In 2015, the European Parliament (EP) Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) commissioned a study on “Democratic accountability and budgetary control of non-governmental organisations funded by the EU budget.” This initiative, led by Member of European Parliament Markus Pieper, is part of an important and much needed effort on part of the EP to address the many deep-rooted issues pertaining to EU funding to NGOs. The study was published in January 2017 and affirms many of NGO Monitor’s findings – namely, the absence of a clear and singular definition of an “NGO,” lack of transparency, inconsistency in EU reporting and policy objectives, uneven distribution of funds, interconnectedness among grantees, and insufficient oversight.
Following the publication, CONT held a workshop inviting NGOs to provide comments. NGO Monitor submitted a position paper with recommendations and participated in the workshop. On 16 March, 2017, CONT published a draft for a motion for a European Parliament resolution based on the study’s findings. The draft directly refers to “other studies on the topic of NGO financing, such as the ‘Value for money’ series of reports by NGO Monitor.” Echoing a significant amount of NGO Monitor’s recommendations, the draft calls for the amendment of procurement directives “in such a way that organisations are eligible for funding only if they argue by means of verifiable facts,” and “rejects any funding of organisations which demonstrably disseminate untruths and/or whose objectives are contrary to the fundamental values of the European Union, democracy, human rights and/or strategic commercial and security-policy objectives of the European Union Institutions.” It further “Urges the Commission to impose a requirement that any NGO receiving more than 10 % of its total grant funding (operational and project funding) from the EU be required to advertise this fact by including a logo with the words ‘EU supported’ on its homepage and annual reports.” Finally, the draft “Calls on the Commission to ensure that every EU funding beneficiary, including NGOs either in receipt of or applying for EU funding, be required to publish on an annual basis details of the number and nature of the lobbying contacts it has with the Commission and MEPs.”
After consideration of amendments, the draft will be brought to vote in CONT in 29-30 May, and voted on in the plenary July 2017.
Following the draft’s publication, media coverage in Brussels launched a vibrant public debate on the issue. An article in Euractive reported that “A draft European Parliament report calling on the European Commission to reject funding for NGOs that oppose the ‘strategic commercial and security objectives’ of the EU is creating upheaval among civil society groups.” The article specifically mentioned NGO Monitor, noting that “The campaign for greater transparency and accountability of NGOs is not new. It even has its own advocacy group, called NGO Monitor.” The article quotes NGO Monitor’s overview of European government funding to NGOs, and continues to assert that “[NGO Monitor’s] criticism of ideological bias is echoed in a controversial paragraph in the Pieper report.”
A follow-up article was published in Euractive on 19 April, covering various vehement responses against Pieper’s motion, and including a counter-response from Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP), also a member of the Budget Control Committee. According Euractive, Zdechovský “denied the allegations, claiming that the report is a step in the right direction to ensure that EU money is spent well,” and claimed that “Pieper’s report is focusing on the fact that the EU does not have the mechanisms to know what it is funding.”
The draft was additionally covered in POLITICO’s newsletter “Brussels Influence,” which reported that “the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee had a first discussion of a draft resolution on NGO financing from the EU budget, put together by the EPP’s Markus Pieper.” According to the newsletter, Pieper “expressed his incomprehension that NGOs could be paid by the Commission to lobby the Parliament. ‘I can’t get my head around that sort of thing,’ he said, suggesting that this ran counter to basic constitutional principles.”
Another POLITICO article on NGO funding mentioned the draft report as the mark of “increased scrutiny” of NGO funding in Brussels, “as the European Parliament casts a critical eye on where non-governmental organizations get their money,” noting that “Even MEPs close to the NGO community are advocating for more transparency about funding.”