Philanthropic and civil society organizations are of great importance to all European member states, but unfortunately there are still a lot of obstacles impeding this sector of reaching its full potential. On Wednesday 16 January 2019, YouthProAktiv attended the public hearing on European Philanthropy: An Untapped Potential organized by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), which explored how the landscape of European philanthropy should move forward in the future and how the EU could help promote and strengthen this sector. Among the participants were representatives from numerous civil society organizations as well as members of the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee, who were all granted the opportunity to share their opinions and expertise.
The hearing was moderated by the Romanian President of the Study Group on “European Philanthropy: an untapped potential”, Ionut Sibian, who presided over the panel, consisting of four experts: Kerstin Jorna, Deputy Director General of the DG ECFIN, European Commission; Ludwig Forrest, Expert for the Study Group on “European Philanthropy: an untapped potential” and Philanthropy Advisor; Delphine Heenen, Director of the public interest Foundation KickCancer; and Edilia Ganz, Director of FEDORA.
Mr Sibian opened the hearing by stressing the significance of philanthropic organizations in the EU. The Member States of the EU host over 147.000 organizations, whose financial commitments are estimated at roughly € 87 billion, which exceeds the revenue budget of fifteen Member States. Civil societies are furthermore of indispensable importance since they address niche issues that states do not and can find creative solutions for certain problems such as youth unemployment. Recent phenomena, in particular cuts to public funding and the absence of a legal framework, have nevertheless made it very difficult for philanthropic organizations to perform effectively. Mr Sibian therefore recommended that the EU should prioritize three main issues. The first priority should be the recognition of philanthropic organizations in European legal frameworks, which focuses on guaranteeing that their activities have an equal status to those of economic and capital ventures. A very important example of this discrepancy between the two sectors is that despite the free flow of capital in the EU, it is still nearly impossible to fund philanthropic activities across borders. The second priority targets the funds that the EU makes available for philanthropic organizations. According to Mr Sibian, these funds need to increase drastically and should operate under a separate budget line post-2020. Moreover, financial tools should be made available to facilitate these funds since they benefit every EU citizen. In this regard, the European Values Instrument can be an important tool as it enables EU citizens to promote democratic values and make private funds available for public needs. As a third priority, the EU should invest in a digital platform that would make it easier for stakeholders to find the necessary means.
As the first panellist to take the floor, Ms Jorna focused on the reasons why a strong partnership between philanthropic organizations and governments is now more important than ever. As polarization is growing around the world, including in the EU, it is imperative that the growing divide between policy makers and citizens is closed. Civil society organizations are the perfect intermediary to help bridge this gap and to encourage active citizenship since they have a clearer view of the hopes and dreams of citizens. Moreover, these two sectors complement each other very well since philanthropic organizations can work more locally and then extend their scope, while governments remain in charge on a macro level.
This complementarity between the public sector and civil societies quickly became one of the main recurring themes throughout the public hearing. Mr Forrest emphasized that a crucial reason why we need civil society organizations is their ability to take risks and fail. A philanthropic organization has the possibility of learning valuable lessons on a small scale and then taking these into consideration once they expand more, something a government is not capable of without enormous collateral damage. By sharing her personal experiences, Ms Heenen for her part showcased why there is still a pressing need for philanthropic organizations in several sectors who are otherwise overlooked. Ms Edilia credited the importance of a partnership between the EU and civil society organizations to the credibility that EU funds give to private funds. As the first recipient of Transnational Giving by Creative Europe, she furthermore acknowledged the problems her organization faces with the impossibility of cross-border funding.
In his closing remarks Petru Dandea, the Rapporteur of the Study Group on “European Philanthropy: an untapped potential”, thanked all the panellists and attendees for their remarks and suggestions, which will be taken into account in the drafting of the document. These interesting topics included, amongst the ones already mentioned, the difficulty of implementing tax harmonization, a Single Market for EU Social Philanthropy, philanthropic selfishness, and the responsibility of welfare states to fund. The EESC is currently drawing up a comprehensive and strong policy proposal regarding EU Philanthropy that should be ready for voting by the March plenary session. As a civil society organization, YouthProAktiv strongly encourages such a policy proposal since our work would not be possible without a strong legal framework, available funds and the motivation of civilians. We are therefore excited about what was discussed in this public hearing and look forward to the final document in March.