An imaginably large part of the European population would be unwilling to donate to causes that are antithetical to their personal beliefs. This has pushed many non-governmental actors to appear relatively neutral in the public eye. The European Union, however, is largely sponsoring organisations which are actively lobbying Brussels.
In order to illustrate this point, let us delve into a few examples of highly political NGOs, which benefit from EU grants.
Friends of the Earth Europe is an environmentalist NGO, created in the 1960s in opposition to nuclear energy. Today, it is actively lobbying against free trade, safe products such as glyphosate or GMOs. It's "Deregulation" section online literally kicks off by saying: "The EU has a long history of big business-friendly deregulation." One has to be curious in which European Union they lived for the past years... The organisation is also very open about its vision for the spending of million of euros of EU funds: "Intended to influence the debate on the future direction of Europe, this alternative vision is endorsed by organisations representing a multitude of public interest issues, including labour rights, culture, development, environment, health, women's rights, youth, and anti-discrimination groups". What an elaborate way of saying "fund me".
In case you don't agree with the work of Friends of the Earth you might be disappointed by the news that the European Union spent over €2.3 million (£2 million) on them, which constitutes 51 per cent of their total revenue in 2016 (another 10 per cent stemming from national governments.
The Transnational Institute surely qualifies for best choice of an obscure name. The president of this organisation is Susan George, author of the book "How to win the Class War" and regular contributor to the New Internationalist. The Netherlands-based think tank doesn't try to make a great secret out of the fact that it is a hard-left activist group. It's Youtube channel features features videos intending to "reclaim public services", and which broadly label privatisation as a failure. Fairly vocal on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the TNI also features interviews with Ken Loach, who donates large amounts of money to the BDS movement, and who, according to the New York Times, seems open to the idea of questioning the Holocaust.
Convinced by the platform of the Transnational Institute or not, the check is still €1.2 million (£1 million), which is the funding that the European Union provides.
Financewatch takes your view on free markets and says 'hold up, not so fast'. Self-branded as anti-finance lobby group, to counter the influence of big finance, it advocates large-scale financial regulation, the likes of which would decimate the City of London. their blog posts feature lines that sound as if you had taken them straight out of a speech by Jeremy Corbyn: "In other words, the global elite is not only rigging the international financial system to their advantage: today's international financial system, including the tax system, has been built to serve their interests. [...] Our economic and financial system should work for people, not for the 0.1% wealthiest individuals."
The organisation itself has 70 member organisations, amongst which you find Attac, France's most radical and largest trade union CGT, the European Trade Union Federation, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, or also, you probably guessed it: Friends of the Earth. The self-fulfilling support prophecy comes at a cost though: €730,000 (£640,000) of taxpayer's money through the European Union.
Oxfam certainly doesn't sound like the most politicised NGO, but especially when it comes to issues of taxation, the true colours tend to show. Oxfam meddled into the process of the establishment of the new tax haven blacklist of the European Finance Ministers, demanding that many countries be put on it, including EU members which already comply with the EU's own criteria. According to the UK NGO, countries are in a race to the bottom on corporate taxation, which fuels inequality (despite inequality being irrelevant to prosperity), while advocating for larger tax burdens on companies.
In any way, the lectures about inequality are very expensive: the EU funds Oxfam with over €67 million (over £58 million), and the United Nations with €63.5 million (£55.8 million). It surely makes that Oxfam chocolate taste differently.
Women in Europe for a Common Future, is according to itself, "a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, coordinated from the Netherlands, Germany and France". This organisation for women's empowerment isn't solely concentrated on women's issues, as it also campaigns on things like solar water heaters, urine diverting dry toilets, safe toys and asbestos.
The confusing mix of activities come at a cost, as Women in Europe for a Common Future receives €1.7 million (£1.5 million) in government grants. More interestingly, their financial report doesn't go into detail as to how much was provided by each sponsor, but it is safe to say that a staggering 97 per cent of their annual funding comes from government.
It stands to reason that if the EU merely funds NGOs to sell the perception that its democratic process is inclusionary, then it manifestly fails to meet the requirements of European democratic ideals.
NGOs are a legitimate way for voters to be engaged citizens in the discourse between politicians and civil society. They should, however, not compete for the best ideas and not the best way to get grants.
EU-funded lobbyism is undemocratic, expensive, and has no place in the current European system.