• On October 11, 2010, in the European Parliament the Finnish MEP Sari Essayah asked the European Commission (EC) to provide information about funding for NGOs in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
  • The questions focused on lack of transparency and accountability in EC funding processes for political NGOs.
  • On November 5, 2010, Commissioner Andris Pielbags answered on behalf of the EC, but did not provide substantive information regarding the main elements of MEP Essayah’s question.
  • Commissioner Pielbags did not provide clear information on how grant beneficiaries are monitored.
  • Numerous examples demonstrate that MEP Essayah’s concerns about the selection and lack of evaluation of EC projects are well-founded.

Overview of MEP Essayah’s written question to the Commission

Finnish Member of European Parliament (MEP) Sari Essayah raised serious concerns about the political NGOs funded by the EU via programs such as Partnership for Peace (PfP), the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the Anna Lindh Foundation (Parliamentary Question, “Public information about the funding provided to third-country NGOs by the EU,” Oct, 11, 2010).

She observed, “Rather than supporting peace and understanding, projects that have received support are fostering bitterness and feeding the conflict, not promoting the aim of peace on the basis of a two-State solution. The recipients of EU funding have included small opposition groups whose aim is to manipulate the political process.”

She also questioned the selection process, noting “The names of the members of the selection board, for example, have not been published, nor have the particular grounds on which applications are selected and approved for support been published.”

MEP Essayah concluded by asking that the Commission enumerate the “urgent measures” it will undertake to resolve two specific issues:

1. Transparency:  MEP Essayah asked that “the Commission commit to render completely public the selection process and case-by-case selection criteria for awarding funding from EU programs to third-country NGOs and their projects.

2. Accountability: The MEP requests “an account of how the success of the organizations and projects receiving funding is monitored externally . . . and how these assessments are published.”

Analysis of Commissioner Andris Pielbags’ response

European Commissioner for Development, Andris Pielbags published a response on November 5, 2010, but did not provide sufficient answers.

Ad 1: On Transparency:
Commissioner Pielbags asserted that that projects are “selected and managed in a transparent manner” and  mentioned that “proposals guidelines are published on the web and include a clear set of evaluation criteria.”  However, Essayah’s question was not about the general rules for selection, but rather about transparency in the decision-making process.

Ad 2: On Accountability:
Commissioner Pielbags described an elaborate monitoring system: “External monitoring, monitoring by Delegations, regular contact with beneficiaries, formal and comprehensive reporting mechanisms, etc. aiming to determine how the project’s objectives have been attained and to make sure that EU funding is used to reach the agreed objectives in line with the provisions of the grant agreement.”  However he then explained that these mechanisms of oversight are limited to “focusing largely on projects bigger than those usually funded under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) or partnership for peace.”

The Commissioner added, “In any case, any external monitoring could not substitute for the complete set of monitoring and control functions that remain a public authority task applied by the Commission to all contracts.”

As with MEP Essayah’s query on the transparency of the selection process, here Commissioner Pielbags did not provide clear information on how grant beneficiaries are monitored, if at all.

He further claimed, “The complete set of all the evaluation reports for external actions produced by the Evaluation Unit from 1997 onwards are available online on: http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/how/evaluation/evaluation_reports/index_en.htm.”

However, the link does not work. Queries are redirected to http://ec.europa.eu/atoz_en.htm, where no links exist for the key words mentioned in the answer (“evaluation report” or “external actions” or “evaluation unit”).

Analysis of the issues raised in MEP Essayah’s Question and Commissioner Pielbags’ Answer

MEP Essayah’s question addresses “Public information about the funding provided to third-country NGOs by the EU” and makes important observations on the general structure of the grant awarding process. The answer from the Commission does not engage MEP Essayah’s fundamental concerns, namely that “it is suspected that serious problems and misjudgments have occurred as regards the grants awarded.”

NGO Monitor’s analysis and previous publications demonstrate that MEP Essayah’s concerns are well-founded. The lack of transparency surrounding EU funding for NGOs in Israel and the Palestinian Authority is incompatible with democratic standards, such as EU’s Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. Furthermore, EU-funded projects in Israel and the Palestinian authority are being conducted by NGOs that use the rhetoric of human rights to promote a highly biased political agenda.

