Democratic values under attack in Europe: Looking beyond the Dutch dikes and the role of Philanthropy


Karin van Boxtel


Last week, I read about the expected – yet still shocking – implications of the radical shift to the far-right in the Netherlands.

The current coalition agreement includes measures previously adopted by other European countries with similar election outcomes, leading to a curtailment of democratic freedoms, an inward focus, and attempts to limit the role of civil society. With the European elections on the horizon and another rightward shift anticipated, it is more important than ever for philanthropy to join forces in advancing a just climate transition, promoting democratic values, and ensuring all voices are heard.

The Dutch political agreement include steps to restrict science, media, and international cooperation, with promises to each party’s constituency that are legally untenable as they violate constitutional or international laws and agreements. The prevailing narrative prioritises what happens inside our dikes and everything outside is no longer important. Conversations over the past few months have convinced me of the essential steps philanthropy worldwide needs to take.

First and foremost is to move the perspective beyond the Dutch dikes. We must ensure countries like the Netherlands continue to look beyond their borders and do not shy away from international solidarity, systemic change, and supporting movements to be connected across borders. In our globalised world, problems and solutions are inherently global. Highlighting the impact of European countries on people and the environment elsewhere – both positive and negative – is crucial. Not only to improve what European countries do, but also to strengthen international solidarity. All in all, farmers in the Netherlands, Europe, or Kenya face similar challenges. They are linked through international food chains and the global economy, bearing the highest risks, while large multinational companies in intensive agriculture yield the highest profits.

Secondly, it is up to philanthropy to understand political trends and respond accordingly. This includes swift responses, analysing the funding ecosystem, identifying gaps to fill and how initiatives can reinforce each other. Different types of funders have various roles to play in supporting the broader goals of democracy, climate justice, gender justice, and international solidarity. In all these goals, it is key to materially support those working on sustainable solutions rooted in communities worldwide, driven by long-standing knowledge and experience. Ensuring their voices are heard in policy development is central to upholding democratic values and will help debunk misinformation.

The 2024 Philea Forum is an excellent opportunity not only to discuss these issues within philanthropy but also to act jointly and reinforce each other. We must ensure that the Netherlands and other European countries look beyond the dikes, connect movements within and beyond Europe, and amplify their voices in decision-making processes.

Karin van Boxtel is the interim co-Executive Director at Both ENDS.

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