A group of 14 national umbrella bodies from across Europe has launched an EU manifesto that calls for a European commissioner for civil society.
The Connecting Civil Society manifesto is the first document of its kind and has been drawn up in advance of the European elections in June. It was launched in the UK last Friday at an event attended by candidates from all the major political parties and the Green Party.
Oliver Henman, European and international officer at the NCVO, was part of the international team that drew up the manifesto. He said a commissioner would come with a dedicated directorate-general - the equivalent of a government department - that would function in a similar way to the Office of the Third Sector in the UK.
"A commissioner would be a single point of contact for civil society and a champion for the sector within the commission," he said. Responsibility for sector-related issues was currently fragmented between various directorates-general, he said.
The voluntary sector umbrella bodies are also calling on MEPs to form an 'intergroup' - the equivalent of an all-party group - for civil society. "This would put civil society more firmly on the agenda within the European Parliament," said Henman. Thirty per cent of existing MEPs were standing down at the election, he said, and the new influx might be more open to such new ideas.
The manifesto also calls on the sector across the continent to become more coordinated in its campaigning.
Nathan Farrugia, president of the National Federation of NGOs of Malta, said the most effective way to influence commission policy would be for civil society to be represented by national umbrella bodies, rather than subsector umbrella bodies and NGOs. "In the past there have often been too many rungs on the ladder," he said. "Representation needs to be as close as possible to the highest level."
Maltese MEPs seemed sympathetic to civil society's concerns, he said. "But how much they are doing it for their own political gain is a tricky question," he added.
THE EUROPEAN MANIFESTO
Developed by the 14 members of the European Network of National Associations, the manifesto also calls for:
- More accessible funding and procurement guidelines
- Recognition of the different legal definitions of NGOs across the EU
- A 'European Compact' setting out how EU institutions should engage with the sector