An example of this phenomenon is the NGO the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which received an EIDHR grant in 2009 of €169.661,00 for a 24-month project entitled “Home Demolitions and the Law.” ICAHD employs rhetoric of demonization: In a publication on “daily atrocities and tragedies suffered by Palestinians and Bedouin under Israeli Occupation” (for distribution to the Israeli public), ICAHD staff referred to “ethnic cleansing”, “state terrorism”, “land theft” and a “massacre.” In addition, since 2005, ICAHD has called for a campaign of boycotts, sanctions and divestments. ICAHD was also involved in the “Free Gaza” flotillas.

Commissioner Pielbags did not in any way address MEP Essayah’s point regarding the Commission’s policy of withholding the names of the members of the selection committee from the public.

Funding secrecy means that it is impossible to determine whether due process was followed in favoring the grant application of particular NGOs, or whether ideological, geographical or personal factors played a decisive role. The pattern of funding over the past decade, in terms of the small number of repeat recipients, suggests possible the favoring of certain political groups in Israeli civil society. The absence of transparency  means that NGOs , which are not democratically elected by either the Israeli or the Palestinian public, are given vast funds, which they in turn use for lobbying the EU. Multiple receivers include radicalized NGOs such as ICHAD, Miftah and PCATI.

Finally, Commissioner Pielbags stated that the EU does not consider moral accountability in the evaluation criteria, declaring, “The Commission, however, does not impose any views on the grant beneficiaries and their partners because support for democracy implies full respect for diversity of opinion and freedom of expression as long as these are in line with fundamental democratic principles.”  This suggests that the Commission exists only to conduct technical evaluations, without ethical responsibility.

MEP Essayah refered to the EU’s practice of directly funding projects which are “fostering bitterness and feeding the conflict” instead of “promoting the aim of peace on the basis of a two-State solution.” MEP Essayah also mentioned the problem of “small fringe groups” receiving funding.

Examples of problematic projects include:

1. Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) (Partnership for Peace grant: €374,174.72). In EU publications, the funded project is called “Monitoring actions and transformations in the Palestinian Territory to develop policies and strategies for conflict management and peace building.” ARIJ uses a more inflammatory title, “Monitoring Israeli Colonizing activities in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza.” Phase III of the project is clearly designed to promote the Palestinian political position by “disseminating information on Israeli colonization by monitoring Israeli colonization activities.”

2. Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) (EIDHR grants, EC Internal No. 98779). The project is called “Awareness Raising and Lobbying against the Death Penalty in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

This NGO has filed numerous applications in European and New Zealand courts to have Israeli officials arrested and sought to impose civil and punitive liability in the US . Using EU funds:

  • In 2008, PCHR held a coordinating conference in Cairo on “Extra-judicial Executions and Prosecution of Israelis Suspected of Committing War Crimes.” One session was devoted to case strategy regarding PCHR’s criminal suit in Spain against seven Israeli officials. Another session presented ways to have Israelis prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.
  • EIDHR’s grant database makes no mention of PCHR as a recipient for this grant.  In 2006, the EU contracted with an independent consortium to audit this program along with 27 other programs funded under EIDHR’s Abolition of the Death Penalty Project.The evaluators found that there was little substantive oversight for these programs and determined that “information gathered from files and interviews with EC staff show weak monitoring by EC staff and poor knowledge of what projects are actually about,particularly at the Brussels level.”  With respect to the PCHR project, the auditors noted that this file “is not held in Brussels and there are few substantive documents held there on file. The only two documents we have are not very helpful . . . It is impossible to make any useful comment on this project without more information.”

3. The NGO Development Center (NDC) is an independent Palestinian organization based in Ramallah. For the 2009-2010 project “Strengthening Good Governance within the Palestinian NGO Sector”, they received an EDIHR grant of €193,242.

NDC “facilitated” and funded the “Palestinian NGO Code of Conduct,” which demands that Palestinian groups reject “any normalization activities with the occupier, neither at the political-security nor the cultural or developmental levels.” NDC also distributed $6 million to 25 NGOs  – on behalf of four European governments – including recipients that employ demonizing rhetoric such as “apartheid,” endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and promote lawfare against Israeli officials.

In none of three cases does the EU provide MEPs or citizens with information on how these projects contribute to peace and promotion of human rights. And no evaluations are published on whether the projects reached their stated goals.