Accountability of NGOs

This LinksDossier covers the increasing demand
for greater accountability of civil society interest groups
that influence EU policy-making.

Background

Civil society interest groups of various national or
international origins, NGOs and think tanks in the
European Union all play a key role in policy-making. The
European Commission supports the development of such
organisations in order to assure a balanced counterweight
to the interests of powerful industrial
lobbies. 

EU funding of environmental organizations

is perhaps the most visible, and, in keeping with the
concept of   
transparency

, the European Commission publishes data showing the
amounts disbursed to support environmental
groups. 

However, the quest for balanced policy debate has
caused some to complain that the Community is fostering a
biased system where accountability among EU Actors is not
consistent, due to questions about the legitimacy and
representation of interest groups.

Issues

  • The other main resources of NGOs
    - membership fees and sales of publications or
    products - are perceived as better for independence
    and grass roots legitimacy, but seldom
    suffice. 
  • On the other hand, EU funding may create unhealthy
    relationships between pressure groups and institutional
    actors that raise questions of ethics, corruption and
    conflicts of interest.
  • Increased public-private partnerships between
    industry and NGOs have already caused some to accuse
    the latter of "selling out" to industry,
    inviting them to greater accountability. So, some NGOs
    claim that public funding is a healthy counter-balance
    to industry funding.
  • Interest groups based outside the European Union
    that do not benefit from Community funding are
    disadvantaged versus "favoured"
    organisations.
  • Growing private sector perception in business
    circles that the European Union's
    "participatory democracy" sometimes leads to
    results contradicting the Lisbon Process, eg. when
    unrealistic expectations from industry are
    created.
  • Private industry complains of a double standard:
    organizations receiving public funding are not always
    held accountable to the same standards of transparency
    as private corporations (i.e. financial reporting
    requirements differ from country to country).

Positions

WWF

attempts to bring about transparency in its functioning
by being open and honest about its practices, its
activities, and its methods of work. Most information
concerning how WWF works, who its partners are, and its
level of income and expenditure are found in various
places on its website. 

Friends of the Earth

- "The attention on NGO accountability is a
distraction from the much more pressing issue of
corporate accountability given transnational corporations
are massive economies having a huge impact on many
people's lives and the environment". 

American Enterprise Institute

- "While many NGOs have made significant
contributions to human rights, the environment, and
economic and social development, a lack of international
standards for NGO accountability also allows far less
credible organizations to have a significant influence on
policymaking." 

One World Trust

- Its Global Accountability Project aims to assess how
open and receptive global organisations are to the
internal demands of their members and the external
demands of individuals and groups who are affected by the
organisations daily operations. 

Researchers from the UN University

warn that there are two main problems in expanding and
institutionalising participation of NGOs and other
associations: 

  • how to ensure that they are truly representative
    and how to hold them accountable?
  • how can NGOs remain independent and critical if
    they are part of the institutionalised decision making
    process?

Professor Rinus van Schendelen

, Erasmus University Rotterdam, says: "NGOs appear
to have relatively easy access to EU officials, as the
latter consider them less 'dangerous' than
national government officials and less 'selfish'
than corporate people, and, 'closer to the
citizens' than others. That easy access gives NGOs an
advantage in PA and lobbying, which makes the playing
field less level." See Chapter 7 of his
book,  
Machiavelli in Brussels

.

Timeline

A small number of organizations have
taken up the issue of "accountability" among
stakeholders. These can be either neutral or having
underlying political orientations. Their principle
objectives are to monitor the financial resources of
pressure groups that face limited accountability
obligations, expose bias and report conflicts of
interest. Such organisations can also play an advisory
role. Some of these include:

Further Reading

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe