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European Parliament Votes in Favour of the European Values Instrument

29 January 2019
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, at the European Parliament plenary session on Civil Society and Fundamental Values. Photo c/o Sebastien, Bozon: European Union 2018.

Thursday 17 January 2019, the European Parliament, voted for a mechanism (called the European Values Instrument) to increase funding of the EU’s Rights and Values Programme.  The programme gives “support to civil society organisations”… and “seeks to promote equality and non-discrimination, encourage citizens’ engagement and participation in the democratic process, and fight violence.”

The result means that the European Parliament will pursue important amendments to the European Commission’s proposal on the Rights and Values programme, published in May 2018. The Parliament will seek an extra €1 billion to establish a fund that will finance civil society organizations and activists working to protect and promote rights, the rule of law and democracy.

European Parliament result: an important step in protecting civic space in Europe

At a time when space for civil society is shrinking and under attack in EU member states, the NHC recognizes the potential significance of the European Values Instrument. The mechanism – if well-funded and accessible at a grass roots level – could help secure a healthy European civil society long into the future.

In October 2018, the NHC was one of over 80 NGOs to sign a Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) open letter, voicing civil society’s collective dissatisfaction with the European Commission’s proposal on the Rights and Values programme. The letter called on EU leaders to address the shortcomings in the Commission’s proposal and to facilitate the implementation of the European Values Instrument. The letter can be read in full here.

The mechanism – if well-funded and accessible at a grass roots level – could help secure a healthy European civil society long into the future.”

The recent result in the European Parliament demonstrates the body’s recognition of the concerns raised in the Liberties letter, and the willingness of MEPs to pursue a Rights and Values programme that, unlike the proposal put forward by the European Commission, will ensure that civil society can continue to play its vital role in sustaining European democracy. There can be no doubt that the European Parliament’s decision represents a positive and important step forward in the battle for fundamental rights and freedoms in Europe.

Important work remains to be done if the European Values Instrument is to be realized:

The result, however, does not guarantee the inclusion of the European Values Instrument in the EU’s long-term plans. The next step is for the European Parliament to come to an agreement with national representatives in the European Council on the changes proposed, and agreed upon, in last week’s vote. Only then will the European Values Instrument be included in the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027, which is currently under discussion.

Such consensus is by no means guaranteed and will undoubtedly involve considerable negotiation over the coming months. This is especially true as in December 2018 the European Council, the representatives of the EU member states, initially endorsed the European Commission’s proposal. The same proposal which was found to be so unsatisfactory by European civil society. MEPs must now use the negotiation period over the coming months to convince the Council to abandon its support for the commission’s proposal and accept the amendments recently voted for in Parliament.

NGOs and civil society organizations have an important role to play in these negotiations. Pepijn Gerrits, NHC Executive Director, noted that “the NHC is very pleased with the outcome of the vote in the European Parliament. Yet, it is important to recognize that there remain battles to be fought. The next battles will be to convince the Council to adopt the changes proposed by the Parliament and to ensure that the European Values Instrument is operationalized as a meaningful tool through which civil society organizations can continue to play their vital role in building and defending the rule of law and democracy in Europe, and the rights of Europeans.”

So the message is clear – across the continent, authoritarian populist governments are waging a campaign to erode Europe’s civil society and, more broadly, the EU’s fundamental values. The European Values Instrument could prove to be a crucial tool in the battle for Europe’s democracy.  NGOs and civil society organizations must continue to advocate with the governments and Parliaments of member countries for the mechanism to be included in the EU’s long-term policy package, and indeed its implementation on the ground.

The European Values Instrument could prove to be a crucial tool in the battle for Europe’s democracy.  NGOs and civil society organizations must continue to advocate with the governments and Parliaments of member countries for the mechanism to be included in the EU’s long-term policy package”.

If you feel strongly about fundamental values in the EU then get involved! Final negotiations on the Rights and Values fund will be completed after the European Parliament elections in May. Show your support for the European Values Instrument during the campaign and through your vote! The NHC will keep you up to date on upcoming campaign tools, so keep an eye out on our social media accounts.

Find out more about the European Values Instrument here.