What does Europe mean for us? Reform and Renewal

Oliver Henman was Head of Partnerships & International at NCVO, and blogged about civil society around the world. Oliver left NCVO in July 2014 but his posts have been kept here for reference.

Today I’m on my way to launch our manifesto, Towards a More Open Europe, for the European elections with a range of local partners in Birmingham – a new European Parliament will be elected on 22 May that will have a wider role in accountability, including the power to decide on the head of the European Commission for the first time.

There is a growing debate around the impact of EU decisions and the way that choices are made so we’ve been asking our members and partners to tell us: “what does the EU mean for you?” This coincided with the European Year of Citizens 2013 and was linked into a wider dialogue with civil society hosted by the EU-wide Alliance.


We’ve brought together our recommendations based on members’ views, under three headings…

1. Renewal of EU funding priorities to reflect the needs of citizens

There is still a significant EU budget available to support jobs and growth. The EU should aim to prioritise the most pressing needs of citizens, and focus on employing people who have been left behind in recent years, including young people and those facing economic disadvantage.

We believe that EU funds must continue to reach local communities and respond to their needs. We are glad to see that 20% of ESF in England will likely be allocated to social inclusion. We’ll carry on working closely with LEPs and local partners to ensure that the opportunities from European Structural & Investment Funds are widely available to the voluntary sector.

For all our recommendations on the EU funds, see my earlier blog post.

2. Reduction in regulation and bureaucratic procedures

Many organisations have also been telling us about the bureaucratic hurdles they face. We’ve had extensive discussions about how to loosen up EU rules to allow for more flexible contracting that responds to social value.

We understand that the new EU procurement rules should allow for much greater flexibility. In particular the new ‘Light Touch Regime’ should allow for more flexibility for social service contracts under €750,000. This should mean greater discretion and more opportunities for innovation by commissioners – but much will depend on how effectively changes are implemented by the UK Government and provision of training and support so that commissioners are confident in using the new rules. We will be working closely with members across the country to help you make the most of this new approach.

For more detail on this area, see Paul Winyard’s latest blog post.

3. Reform of the EU’s Institutions

Our members want the EU to be more accountable to citizens and reflect the needs of people on the ground.

We would like to build our relationships with the European Parliament and ensure that MEPs are responding to local community needs. This includes a specific Intergroup for Civil Society & Volunteering, more efficient use of resources, scrapping the second seat in Strasbourg and providing more information online.

We are particularly keen to see better use of the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC), as a space for citizens and civil society to be heard. This committee should play a much bigger role in making the EU more open, as it has a unique role in bringing together representatives from business, trade unions, charities and wider civil society. However the committee is sometimes seen as distant and slow moving. We would like the committee’s membership to be reviewed, much more information made freely available online and a transparent system for selecting representatives.

A strong desire for major change

So we have highlighted a number of major challenges but we have also attempted to set out some practical solutions to ensure the needs of local communities are properly reflected in EU priorities.

These challenges require us to work together with our MEPs and at times to mobilise cross-border responses. We are starting that dialogue in Birmingham today but we aim to work with you in the coming year on the objectives for the new Parliament and new Commission.

This is the start of a new cycle, let’s work together to deliver a more open citizen-led Europe.

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