The “Europe for Citizens’” program is billed as the European Commission’s effort to engage in dialogue with civil society in order to build popular support and democratic legitimacy for European union. What it really amounts to, says a recent study by Christopher Snowdon, is the European Union funding its own cheerleaders in the non-profit sector:
• The composition of ‘civil society’ at the EU level is largely dictated by which groups the Commission chooses to fund. There has been a bias towards centre-left organisations, with a particular emphasis on those promoting policies that are unpopular with the public, such as increasing foreign aid, restricting lifestyle freedoms and further centralising power within EU institutions.
• The [Eurpopean Commission’s] favoured civil society organisations are also marked by a homogeneous worldview and similarity of jargon. The literature and websites of these groups suffocate the reader with vague rhetoric about ‘stakeholders’, ‘sustainability’, ‘social justice’, ‘capacity building’, ‘fundamental rights’, ‘diversity’, ‘equity’ and ‘active citizenship’.
• Many of the groups which receive the Commission’s patronage would struggle to exist without statutory funding. For example, Women in Europe for a Common Future received an EC grant of €1,219,213 in 2011, with a further €135,247 coming from national governments. This statutory funding made up 93 per cent of its total income while private donations contributed €2,441 (0.2 per cent) and member contributions just €825 (0.06 per cent).
• There is virtually no funding for organisations which seriously question the Commission’s direction of travel. By contrast, groups that favour closer union and greater centralisation are generously funded. The ‘Europe for Citizens’ programme which ‘gives citizens the chance to participate in making Europe more united, to develop a European identity, to foster a sense of ownership of the EU, and to enhance tolerance and mutual understanding’ has a €229 million budget for 2014-20.
The Commission spends vast sums of money encouraging ‘active citizens’ to make their voices heard and yet when the masses are consulted through the democratic process, they are ignored. The only message that has been unambiguously sent from the demos to the Commission in the past 15 years is the one message that it will not act upon – that is, to slow down or reverse the process of political integration. [“Euro Puppets: The European Commission’s Remaking of Civil Society,” by Christopher Snowdon, Institute of Economic Affairs, February 2013]