All across Europe those of us who are immersed in the future of European funding are buzzing about from one event to the next, desperately trying to get our heads around what is happening, how we get involved and who to talk to.
For most people all they really want to know is when and how we apply for funding to support the increasing demands on our services. But the answer to that is mired in the building of a funding framework that is buffeted around in the winds of protracted negotiations at a Scottish, UK and European level.
I’ve just got back from Brussels where I spoke with our sister councils from across Europe at our European Network meeting. Colleagues from across the member states are all doing the same thing we are: rushing about trying to get an inside track, trying to influence their government on the architecture of the funds and working hard to get their governments to accept their vital role in transforming the prospects of European states.
The funny thing is that the European Commission gets it. They recognise the role of civil society in tackling the root causes of Europe’s problems: high youth unemployment, growing poverty, social exclusion and the widening inequalities in our society which are all leading to civil unrest. They have even written our role into the draft proposals. But we are still struggling to gain automatic participation in how these funds are governed, monitored and delivered on our home turf.
We are still struggling to gain automatic participation in how these funds are governed, monitored and delivered on our home turf.
The UK government is obsessed with demonising Europe and suggesting it is holding us back. Those of us on the inside see a different picture. I would argue that while the European Union civil service might well be in need of reform, often the understanding and ambitions of the commission are in tune with much of civil society across Europe. However, these aspirations are often lost in translation by the time they arrive at the member state level. Avoiding risk sadly becomes the driver of policy and monitoring, resulting in an opportunity lost.
This is my third cycle of European programming, and the story never ends well. We’ve had long hiatus periods between programmes resulting in cash flow problems, an end to vital services for vulnerable people, and real job losses. Not exactly what the European founding fathers envisaged. Over time we have been excluded from providing technical assistance to our own sector on how best to access and maximise the funds.
This current frenzy of lobbying looks all too familiar to me but at the moment we are still high with hope that these billions can do much for economic recovery and inequality, and we will have a say in their strategic management .
“You shouldn’t be too cynical”, I hear you some of you sighing. “There appears to be a genuine shift in engagement this time”. I can’t help but wonder if we, the third sector, were given the £680m instead of government how much transformational change would we achieve? What would you do with it?