25 May 2018

Working our way towards a Single Market for Philanthropy

This blog first appeared on the Alliance magazine website and Euractiv.com blog

Growing nationalism and deepening populist sentiment across Europe make it all the more urgent to bolster our shared European values. Civil society, which includes philanthropy, is essential in this. But if civil society remains legally hemmed in by national borders, then it cannot work and interact on a level playing field with other sectors of European society. A Single Market for Philanthropy would ensure that the sector can realise its potential as a full partner in the vibrant, innovative and democratic European society that so many of us have long worked towards.

The recent adoption by the European Parliament of the European Values Instrument is a clear and positive signal that the Union and its institutions are determined to support citizens and initiatives which share common European values. Let’s hope that this and similar decisions can help put us on a clear path to a Single Market for Philanthropy – perhaps a European Year for Philanthropy would be a good next step?

On top of values-related issues, there are clear legal and functional ones to consider as well. The fact that around 70% of national-level laws in EU countries are impacted by EU legislation means that stopping philanthropic law at national borders ignores a huge and obvious reality of the legal landscape in Europe. We’ve opened our eyes to this reality by creating Europe-wide company law. We’ve recognised it – and at times fiercely defended it – when it comes to movement of people, goods, services and capital across Europe’s national borders. It’s now time – past time – to recognise this reality when it comes to institutional philanthropy.

Besides, the bottom legal line is that national laws must be in compliance with European fundamental freedoms. One of these is the Freedom of Capital, which includes not only the free flow of for-profit capital, but also the free flow of philanthropic capital. This has already been confirmed by the European Court of Justice, but challenges remain regarding implementation. A Single Market for Philanthropy would clear the roadblocks that prevent putting these principles into practice.

On the policy level a Single Market matters as well. While philanthropy does have a seat at the table in some EU-level policy discussions, our sector can only go so far, we can only raise our voice so much, without a commensurate EU-level legal presence. But with one, we would be able to search for solutions to complex policy issues with other stakeholders on simplified and equivalent terms.

The EFC has long been engaged in efforts to ensure recognition of philanthropy as a key actor of civil society, reduce barriers to cross-border philanthropy, and nurture the concept of working with partners, including governments, for the public good. A Single Market for Philanthropy is the destination that these pathways of work should lead to.

This road must be travelled with partners – within the philanthropic sector, with wider civil society actors, with policymakers and citizens. With DAFNE and EVPA we are co-organising the “Philanthropy Scrum” on how to co-create a Single Market for Philanthropy, taking place on 28 May in Brussels. This high-level exchange between the philanthropy sector, policymakers and non-profit representatives will help us get a bit farther down the road toward the Single Market, in turn helping philanthropy do what it does best – create value for European society and foster more conscious citizenship, with the common good at its heart.