The meeting enabled sharing of experiences on functioning of national associations in different European countries and their relation with the Government. These showed when a “compact” between a Government and the civil society sector is established with a “top-down” approach this usually remains a “dead letter” (e.g. France), while if the approach is a “bottom-up” one (e.g. the UK), this has a much bigger rate of success. As in the case of Sweden, this often results from a crisis in relationship or a vacuum. The compact can take many forms, but all have some basic common features such as the common principles and values agreed between the two parties. Usually, the compact or an agreement takes 3 scenarios: a “dead letter”, is too regulating (e.g. Poland) or actually becomes a “living document” (e.g. the UK). What can be crucial in the 3 scenarios is the role the Parliament can play, especially through annual review of the functioning of the compact (e.g. Germany). A major area for discussion was also the development of a European Charter. This would act like the UK Compact and ensure that all voluntary sector bodies have a relationship with the EU and have the same recognition as they would do at home.
The meeting also touched on the subjects such as how the recession is affecting voluntary organisations and how they can develop support for them. While no single recipe exists, the civil society is being affected especially CSOs depending on state and corporate funding. According to the European Foundation Center (EFC), it is expected that 20-30% less money is allocated to the work of CSOs in the coming year. The Austrian CSOs are employing strategies such as limiting of administration spending; innovation and creativity; exploration of money-low ideas or even rethinking their philosophy of work. In Northern Ireland, cross-sectoral groups have been formed on governmental level in which representatives of CSOs have also been involved.
In the future, ENNA will also focus on taking steps to ensure that voluntary organisations are heard in the EU and will also sharing good practice on capacity-building for the sector. For further information please visit European Network of National Associations.