NGOs fend off attacks over EU subsidies

MEP Silvana Koch Mehrin has hit out at NGOs for falling short of meeting the financial transparency standards she deems necessary to receive EU subsidies.

In a draft written declaration submitted to Euro MPs, MEP Silvana Koch Mehrin (ALDE, Germany) calls on the EU to impose greater financial transparency on NGOs and trade unions as a prerequisite to receiving EU funds.

Pointing out that that Commission pays out over €1 billion to NGOs every year, Koch Mehrin says she is concerned that many of them “do not practise the necessary financial transparency”.

“It is my aim that a maximum of transparency with regard to the allocation of EU funds be achieved. European taxpayers have the right to know how their money is being spent – including funds being disbursed to NGOs,” she said in a letter to MEPs.

According to Koch Mehrin, the definition of an NGO as well as the criteria applied by the Commission to disburse funds to civil society organisations is still unclear.

She cites EU Budget Commissionner Dalia Gybauskaite, who recently replied to a parliamentary question by saying the Commission neither has a complete list of NGOs receiving EU funding, nor any relevant statistics on the subject.

Koch Mehrin is equally critical of the way the Commission has funded trade unions, including the CGT and FO, which campaigned against the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty in France. She also singles out funding received by WEED, a sub-organisation of ATTAC – an NGO campaigning for better democratic control of world financial markets -, saying both organisations are hostile towards globalisation.

Ms. Koch Mehrin's allegations were brushed off by the Civil Society Contact Group, an umbrella group for NGOs and civil society organisation in Brussels. The group criticised the MEP for presenting a "biased picture of the actual situation" regarding the role and transparency of NGOs.

The group challenged Ms. Koch Mehrin to substantiate her statement concerning the financial transparency of NGOs, arguing that "financial reports of NGOs are public" and "often put on their websites". Moreover, they say NGOs provide the Commission with all the necessary details when Brussels is co-sponsoring their work. 

"We also believe that questioning the role and contribution of NGOs is legitimate, provided it goes beyond financial aspects and is rooted in a wider debate about EU governance," explains John Hontelez, chair of the Civil Society Contact Group.

Hontelez said he hoped Commissioner Kallas's Transparency Initiative will provide the framework for an open and inclusive debate on the issue.

Imposing stricter controls on lobbyists - including NGOs, hired consultants and legal counsellors - is the third of the three pillars of the Transparency Initiative launched in March by Siim Kallas, the EU Administrative Affairs and Anti-fraud Commissioner.

The EU debate on transparency has now reached the national level in some countries with controversies recently breaking out in Belgium and the UK over recipients of subsidies paid out under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). 

  • 9 November 2005: College of Commissioners to discuss an internal report prepared by advisors selected across different Commission directorates
  • 26 December 2005: Expiry date of the Koch-Mehrin draft declaration. If more than half of the 732 MEPs have signed it by then, it will be transmitted to the Commission and the Council (but will remain non-binding in any event).
  • January 2006: Expected publication of the Transparency Green Paper

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