27 October 2020

European Commission presents 2021 Programme – what’s in it for philanthropy?

2021 Work Programme of the EU adopted

This week the European Commission adopted its 2021 Work Programme, designed to make Europe healthier, fairer and more prosperous, while accelerating its long-term transformation into a greener economy, fit for the digital age. It contains new legislative initiatives across all six headline ambitions of President von der Leyen’s Political Guidelines and follows her first State of the Union Speech.

·      A European Green Deal

·      A Europe fit for the digital age

·      An economy that works for people

·      A stronger Europe in the world

·      Promoting our European way of life

·      A new push for European democracy 

What is in the Work Programme for philanthropy?

The European Commission reiterated that Europe, in the context of the current crisis, can act fast when it needs, show real solidarity when it must, and bring about collective change when it wants. The outbreak of coronavirus has demonstrated how fragile our societies are and how much we need solidarity. The reality is that the cross-border solidarity has never been as urgent in Europe as it is today. We need a holistic and comprehensive approach to the big challenges facing our societies and we have to mobilise all available resources for public good. Philanthropy is an important vehicle for such mobilisation but needs a favourable environment to unleash its full potential. Several entry points in the 2021 work programme provide opportunities for European philanthropy to act on this. Read more in the note here.

Thanks to NextGenerationEU, the historic recovery plan presented by the Commission along with a revamped long-term budget, Europe has a ready-made tool to seize this opportunity. When it comes to the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF), philanthropy and civil society have expressed the need of an increased funding for Europe’s flagship programmes, including the Rights and Values and InvestEU programmes. Additionally, strong rule of law conditionality are highlighted as key components for the next budget. When it comes to the Recovery Plan, philanthropy and wider civil society need to be involved in the preparation, monitoring and implementation of national recovery and resilience plans.

In bringing the work programme to life, the Commission promises to focus on explaining what they are doing and taking on board the views of citizens. As part of this, it is more important than ever to start a debate on the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Conference on the Future of Europe should be the opportunity to put into action the provisions on civil dialogue and further improve them. Civil Society organisations, including philanthropic organisations are at the forefront of developing responses to societal challenges as well as in keeping governments and institutions accountable. They should be at the table to engage in a real dialogue with policy makers. We are urging policy makers to recognise and engage with us as a sector. Our role cannot be confined to the organisation of events and debates, apart from the real institutional discussion. The Conference on the future of Europe itself must go beyond a communication exercise. It must have clear objectives and outcomes and involve and engage citizens and civil society organisations in a meaningful way.

Two EU priorities are of key relevance for the European philanthropy sector and mirror our recommendations in the European Philanthropy Manifesto:

An economy that works for people

An economy that works for people implies that it also works for philanthropy and wider civil society. PA is already  actively engaging  around the announced action plan for the social economy to enhance social investment, support social economy actors and social enterprises to start-up, scale-up, innovate and create jobs in line with the second ask in the European Philanthropy Manifesto – facilitate cross-border philanthropy. EU level policy should facilitate cross-border philanthropy in line with EU fundamental rights and values, and Treaty Freedoms with a view to eliminate legal, administrative and tax barriers. We are calling in this context for a European legal form for public-benefit foundations, better implementation of the non-discrimination principle and facilitation of mission related investment opportunities.

The Commission puts forwards its idea of a deeper Economic and Monetary Union, with progress on the Capital Markets Union and the Banking Union. As part of this, the Commission plans to take measures to boost cross-border investment in the EU. Philanthropic investments are part of the capital market and investing cross-border in tax effective ways should be facilitated. Philanthropy Advocacy will step up in its call on EU and national policy makers to address the issue both for cross-border giving and cross-border investments by philanthropic investors.

The European Pillar of Social Rights will be the compass of Europe’s recovery and crucial to ensuring no one is left behind. The action plan will be this Commission’s key instrument to contribute to socio-economic recovery and resilience in the medium and long-term, with a view to enhance social fairness of the digital and green transitions. Philanthropy Advocacy is planning to submit a contribution to the ongoing consultation running until 30 November 2020.

One of the objectives of the Commission is to step up the fight against money laundering, with the new anti-money laundering legislative package, which provides the entry point for Philanthropy Advocacy to ask that all the national and EU level rules on tax evasion, money laundering and counterterrorism financing rules are proportionate to the risks they seek to address and do not unduly restrict legitimate charitable activities.

A new push for European democracy

European core values such as democracy, rule of law and fundamental lights must remain guiding principles. The European Democracy action plan (EDAP) to be adopted in December of 2020 will be, according the Commission, a stepping stone for improving the resilience of our democracies, addressing the threats of external interference in European elections and countering disinformation, as well as supporting free and independent media. Philanthropy Advocacy together with civil society partners has contributed to the consultation on the EDAP asking for structured dialogue with civil society organisations, particularly with regards to transparent decision-making procedures and the possibility of citizens and civil society organisations to monitor the whole process, including trilogue negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission.

