What does Europe mean to you?

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.

Do you think of yourself as a European citizen? What does being part of Europe mean for your organisation and the cause you represent? Is Europe an opportunity or a challenge or does it have no impact on your work?

The European Election on 22 May is an opportunity for us all to think about our relationship with Europe. Over the past year, NCVO has been asking members ‘What does Europe mean to you?’ – here are some of their key responses.

EU For You project

We wanted to uncover different perspectives and to give people a chance to consider how they engage with the EU’s decision-making processes. We aimed to provide forums for dialogue between local organisations and the European Parliament (EP), the EU’s directly elected law-making body.

We worked with our partners, Community Service Volunteers, The Open University and the European Parliament to generate a dialogue with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) around the country.

The events ranged from a community forum in Birmingham, a discussion at the Open University with key academics, to a session at NCVO’s Evolve Conference with voluntary sector experts and delegates.

Read about the events, watch presentations and comments from the delegates in our ‘What does Europe mean to you?’ storify.

Freedom and rights

Our membership of the European Union gives us important freedoms – we can travel, study, live, work and vote anywhere in the EU. Many of our members see a real opportunity for exchange and mutual learning which can improve the quality of our own programmes in this country.

Lots of voluntary organisations provide support for people living or working in different countries. They are often active in delivering social outcomes that may improve the lives of citizens of any European country.

EU policies often have a significant impact on the way we work and on the lives of our beneficiaries. In the UK, procurement and state aid rules affect contracts for public services right down to the local level. Meanwhile, European Structural and Investment Funds provide support for social inclusion in every part of the UK.

Our members also told us that the EU provides useful models for other parts of the world. By establishing key rights and a more sustainable economic balance, the EU can assist in developing parameters that assist other parts of the world to recognise the rights of their citizens.


How easy is it to hold the EU to account and take part in European policy-making? What role could civil society play in this?

Many people agree that the EU can be seen as distant from their everyday lives. Finding a way geographical, cultural and social differences as well as issues of complex technical language can feel a bit like navigating through a maze.

Your views

We’d love to hear from you – leave a comment below

  • What does Europe mean to you?
  • What is a Europe you would like to see?
  • What challenges or opportunities does being part of Europe bring?
  • What does this mean for your organisation and the people you represent?
  • How can NCVO help your work with Europe?
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