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Apr 10, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

Is the European Union carrying out an NGO crackdown?

Members of the European Parliament are so worried about the activities of certain foreign-funded NGOs that they’re calling for the EU to cut public funding for NGOs "demonstrably disseminating untruths". Others question "democratic legitimacy" of NGOs.

I learned something fascinating this week. Some members of the European Parliament are so worried about the activities of certain foreign-funded NGOs that they’re “calling for the EU to cut public funding for NGOs ‘demonstrably disseminating untruths’ or campaigning for ‘objectives [that are] contrary to the fundamental values of the European Union.’”

Yes, apparently, it’s true. And it’s particularly interesting given the reaction to Hungary’s call for the same thing – legislation to require greater transparency for NGOs that receive foreign funding.

When we announced plans to increase the transparency requirements of foreign-funded NGOs – yes, many are George Soros grantees – we were accused of carrying out a crackdown on NGOs. A crackdown! The government of Hungary, according to an article published last week by POLITICO Europe, has taken a “hardline position on NGOs” and has “harassed” civic organizations. The authors recently circulated an open letter under the dramatic banner, “No to NGO Crackdown in Hungary”, and got a couple of Brussels think tanks to sign on.

It all sounded so convincing.

Then I read the fascinating story, also published in a lengthy article in POLITICO last week, of the “Mystic money man behind Brussels activists - European Parliament casts a critical eye on where NGOs get their money.”

It seems that a Syrian-Lebanese businessman named Ayman Jallad is “carrying out a crusade against the European Commission”. As the manager of the Isvara Foundation, he provides “an important source of funding for some of the loudest critics in Brussels” – NGOs like Corporate Europe Observatory and Friends of the Earth. This businessman, according to the article, is concerned about the “undue influence of industry in Brussels.”

Apparently, Mr. Jallad has caught the attention of certain members of the European Parliament, who are very, very concerned.

Recently, the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee considered a proposal “calling for the EU to cut public funding for NGOs ‘demonstrably disseminating untruths’ or campaigning for ‘objectives [that are] contrary to the fundamental values of the European Union.’”

“It’s legitimate to have sources of funding from rich individuals who have convictions,” said Green MEP Sven Giegold, “but it should be transparent.”

The Green MEP backed a proposal in the European Parliament that would oblige NGOs on the EU’s transparency register to disclose who their donors are.

Critics of the NGOs have even gone so far as to claim that certain civil society groups distort public debate “with dubious arguments, often fake figures and by fear-mongering tactics,” which “raises broad questions over their democratic legitimacy and representativeness”.

NGOs with dubious arguments and fear-mongering tactics, raising questions over their democratic legitimacy!

Those are harsh words about NGOs. I grew worried that Brussels institutions are plotting an NGO crackdown.

But, no, of course not. It’s not a crackdown, if it’s about some Syrian-Lebanese businessman carrying out a crusade against the European commission. That’s about NGO transparency and proper disclosure of foreign funding.

But if it’s Hungary and Prime Minister Orbán and NGOs receiving foreign funding, including from George Soros? That’s an NGO crackdown.