13 October 2023

Philanthropy explores its role in annual rule of law cycle

Two recent exchanges have brought philanthropy and the wider civil society together with the European Commission to explore philanthropy’s role in the EU’s annual rule of law cycle.

At the first exchange, co-organised with ECNL on 27 September 2023, participants provided input into the updated version of the Philea and ECNL Handbook on “How to Use EU Law to Defend Civic Space”, which now includes a new chapter on the annual rule of law report. The following week, Philea co-hosted a webinar with Ariadne to provide a space for foundations working on the issue of the rule of law, and for those interested in the topic, to learn more about it. Ariadne and Philea have been co-hosting these yearly exchanges since the inception of the European Commission’s rule of law report. The webinars have become a valuable space for open and honest exchanges between foundation representatives and the European Commission on the annual rule of law report.

Across these two events, participants delved into the rule of law cycle and what it means for philanthropy. European Commission representatives José Strus and Sara Vassalo Amorim, DG Justice and Consumers each joined one of the online exchanges, where José provided an overview of the origins of the process and how it has developed since its first edition in 2020. Sara addressed the foundation community from a slightly different perspective, underlining the different ways that foundations can contribute to the annual cycle. She highlighted the role philanthropy plays as (i) stakeholder in the online consultation, (ii) during the country visits, and (iii) in the newly developed country dialogues. Furthermore, she referred to philanthropy’s role in supporting the wider civil society’s capacity to engage around these three entry points.

Linda Ravo, Senior Advocacy Consultant, Liberties then provided a snapshot of their CSO shadow report and a gap analysis comparing the Commission and the CSO rule of law reports. One key take-away from her intervention is that although CSOs welcome that the European Commission aims to engage the grassroots, this endeavour could be better supported, and processes could be more structured and transparent.

This message was also stressed by Veronika Mora, Director, Ökotárs-Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, who welcomed the increased attention given to civil society space in the Commission’s annual report. According to Veronika, civil society plays a dual role when it comes to the annual rule of law cycle: first as a resource in terms of their contributions to the entry points laid out previously by Sara; and second as a beneficiary, positioning the annual report as one of the tools in the EU toolbox to defend civic space by exposing trends at the national level. In this context, Veronika referred to the call for a comprehensive EU Civil Society Strategy as put forward by civil society and endorsed by European Economic and Social Committee reports and European Parliament resolutions.

If one thing became clear throughout these conversations, it is that civil society, including philanthropy, plays a crucial role as guardian of the rule of law, in partnership with the European Commission. Furthermore, it seems that more foundations are interested in working on rule of law issues, and the Commission stands ready to keep improving the content and process of the rule of law cycle. We are in this context looking forward to seeing how the annual cycle will be applied to Accession Countries, as was announced by President von der Leyen in her latest State of the Union address. The Philea Policy team will continue to monitor the rule of law mechanism and organise annual webinars about the rule of law reports to spread the word within the philanthropy sector.


Hanna Hanses
Policy Manager