David McAllister (MEP): On the transparency and accountability of NGOs – 10 November 2023
There are 3,377 entities registered in the EU Transparency Register under the category ‘NGOs, platforms and networks and similar’ (as of September 2023).
The contracted amount of grants awarded from the EU budget to NGOs, after excluding EU programmes in the field of education and research, amounted to at least 2.6 billion EUR in 2022 (Financial Transparency System (FTS), September 2023).
The EPP Group is in favour clearer, more robust rules to prevent any organisation from abusing access to EU institutions to influence EU decision-making, as seen during “QatarGate” in December 2022. We want EU funds to be used effectively, efficiently, and in accordance with the EU’s objectives, policies and financial rules.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are instrumental in linking civil society with political decision-makers in all areas of EU policy. Currently, only the funds directly awarded to NGOs are subject to monitoring and reporting by the European Commission. This means that it is difficult to track EU Funds that are reallocated in the form of sub-grants, sub-contracts and shared within a consortium. We must strengthen public transparency and accountability requirements to prevent and fight against fraud and ensure that EU funds are not used against EU values.
Parliament’s draft report on the transparency and accountability of NGOs funded from the EU budget calls for an NGO Regulation that would set up minimum requirements for NGOs, namely clear access to funding, tracking of final beneficiaries, disclosure of financing sources, relations with EU legislative process, and a declaration of independence from political influence.
We call on the Commission to verify the re-allocation of funds and their use by each beneficiary by imposing appropriate reporting and publication requirements (especially when money is passed down a chain and used to fulfil the purposes of other donors). Full financial transparency from the first donor to the final beneficiary will ensure that NGOs are not funded by third-state actors, who act against EU interests while simultaneously benefiting from the EU budget.
We also call for a better definition of NGOs in order to increase the levels of transparency and efficiency. Parliament’s draft report underlines that the term ‘NGO’ is a wide umbrella term under which many different kinds of organisations may fall.
All applicants or beneficiaries of EU funding, including NGOs, should annually publish the number of lobbying contacts, and all meetings with MEPs, MEPs’ assistants or representatives of other EU institutions (in line with similar obligations for MEPs).
Parliament’s draft report proposes to create a public blacklist of NGOs to ensure that NGOs that have engaged in activities, such as hate speech, incitement to terrorism, religious extremism, supporting or glorifying violence or spreading untenable scientific statements or that have misused or misappropriated EU funds are blocked from access to EU institutions and EU funding programmes.
The report also calls on the European Court of Auditors (ECA) to draw up a special report investigating the internal democratic structures of NGOs, the direct and indirect inflows and outflows of EU and other funds.
It calls for the publication of information about EU grants awarded to NGOs no later than six months after receipt (currently there is a delay between 6 and 18 months).
Additionally, it calls upon the Commission to enhance the access status of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), with the expectation that the development of the monitoring system will make it easier to identify, name and investigate organisations guilty of misconduct, and impose appropriate sanctions.
NGOs are a crucial part of our democracies, as clearly stated in the draft report. The EPP Group believes that volunteer and civil society organisations deserve the utmost respect and gratitude for the daily work they do in helping others in our society. The report, among others, commends the crucial role of NGOs inside and outside the EU in defending the rule of law and promoting of respect for human rights and democracy.
However, the EPP Group also believes that we need transparent rules on EU funding for all organisations connected to the legislative process. The EPP Group is convinced that public transparency is as vital for NGOs, as the need to showcase their valuable work and to recognise and build their credibility. The EPP Group is not against organisations that play by the rules and do extremely useful, valuable work for our society. We are fighting against those who are not transparent, with shady financing and who participate in illegal activities.
As shown through our longstanding support of small and medium-sized enterprises, the EPP Group has always advocated for the interests of smaller interest groups at the EU level. By calling on the Commission to propose an NGO Regulation, the EPP Group is also calling for the harmonisation of transparency and accountability rules, thus creating a solid legal framework from which NGOs will ultimately benefit. To guarantee easier monitoring of the fulfilment of obligations, especially for smaller NGOs, the EPP Group calls on the Commission to ensure that reporting obligations at the EU and national levels are consistent. The EPP Group also calls for the harmonisation of the different grant platforms, so that NGOs won’t have to use different platforms in the future while applying for EU funding, thus reducing bureaucracy.