State Secrecy: Analyzing the EUs Suppression of NGO Funding Information
- The European Union has consistently refused to release significant information related to its funding for NGOs involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
- The EU’s lack of transparency was highlighted in its response to NGO Monitor’s Freedom of Information (FOI) request regarding the Israeli NGO known as Coalition of women for Peace, an organization that has not demonstrated necessary competence to execute EU projects and advance EU objectives.
- CWP is a leader in boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns. CWP initiated “Who Profits,” a project that has been instrumental in international BDS activities, including in the Netherlands and Norway.
- CWP officials have been photographed holding a flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an EU-recognized terrorist organization responsible for numerous attacks against civilians.
- In response to NGO Monitor’s FOI request, and similarly to previous requests, the European Commission provided incomplete and severely redacted documentation.
- Per EC regulations, NGO Monitor appealed the decision to the Secretary General of the European Commission.
- The SG’s response was sent 12 months after the original request, far exceeding the allocated time-frame for replies.
- The EU’s continued non-transparent responses impede critical debate, violate the EC Freedom of Information policy, and highlight the intense effort to prevent independent investigation and critique of potentially unaccountable and counterproductive EC activity.
- Moreover, as described below, the justifications employed by the EC lack merit.
NGO Monitor’s Freedom of Information Requests
- On January 30, 2013, pursuant of Regulation (EC) No. 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council, NGO Monitor submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request related to EC grants to the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP).
- For the years 2011-2014, CWP received EU funds through two grants:
- A European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) grant (€247,668) for a project on “Empowering Women, Building Peace.”
- A Partnership for Peace (PfP) grant (€355,130) for “Addressing fear: strengthening the nonviolent alternative.”
- In order to evaluate CWP’s execution of these funded projects and to understand the underlying premises of the selection, NGO Monitor requested the following documents:
- Copies of protocols from European Commission meetings related to funding decisions for grants to Coalition of Women for Peace, in particular documents regarding meetings of the Selection Committees and their recommendations, the meetings to make final awards, and any other relevant sessions.
- A copy of the “scores” and “grades.”
- A copy of the reports from the audits and evaluations of these projects.
- On April 23, 2013 the EC provided four marginal and redacted documents that provide no insight into the decision-making process, but rather highlight a lack of transparency in the European Commission (Appendix A).
- Written assessments regarding the relevance, quality, efficiency, impact, and sustainability of the projects were completely redacted.
- Additionally, the scores and grading from the evaluation sheets were concealed, making it impossible to understand the quantitative assessment of the projects.
- The European Commission did not provide the requested minutes of meetings.
- On May 13, 2013, per the recommendation of the previous EU Ambassador to Israel, NGO Monitor asked the Secretary General of the European Commission to review the EC’s decision to withhold requested information.
- On May 19, 2014, (one year after the initial request) the Secretary General provided an official response, repeating the justifications of the original refusal and confirming the Commission’s decision to conceal certain information. The year-long response time is a clear violation of regulation 1049/2001, requiring a response within 30 days.
Secretary General’s arguments in support of non-transparency
1. Protection of the privacy and the integrity of the individual (Article 4(3) of Regulation 1049/2001)
- The Secretary General stated: “There are clear risks to the privacy and integrity of the evaluation committee members if their personal data would be released. Indeed this would subject the evaluation committee members, which are likely to be called upon to assess other tender proposals in the future to unsolicited contacts and pressure from the outside, including from unsuccessful or future grant applicants.”
- The decision to not disclose the names of the individuals involved in the evaluations and audits for CWP is inconsistent with previous EC disclosures.
- For instance, in a 2010 evaluation report, “Result Oriented Monitoring (ROM) for European Neighbourhood Countries,” which also focused on EC funded projects in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the EC did publish the names of the individuals involved in the report.
