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Relations between the EU and Israel received an upgrade last week. In Luxembourg, a decision was taken by the EU’s 27-member states to  “elevate our [EU] relations to a new level of more intense, more fruitful, more influential cooperation,” according to Slovenian foreign minister Dimitrij Rupe whose country holds the EU presidency.

Despite these positive developments, there is an aspect of this relationship that if not properly dealt with, could strain EU-Israeli ties. And the reasons for this should be of serious concern for Bulgarians worried about the transparency and accountability of EU institutions.

The issue is over EU-funding of Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Every year, the EU provides tens of millions of Euros to various NGOs ostensibly to promote “peace”, “democracy”, and “reconciliation”. However, according to NGO Monitor, many of these NGOs use EU funds to promote Palestinian rejectionism, deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and for other campaigns of deligitimisation.

Most notable is the campaign of “Boycotts Divestment and Sanctions”, which receives support from Christian Aid, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ)- all EU-funded NGOs. In this regard, the EU actually funds groups, which undermine their official policies.

But what upsets Israelis the most is the opaque nature of the funding process. Despite a  ?23 million budget for 2007, the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) does not identify the names of its Palestinian partner NGOs. Similarly AIDCO, which manages the “Partnership for Peace” programme, does not require its grant-recipients to identify the names of NGOs it provides EU monies to. Evaluations of EU-funded projects are also kept secret.

This is both a normative problem for the EU, which has emphasised the importance of transparency in government, and a practical issue that impedes oversight and an informed critical examination of performance indicators. The European Ombudsman seems to agree, and issued a strongly worded statement in June criticising the Commission for withholding documents from public scrutiny.

Ensuring that this issue does not become a thorn in the flowering EU-Israel relationship is critical. Bulgarian citizens and parliamentarians, regardless of their view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, have an important role to play. Demanding information from the European Commission on how public funds are spent, and asking whether they actually contribute to peace will demonstrate to the Israeli public that Europe is serious about using civil society to further strengthen this important strategic relationship.

Daniel Fink
Deputy Director of Government Affairs for NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based NGO watchdog group.