Promoting the role of voluntary organisations and foundations in Europe
The European Commission is working to encourage and develop the civil dialogue by promoting the role of voluntary organisations and foundations. This dialogue is intended to inform citizens about social policy development and in particular the implementation of measures designed to combat social exclusion and discrimination. In this Communication, the Commission explains the problems and challenges facing voluntary organisations and foundations with a view to encouraging their development at national and European levels, improving their ability to respond to future needs, and maximising their contribution to European integration.
Communication from the Commission of 6 June 1997 on promoting the role of voluntary organisations and foundations in Europe.[COM(1997) 241 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
Civil dialogue may be described as the reciprocal exchange of information between citizens at the grass roots and the European institutions, which facilitates the development of a social policy that is responsive to real needs, from the European level down to the local level, by promoting European citizenship and participation.
The beginnings of a more structured and consistent civil dialogue date back to the Maastricht Treaty, which enshrined Declaration 23 (annexed to the EU Treaty). This declaration stresses the importance of "cooperation between [the European institutions] … and charitable associations and foundations as institutions responsible for welfare establishments and services".
The social economy consists of three sectors:
- mutual societies,
- voluntary organisations.
Among these sectors, the voluntary organisations and foundations are becoming increasingly numerous. In addition, they play an essential role in almost all fields of social activity (sports activities, human rights, development policy, citizens' interests, etc.). They play a part in creating jobs, in demonstrating active citizenship and in the exercise of democracy. Over time they have begun to contribute to European integration. This is why the Commission has mounted an extensive survey in order to learn more about the sector and to identify the problems to be addressed (the results of the survey are contained in Annex 1).
Over the years the voluntary sector and the European institutions have begun to cooperate more closely (the voluntary sector disseminates information to the public and shares its knowledge and experience with the institutions). There is a genuine political will for systematic consultation at European level, both in preparing and in implementing policies, ever since the adoption of Declaration 23.
However, the voluntary sector has had to address fresh problems and challenges linked to the extension of its role. Voluntary organisations trying to develop transnational European activities encounter a series of obstacles such as:
- the difficulty in finding partners in other countries for joint projects;
- the lack of funding at European level;
- late payment of Community financial aid;
- the unrepresentative nature of certain organisations;
- lack of adequate training.
The Commission and the Member States are trying to remedy these problems on an ad hoc basis. The Commission considers it important to put in place a consistent policy and a strategy for this sector. It has put forward a certain number of ideas for examination by the voluntary sector, at both national and European level.
In compliance with the subsidiarity principle, the Commission considers that the bulk of the activities must take place at national or even regional or local level, and proposes in particular:
- learning more about the sector at all levels;
- developing partnerships between the public authorities and the voluntary sector, while ensuring that they remain truly independent;
- developing a clearer legal and tax framework for the voluntary organisations and foundations;
- ensuring that the voluntary sector has adequate training opportunities.
Voluntary organisations and foundations:
The voluntary organisations and foundations should be more open and accessible so that citizens and the public authorities can familiarise themselves with their objectives and working methods.
They should also:
- diversify their sources of funding;
- encourage their personnel to seek training;
- liase more closely with the public authorities and the business community.
The dialogue between the voluntary organisations and institutions and Community bodies should be developed, in particular by the Consultative Committee for Cooperatives, Mutual Societies, Associations and Foundations, which aims to ensure the horizontal consultation and coordination of the sector, but also via the European Social Forum.
Parliament has also proposed creating an observatory to monitor the development of the sector in the single market.
Other actions could also be undertaken in order to:
- improve access to European training programmes for members of voluntary organisations that wish to expand in Europe;
- promote access to certain Community funds;
- create a special fund in order to encourage transnational activities by the voluntary organisations.
The Commission is keen to mount a large-scale dialogue involving the sector, the European institutions, the Member States and other interested parties, in order to scrutinise the proposals set out in this Communication. It plans to organise a series of conferences and seminars to discuss this Communication and the questions it raises.