EU Agenda

The last decade has seen a considerable increase in legislative and policy activity at the European level, with membership of the European Union (EU) steadily expanding. Member States are implementing an unprecedented amount of European directives (legislation that requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving it) which overrides their own national laws. The powers of the European Parliament have steadily expanded since the 1985 Single European Act. It is now as important as the Council of the European Union, the principal decision-making institution of the EU in the legislative process. At the end of 2009 the Lisbon Treaty finally came into effect meaning legislation would be extended to affect virtually all areas of EU policy. The treaty also contains a clause requiring all EU institutions to conduct a ‘transparent and continuous dialogue with civil society’.  Before the general election David Cameron publically voiced anti EU legislation sentiments, a stark contrast to the pro European integration rhetoric by the Liberal Democrats.  The Coalition government has however found some middle ground. While Cameron has stated Britain will be a “positive participant” in the EU, the coalition parties have agreed that they will remain out of the eurozone, ensure that no further authority be given to the EU during their mandate and put any EU treaty change to a referendum.

What are the implications?

  • Increasing amounts of influence and strategic direction from the EU, regardless of the fact that national governments have the freedom to adapt directives to their own situations and cultures.
  • Further increases in migration as formal, cultural and social boundaries are broken down between Member States, particularly as the number of member states increases.
  • European politics is likely to become an issue that is increasingly on the UK political agenda and the public’s mind, often fuelled and directed by the increasing focus of the media on Europe and its power to bypass and reach those who don’t engage in formal politics.
  • It is a political issue likely to strain the coalition government, not just between the two parties - who had significantly opposing EU attitudes pre-election - but from within the Conservative party as well where many Eurosceptic MPs are unhappy with the government's current pragmatic approach to existing legislation.
  • Level of control from the EU may provoke a rise in patriotic, anti-European and xenophobic attitudes which may lead to a rise in anti-European and extreme right parties.
  • This may further exacerbate already hostile attitudes towards immigrants.
  • Declining engagement in European politics as even fewer members of the public want to get involved with or understand European politics other than at a national level.
  • As more legislation comes from Europe, this may further lower levels of engagement in formal politics in the UK as well.
  • A risk that VCOs will become even further removed from the decision-making process if they do not engage with or understand the structures and procedures of Europe.
  • A possible increase in funding from European sources impacting on levels and sources of income to the VCS.
  • Increased burdens for VCOs applying for European funding as EU funding tends to follow very technical and bureaucratic EU rules, though the majority of EU funds are managed at national or regional level.
  • This may have an impact on procurement practice as European directives have increasing control over the commissioning and procurement of services in the UK.
  • An increase in single issue politics as NGOs working at a European level increasingly play a role in this type of political activity.
  • An increase in international campaigns and movements as new connections are facilitated across international boundaries as a result of new forms of participation and the internet.

Moving forward

One way of bridging the European ‘democratic deficit’ can be non-parliamentary action. As the increase in international campaigns and movements has shown, there is great potential for the voluntary and community sector to fill this gap.

  • Does your organisation engage at the European level? For example, are you a member of a European network, do you have contact with your MEPs or organisations doing similar work in Europe?
  • Do you know to what extent your organisation’s future services and campaigns might be influenced by European politics?

Keeping up to date with EU directives that might affect your organisation can be difficult and time consuming.

  • Can you collaborate with other organisations to share the load?

Further expansion of the EU may bring about new sources of funding that your organisation could tap into.

  • Do you know where you can go to find out about these sources?
  • Do they match your strategic priorities?

A rise in xenophobic and anti-European feeling may particularly affect already marginalised groups from Europe, some of whom may be newly arrived immigrants with minimal support and resources.

  • Could your organisation support these groups by taking on a stronger campaigning and advocacy role?
  • How can your organisation promote a more positive portrayal and understanding of European issues in both the press and the public?

Want to know more?

Why bother with Brussels?

Published by: NCVO

Date: Ongoing

Format: Web pages and PDFs

What is it? A bank of resources aimed at making the EU understandable for VCOs

How useful is this?  Ranging from useful contacts to documents outlining EU procedures, methods of engagement, and links to other supporting bodies, these pages offer a useful resource for any VCO or individual who wants to know more about the EU, how to access it, and the positive and negative impacts it could have on your organisation.

Other comments:

Third Sector research across Europe

Published by: Euclid Network

Date: Ongoing

Format: Web pages and PDFs

What is it? A large selection of research based resources relating to the third sector and civil society within Europe. The majority have been written by the Euclid Network or by members of the Network; a community of civil society leaders attempting to strengthen and innovate ties within the sector across European borders.

How useful is this?  These resources provide a large selection of potentially useful guidance, which include introductions to European funding sources, advice on organisational management, leadership and transparency across European borders to a guide on the Lisbon Treaty and how it will impact on the Third Sector.

Other comments: There is a brief summary of each resource available before you download the entire PDF, and you can refine resources by category as well as search for individual words or phrases.

European Union

Published by: The Guardian

Date: Ongoing

Format: Web

What is it? A specialised section of the Guardian website focusing on all issues regarding the European Union. It consists of articles, blog pieces, public discussions and useful links.

How useful is this?  While not primarily focused on the VCS this dedicated section provides a very useful focal point for UK based EU agenda based news and information.

Other comments:

Last updated at 14:32 Fri 25/Mar/11.

Discuss

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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