Malta in the EU
Are non-governmental organisations recognised in the EU?
Yes. Not only are they recognised but they also participate in EU structures, in particular the Economic and Social Committee (ESC). The ESC was set up by the EU treaty as an EU organ and it is made up of representatives from civil society ranging from trade unions, employers’ associations to other interest grouping. The role of the ESC is consultative. The fact that they are involved early in the stage of formulating decisions or laws makes their lobbying an essential part of decision-making in the EU. If Malta joins the EU it will have five seats in the ESC.
Who will sit in the ESC on behalf of Malta?
This is still to be decided but it is expected that the five Maltese members of the ESC will come from among Maltese employers’ associations, trade unions and other important civil society groups.
What exactly do we mean by ‘civil society’?
Civil society normally refers to those groups or organisations that operate outside the official structures and institutions of a country. They include the social partners, namely trade unions and employers’ associations. Besides these they also include NGO’s which bring people together in a common cause, such as environmental organisations, human rights groups, consumer associations, charitable organisations, educational and training organisations, community-based organisations, youth organisations, family associations, religious communities and all organisations through which citizens participate in local and municipal life. The idea of civil society is becoming increasingly important in the EU and is seen as a way of how the EU can connect back with citizens.
Are NGO’s involved at other levels in the EU?
Yes. EU institutions, in particular, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have a strong tradition of direct contacts with civil society organisations. These contacts are aimed at contributing to the process of policy-making that reflects the diversity of interests, perspectives and needs in the EU. Consultation with these groups is part of the law and tradition in the EU. In Malta, the culture of consultation does not yet have strong roots. This has recently started to improve especially since there have been some important developments on this front, such as the setting up of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) (see below).
How does the Commission keep links with NGO’s?
The European Commission normally incorporates its consultation with NGOs right into the development of its policy-making. This takes places through formal consultation with NGOs and even through ad hoc consultation exercises with invited representatives of the relevant sectoral interests. It is estimated that the Commission has up to 700 structured consultation groupings as dialogue partners. Broader public consultations, of both interest groups and individuals, are carried out on the basis of consultation documents such as Green Papers and White Papers, in particular. These documents call for reactions from the public and normally attract a very active response from NGO’s which, after all, represent different categories of the public.
Are there any European federations through which NGO’s can work and have their voice heard?
Yes. Within the EU member states there are various federations or networks of NGO’s that group together civil society organisations with similar causes or interests. This means that there would normally be European federations representing employers, trade unions but also other sectoral interest groups such as environmentalists, hunters, consumers, women, farmers and so on. Being based on a European level, makes it easier for these NGO’s to lobby the EU institutions. These are effective very often.
I heard about the Platform of Social NGO’s and the ECAS. What are these?
The Platform of Social NGO’s and ECAS are just two examples of NGO groupings that lobby within the EU institutions. The Platform of European Social NGO’s groups 37 European NGO’s, federations and networks which are working to build an inclusive society and promote the social dimension of the European Union. It brings together over 1,700 direct member organisations, associations and other voluntary bodies at local, regional, national and European level representing the interests of a wide range of civil society. It channels the concerns of European citizens who have come together in these organisations on issues of common interest. It also ensures a wide circulation of information on EU activities and policies to its members at the national level.
The European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) was established in 1990 and had much to do with the deadline of the single market of January 1, 1993. The completion of the single market saw an impressive expansion of corporate lobbying. ECAS focuses on three key activities: NGO guides to EU funding, Policies and Enlargement.
Can NGO’s benefit from EU funding?
Yes. NGO’s normally benefit from funding because they can participate in the main EU funding programmes such as the Socrates (education), Leonardo (training) and Youth programmes, but also other funding initiatives. Many NGO’s in the EU have decided to dedicate energy and effort into learning how to access EU funding – and they are usually quite successful. A good number of Maltese NGO’s have already participated in EU programmes which have been opened to the participation of candidate countries.
At a European level, some European federations also benefit from direct financial assistance from the EU budget.
Youth: Tel: 2598 2761
Leonardo: Tel: 2123 3564, 2598 2409; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ECAS funding guides are designed to help NGO’s, but even small businesses and individuals to access and find their way around EU Funding. This guide should help to find an appropriate fund to finance some project and, at the same time, show how to deal with the red tape involved.
Our organisation is very small. How can I go about participating in an EU project?
It is not easy. But do not be put off. One easy way to participate is to try and get involved in a project that is being led by a European organisation with which you are familiar. If you have no contacts you should seek more information from the MIC or from the respective office of each EU programme in Malta. Remember that a good number of Maltese organisations have already managed to participate, including local organisations. Most of them are very small!
How are NGO’s represented in Malta?
In Malta, the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) has been set up to give a more effective voice to non-governmental organisations in Malta, in particular the main social partners. But MCESD also has a committee that focuses directly on civil society.
During Malta’s EU accession process, NGO’s were directly involved through a specific committee known as the Malta-EU Steering and Action Committee (MEUSAC) which brought together NGO’s with the negotiating team and the key government ministries and departments involved in the process. On several occasions their input helped to shape Malta’s negotiating positions during negotiations. For instance, the insistence of one trade union led to Malta scaling down its requests to introduce EU social laws over a longer time frame. As a result, Malta only requested short transitional periods on just four EU social laws out of a set of around 50 laws.
It must be said that the negotiating process itself has created a new space for non-governmental organisations that were formerly unknown, and for new ones to be created. Some of these, such as the farming lobby, the hunting organisations and the Gozitan organisations have been especially active on EU issues.
Carmel Attard (MIC)