Next year, the Commission plans to follow with clearer rules on the financing of the European political parties and the role of party political foundations and take action to ensure more transparency in paid political advertising, improve the electoral rights of mobile Europeans and take action to protect journalists and civil society against strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

The Commission also puts forwards its plans to make informed decisions based on evidence and better regulation principles, including the need for impact assessments, which take into account the views of all impacted parties. The Commission promises to make consultations more efficient and more accessible, to facilitate stakeholders’ participation, and to hence respond to the call for more streamlined consultations. Philanthropy Advocacy in its contribution to the EDAP suggested that current public consultations by the European Commission are highly technical and mainly used by organised interest groups and asked for the democratisation of online consultations and the adoption of a more structured process for civil dialogue through an Inter Institutional Agreement on civil dialogue based on article 11 TEU.

The Commission also plans to step up efforts to improve the effective application, implementation and enforcement of EU law. This is notably important for the proper functioning of the single market, the protection of key supply chains that provide shops with food and health services with medical supplies, and for upholding citizens’ rights. The Commission will continue to support and work with Member States to ensure the swift and correct implementation of new and existing EU rules. At the same time, it will not hesitate to uphold EU law through infringement proceedings where needed. Philanthropy Advocacy will closely follow the efforts of the Commission in this regards and continue to call for effective use of all the tools that EU has at its disposal, including the new annual rule of law report and infringement proceedings to uphold the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights and to protect philanthropy and its important role in supporting civil society, community cohesion and the European values enshrined in the Art. 2 of the Treaty on European Union.

The Philanthropy Advocacy secretariat will continue to engage around the EU work programme and will keep its stakeholders informed and engaged. Should you wish to receive more information please contact: contact@philanthropyadvocacy.eu

Summary of how the EC plans to deliver on 6 EU priorities

The 2021 Commission work programme sees a shift from strategy to delivery across all six political priorities. It confirms the Commission’s resolve to lead the twin green and digital transition – an unparalleled opportunity to move out of the fragility of the crisis and create a new vitality for the Union.


1.      A European Green Deal

To achieve a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, the Commission will table a Fit for 55 package to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030. This will cover wide-ranging policy areas – from renewables to energy efficiency first, energy performance of buildings, as well as land use, energy taxation, effort sharing and emissions trading. A Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will help reduce the risk of carbon leakage and ensure a level-playing field by encouraging EU partners to raise their climate ambition. In addition, the Commission will propose measures to implement Europe’s circular economy action plan, the EU biodiversity strategy and the farm to fork strategy.


2.      A Europe fit for the digital age

To make this Europe’s digital decade, the Commission will put forward a roadmap of clearly defined 2030 digital targets, related to connectivity, skills and digital public services. The focus will be on the right to privacy and connectivity, freedom of speech, free flow of data and cybersecurity. The Commission will legislate in areas covering safety, liability, fundamental rights and data aspects of artificial intelligence. In the same spirit, it will propose a European e-ID. Initiatives will also include an update of the new industrial strategy for Europe, to take into account the impacts of the coronavirus, as well as a legislative proposal to improve the working conditions of platform workers.


3.      An economy that works for people

To ensure that the health and economic crisis does not turn into a social crisis, the Commission will put forward an ambitious action plan to implement fully the European Pillar of Social Rights, making sure that no one is left behind in Europe’s recovery. The Commission will also come forward with a new European child guarantee, ensuring access to basic services like health and education for all children. To support our economies and strengthen the Economic and Monetary Union, it will revise the framework for handling EU bank failures, take measures to boost cross-border investment in the EU, and step up the fight against money laundering.

4.      A stronger Europe in the world

The Commission will ensure that Europe plays its vital role in this fragile world, including by leading the global response to secure a safe and accessible vaccine for all. It will propose a Joint Communication on strengthening the EU’s contribution to a rules‑based multilateralism, a renewed partnership with our Southern neighbourhood and a Communication on the Artic. A new strategic approach to support disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants will also be presented. A Communication on the EU’s humanitarian aid will explore new ways of working with our partners and other donors.


5.      Promoting our European way of life

In the face of COVID-19, the Commission will propose to build a stronger European Health Union, notably by strengthening the role of existing agencies and establishing a new agency for biomedical advanced research and development. To preserve and improve its functioning, a new strategy for the future of Schengen will be tabled. The new pact on migration and asylum will be followed up with a number of proposed measures on legal migration, including a ‘talent and skills’ package. Other elements include an action plan against migrant smuggling, as well as a sustainable voluntary return and reintegration strategy. The Commission will continue to strengthen the Security Union, addressing terrorism, organised crime and hybrid threats. It will also present a comprehensive strategy on combating antisemitism.


6.      A new push for European democracy

To build a union of equality, the Commission will present new strategies on rights of the child and for persons with disabilities, as well as a proposal to combat gender-based violence. It will also propose to extend the list of euro-crimes to include all forms of hate crime and hate speech. The Commission will propose clearer rules on the financing of European political parties and take action to protect journalists and civil society against abusive litigation. A long-term vision for rural areas will propose actions to harness the full potential of these regions.


Given the long-term and transformative nature of the initiatives planned, it is more important than ever to legislate in the most impactful way and with the future in mind. The upcoming Communication on Better Regulation will renew this emphasis. The Fit for Future Platform will support the Commission in this ambition, particularly needed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. To deliver on the ground, the Commission will also step up its outreach, with the Conference on the Future of Europe playing a central role.

Next Steps

The Commission’s 2021 work programme is the result of close cooperation with the European Parliament, Member States and the EU consultative bodies. The Commission will now start discussions with the Parliament and Council to establish a list of joint priorities on which co-legislators agree to take swift action.