Headlines: September 19th, 2005

The leaders of the four umbrella bodies representing the voluntary and community sector in Britain will meet senior figures from the European Union in Brussels this week to discuss important issues for the sector directly with European Commission officials.As part of the discussions they will raise the idea of a European ‘Compact-style’ agreement. The meetings will involve the chief executives of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations the Wales and Northern Ireland Councils for Voluntary Action.

Voluntary and community organisations want to see an agreement that would set standards for consultation with them, acknowledge the vital role they play in European society and safeguard the sector’s independence and right to campaign irrespective of whether organisations are in receipt of EU funding. The present compact in operation in the UK sets a 12-week time frame for consultations and insists that holiday periods be taken into account.

Other issues to be addressed during the Brussels visit include employment and social affairs, governance and civil society, rural development and the possibility of a roundtable for non-Government Organisations to improve communication and collaborative working between the EU and Regional NGOs.

Business begins today when the Councils will host a reception to launch a joint position paper “Civil Society can put the Spark back into Europe”, which will outline principles and suggestions for the development of a democratic and accountable social Europe with civil society at its heart. Speakers will include Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive of NICVA; Michael Aron, Head of Political Affairs and UK Representative and Marie Ranty, Director of CEDAG, the European Council for Non-Profit Organisations.

The four councils will want to advance their vision for Europe that was laid out in the voluntary sector manifesto for the European Parliament elections in 2004. The voluntary sector sees this as increasingly important because of concerns over the conduct of the European Commission’s consultation on a new draft Code of Conduct for the sector. The Commission allowed only 5 weeks for the exercise, including August. This was extended to 8-weeks following requests from the voluntary sector. Concern has also been raised over the draft code itself as it is felt this had a disproportionate focus on the risks the sector faced from infiltration by organised crime and terrorism.

Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of NCVO said, “In a time when there is increasing discussion about the gap between the EU and its citizens the voluntary and community sector has a key role in bridging that gap. Voluntary and community organisations are a fundamental part of any modern, democratic and inclusive society.”