Europe’s recovery after the pandemic and civil society

Letter co-signed by Social Platform, initiated by Civil Society Europe on the occasion of the 19 June 2020 European Council meeting

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on both personal daily life and to how our economies and societies work across Europe. Many have lost loved ones, there have been severe economic as well as social consequences. Unemployment has risen, participation in social life has decreased, there have been restrictions in access to education, social and health services, culture or even to our basic rights. Civil society organisations together with volunteers have been able to react swiftly and in the most flexible way to the pandemic and have engaged in solidarity actions supporting and, at times, even replacing public institutions.

In a Post Covid 19 Europe that, as stated by the European Commission, will face a large increase in unemployment, hardship and inequality, continuing to support the existence of a strong civil society is critical.

While we welcome the proposal for a European Recovery Plan to support and boost our societies in the aftermath of the pandemic, we deeply regret that the Plan does not acknowledge and address the needs of the civil society sector as part of the Plan’s identified priorities and response measures. We regret in this context that the initiative was not supported by a needs and impact assessment on fundamental rights and democracy, and that no consultation with the civil society sector has been carried out in preparation of this Plan. Yet, civil society actors, given their concrete engagement and knowledge of the situation on the ground, could have provided useful input to devise some creative solutions to pressing challenges despite time and public health restrictions.

We are calling on the Presidents of the European Institutions and the future EU German Presidency to:

  • Ensure the recovery is rights-based: Implement a rights-based approach to the recovery, focusing on ensuring full access to rights in the long-term, rather than addressing short-term needs. Strengthen the place human rights occupy in our societies, starting by giving a more central focus to the equal enjoyment of social, economic, and cultural rights, as well as civil and political.
  • Ensure that the proposed recovery measures that will be implemented as part of the Recovery Plan also duly take into account the urgency of supporting the civil society sector and not just the for profit economic sectors and addressing pressing challenges to democracy and fundamental rights. This should include making sure that support to governments is used to maintain and reinforce public funding to NGOs for both service delivery and advocacy work. Also eligibility criteria of the calls for the new instruments should explicitly include not for profit organisations as eligible funding recipients.
  • Ensure that relevant funding programmes within the future MFF, and in particular within sub heading 7 of Cohesion and Values, are allocated an adequate budget envelope. This would require, at the very least, that the European Commission reverses its decision to lower the – already insufficient – budget envelope allocated to the different programmes in its proposal, and revise it up instead, in line with the figures proposed by the European Parliament in the context of the programme’s negotiations with the Council. This funding should be targeted to benefit civil society organizations which work to promote and realise EU values at national and local level, supporting their work beyond short-term project grants.
  • Establish a dialogue with civil society organisations in the context of the implementation of the Recovery Plan and the negotiations of the future MFF.

Read the full letter here.