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Should we join the civil society?

Posted by Helen Friday, April 08, 2005

Among the many items in the Financial Framework for 2007 – 2013 presented by the Commission and generally referred to as the Budget there is one rather curious one.

(By the way, the heading for the Financial Framework is Investing in our future and the first sentence is quite ineffable in its silliness:

“The future belongs to all of us and we need to plan for it.”
What is this, an insurance firm?)

Anyway, back to the curious item: the Commission proposes to spend €207 million - £142m of our money “for a new citizens for Europe programme to encourage more public participation to bridge the gap between the institutions and the public”.

Gosh, I thought, maybe this blog should apply for the funds. After all, what else do we do with my colleague but encourage more public participation, trying to bridge that gap (oh dear, now I have remembered an advertising slogan) between the institutions and our readers, who must qualify as the public on some level, surely.

Fired with enthusiasm I decided to explore the programme and found in the first place that
“This new programme will provide the Union with instruments to promote active European citizenship, put citizens in the centre and offers them the opportunity to fully assume their responsibility as European citizens.

It responds to the need to improve their participation in the construction of Europe and will encourage cooperation between citizens and their organisations form different countries in order to meet, act together and develop their own ideas in a European environment which goes beyond a national vision, respecting their diversity.”
Well, none so diverse as people on this blog but I do rather worry about all that putting citizens at the centre and offering them opportunity to fully assume their responsibility. What is that responsibility and do we really want to assume it? Furthermore, what is all this putting at the centre? Who decides where the centre is and who should be put there?

We are back to that age-old division between those who believe politics and political action comes from the people and those who believe it comes from the state in whatever form.
After all, the best way for citizens to be at the centre of events is by having the political and constitutional structures be accountable to them. This, however, does not seem to figure high in the scheme of things.

Well, how could it, with budgets, I mean financial frameworks, I mean investment frameworks … well, what do I mean exactly? … being set for the seven years after the next two years, thus making it quite clear that such piffling things as elections and possible changes of government are of no significance whatsoever.

Anyway, the good news is that there are all sorts of application forms and consultations and guidelines and two different Community Action Programmes to support bodies working in the field of Active European Citizenship. One of them would surely be the right one, I thought.

One of them was clearly the wrong one because it gave money to projects done by “Our Europe House” or “Jean Monnet House” or “Robert Schuman House”. Now, we could rename the blog “Our Europe House” but, somehow, I suspect that is not quite what the would-be creators of the European civil society had in mind.

The second lot of guidelines was much more promising or would have been if I could understand what the general objective of the exercise was:
“The Decision 2004/100/CE establishes “a Community action Programme to support bodies working in the field of active European citizenship and to promote actions in this field”. (Article 1)

The general objective of the Programme is “to support work in the field of active European citizenship by promoting the actions and operation of bodies working in this field. This support takes the form of an operating grant to co-finance expenditure associated with the permanent programme of a body which pursues an aim of general European interest in the field of active European citizenship or an objective forming part of the European Union’s activities in this area”. (Annex of the Decision, paragraph 1)”
I cannot help thinking that there is a certain repetitiveness about this text but let us plough on. It is euro-dosh we are after and there can be no gain with no pain.

These are the specific objectives:

“In this context, an annual operating grant may be awarded to support the conduct of the permanent work programme of such a body.

This may relate to:

— a non-profit body working to assist citizens active in these bodies,

— a European multiplier network of non-profit bodies active in the States participating in the programme and promoting the principles and policies contributing to the objectives in this area,
— a body pursuing an objective forming part of the European Union's policy in the field of active citizenship.

This programme also covers the Commission's actions relating to the creation, promotion and management of the think tanks operating in the field of active citizenship and European integration and the organisation of related events.”

Having got this far, I decided to consult my colleague. After all, the euro-dosh is for both of us. He, needless to say, noted another aspect of the programme. Surely, he said, if we are working in “the field of active European citizenship”, we would come under the CAP.

Well, blow me down. I hadn’t even thought of that, and there I am with a back garden that could easily get a grant for set-aside land. Just shows the importance of active interconnected citizenship.
Anyway, just in case, I did have a look at the list of organizations that were awarded grants (which do have to have matching funds) last year and the year before. I noted that very few received any money in Britain, the TUC being one of them and a completely unknown Women’s Network another.

The others in the various countries, presumably, exist simply in order to collect money from the EU and raise matching funds from their own governments.

This is all part of a policy laid down in the White Paper produced by the Commission in 2000 that outlined the need to create a civil society, by which they mean a network of organizations that may seem to be outside the state but are actually controlled by it.

The prototype of it was created by Bolshevik Party, once it consolidated its power in Russia. It abolished all genuinely voluntary organizations and substituted its own, often imprisoning, exiling or shooting the leaders of the original ones.

In 1923 it was proclaimed that trade unions existed in order to be channels of communication between the government and the workers. It was a two-way channel but that is still a long way from what we think of as trade unions. One may add that the leader of the new trade union movement, Tomsky, was forced to commit suicide in 1938. One wonders what his last thoughts were.

The same happened with women’s organizations, co-operatives and all aspects of real civil life. The EU does not feel the need to imprison or shoot anybody. They try to bribe their way out of a free society into an organized civil one.

So far, the success rate is only so-so. None of the “independent” organizations whose task it is to promote active European citizenship have achieved anything except for themselves and their members.

There is time yet. They could give a grant to this blog and watch a real campaign for active European citizenship. Unfortunately, it will involve the active dismantling of the European Union and its institutions. Will that do, please, and can I have some of the euro-dosh?