On November 27, 2012, the European Court of Justice ruled on an NGO Monitor petition concerning the EU’s lack of transparency in its NGO funding practices. The court found that the EU did not provide documents requested by NGO Monitor in a timely fashion, and that this “must be regarded as an implicit decision to refuse access.” However, it also upheld the denial of access, essentially permitting the EU to hide its NGO decision making from the public.

Background

The European Union funnels tens of millions of taxpayer euros to political advocacy NGOs every year. Many of these groups engage in campaigns and activities that are entirely inconsistent with declared European foreign policy; the activities include BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions), “one state” proposals, anti-normalization with Israel campaigns, and abusing the courts through frivolous “war crimes” cases. Not only do these activities contradict European policies, but they promote conflict and violence.

Moreover, the available evidence suggests that the EU has been unethically seeking to manipulate Israeli democracy by funding political advocacy NGOs such as Adalah, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Mossawa, Machsom Watch, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), and Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI). Due to EU secrecy, the only available non-censored document is a leaked protocol from a meeting on NGO funding from 1999. This shows an explicit and concerted plan to support NGOs in an effort to manipulate Israeli voting patterns.

For the past decade, NGO Monitor has attempted to systematically track this funding, to allow European taxpayers, officials, Israelis, and Palestinians to independently evaluate and respond. As part of that process, in 2008, NGO Monitor submitted a detailed request to the EU, asking for documents related to this funding (under the EU’s Freedom of Information Law – FOI). After delaying compliance with the law for more than six months, the EU provided NGO Monitor with documents that were heavily redacted and whited out, essentially covering up all relevant information under the purported rationale of national security and proprietary interests. 

Under the procedure mandated by the FOI law, NGO Monitor, represented by Asserson Law Offices, next turned to the European Court of Justice seeking compliance. The NGO Monitor petition noted that the EU was blocking independent evaluation of its NGO funding decisions, and preventing the public from knowing whether its practices are consistent with due process of law. In its response to the court, the European Commission admitted that officials had censored the meaningful details, including “the conclusions of the monitoring” and “the conclusions of the audit[s],” as well as “additional remarks” made by evaluators. The court also found that the EU did not provide the documents in a timely fashion, and that this ‘must be regarded as an implicit decision to refuse access.”

In direction contradiction, however, the court upheld the denial of access, and issued a decision without taking evidence or conducting hearings on NGO Monitor’s petition, nor providing NGO Monitor an opportunity to appear before the Court. This procedure is highly irregular, and highlights the degree to which the EU fears public release of the protocols for NGO funding decisions.

NGO Monitor’s case was covered this week by the JTA (also appeared in Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel) and in Ha’aretz (Hebrew) and Algemeiner. As a result, the issues related to the EU’s secret and massive NGO funding, and the sharp contradiction between declared democratic principles and practice, have been emphasized, which will accelerate policy changes.

Although this decision allows the EU to continue to hide its NGO decision making from the public, NGO Monitor will continue to demand that foreign governments operate transparently in their NGO funding, and “name and shame” those that insist on violating the very democracy and human rights norms that they claim to promote.