively calling to register for the elections, but also to vote meaningfully on D-Day. http://euobserver.com/opinion/122876

I am not arguing that all the work done by NGOs is inherently bad, or unworthy.  NGOs have made numerous contributions worldwide helping to improve human rights and the environment. Much of the work done by NGOs provokes debate, and any debate tends to aid and progress democracy.  The issue that I have, here, is whether or not the European Union’s connections with some NGOs is appropriate.  I am concerned that by funding organisations who have stated goals that include further integration actually expands the democratic deficit, rather than provides balance.  This is not an EU-specific issue, but one that is prevalent in most, if not all, modern democratic societies.  At the core is the question whether or not an NGO can be anything other than loyal to its paymaster.  Are the NGOs adding to or reducing democracy?

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