- Additionally, NGO Monitor has located many other evaluations and audits, publicly available on EU websites, where evaluator names and the names of external audit companies and monitors were provided. Many of these public audits and evaluations relate to NGO funding in extremely violent conflict zones or highly repressive societies, such as Congo, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iran, Morocco, Uganda, and Rwanda. (See NGO Monitor’s report on EU secrecy for more details)
- The decision limited solely to disclosure of the names of evaluation committee members could be disclosed in no way negates the obligation of the EU to provide the remaining content on the requested documents. At the very least, the Commission could have redacted out the personal information, even though it does not apply that policy to documents relating to any other conflict region.
- This arbitrary and inconsistent release of information indicates an attempt to prevent independent criticism and scrutiny of EU funding.
2. Protection of Commercial Interests (Article 4(2) of Regulation 1049/2001)
Secretary General: “There is a presumption that release of these parts of the documents, which reflect the respective merits of the grant applicants as assessed by the evaluation committee, would prejudice the commercial interest of these grant applicants.”
- The Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) is registered as an Israeli non-profit organization. It is not involved in EU tenders or profit-based projects, but rather in projects ostensibly relating to human rights and public benefit. Thus, discussing “commercial interests” in the context of CWP is incongruous.
3. Protection of the Decision making process (Article 4(3) of Regulation 1049/2001)
Secretary General: “I conclude that the requested documents cannot be disclosed to you pursuant to article 4(3)…disclosure would seriously undermine the decision-making process with regard to ongoing and future grant procedures protected by that provision.”
- The Secretary General claims that releasing information would undermine the decision-making process of grant procedures. However, this is precisely the issue NGO Monitor has been attempting to assess, a question that can only be clarified by independently reviewing those documents.
- The EC’s partnership with an organization such as CWP demonstrates that decision-making processes within the EU lack certain competence. No evidence exists of CWP’s expertise, experience, and capacity to achieve the stated objectives of the grants. On the contrary, the available evidence suggests that the funds will be used to promote the hatred and demonization that fuel the conflict.
- The evidence suggests that EC officials involved in approving these grants either lacked the expertise to assess the NGO applicants or chose to ignore the available information on CWP’s activities and rhetoric.
4. Existence of Public Interest
Secretary General: “I note that you have not put forward any arguments demonstrating the existence of an overriding public interest in disclosure. Nor have I been able to identify any elements capable of demonstrating the existence of an overriding public interest in disclosure of the refused parts of the document.”
- As described above, CWP is involved in highly contentious and obstructive activities in Israel. As such, stakeholders (EU and Israeli citizens) have the right to comprehensive access to information in order to assess if the European Union, through its support and funding for CWP, has enabled these activities.
- EU citizens, as financiers of EU projects, have the right to know if their taxpayer money is being used in accordance with EU policy. If research suggests the contrary, taxpayers should be able to avail themselves of the EU’s transparency mechanisms without hindrance and independently evaluate EU activities.
- Israeli citizens, who are directly impacted by EU-funded projects, need to be reassured that EU funding is used in the context of promoting peace and a two-state solution, and not as a tool to undermine Israeli policy or exacerbate the conflict.
- One of CWP’s core activities has been to undermine EU-Israel relations, through the implementation of boycott, sanction, and divestment (BDS) campaigns against Israel and by harassing and causing economic harm to businesses. European taxpayers and Israeli citizens have a right to know if European funding is directly responsible for causing economic damage to European and/or Israeli businesses, and harming mutually beneficial economic cooperation between Israel and the EU, including investments and trade agreements. In this respect, funding for BDS activists could directly violate international agreements between the EU and Israel.
The European Commission
- Does not perform sufficient due diligence before deciding to award grants to political advocacy NGOs.
- Does not properly monitor and evaluate EU-funded projects.
- By responding to NGO Monitor’s FOI request 12 months after the submission, failed to act in accordance with EU principles of good governance.
- Has not provided substantive argumentation for its decision to withhold documentation and key information from the public.
- Is attempting to prevent independent stakeholders from performing evaluations of taxpayer funded projects.