The coronavirus has taught us three lessons: First, it is possible to put an economic system on hold everywhere in the world at the same time in a few weeks when the threat is assessed as serious enough. Second, people around the world are so interconnected to each other that a virus circulates around the world at breakneck speed from one person to another. Third, we are able to face serious challenges, if we react in a coordinated way and in solidarity with the most affected.
‘Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.’ These were the words of Robert Schuman presenting the Schuman Plan on 9 May 1950 – the day which we celebrate each year as Europe Day. More than seventy years have passed since then, which resulted in the abolishment of borders, in the creation of the biggest common market, the Euro, a charter on fundamental rights, Erasmus – the world’s largest student exchange programme, and even Eurovision and the Champions League.
But there are hardly philanthropic organisations with a primary European purpose. So, in these challenging times for European solidarity, we asked ourselves: What should we do to increase the impact of the philanthropic sector on cross-border solidarity? Although foundations in Europe spend together €60 billion annually for the common good, Europe itself is left out. The study ‘Imagine Philanthropy for Europe’ identifies a number of technical and political hurdles.
There are cross-border legal and tax problems as well as language barriers that need to be overcome. The European Union has so far not really regarded philanthropy as a ‘game changer’ and thus has not allocated much attention to it yet. However, these factors alone cannot explain the clear lack of a European perspective in the foundation sector. Rather, it is the lack of desire for Europe among philanthropists and foundations that is the greatest barrier. But the current challenges and the sense of urgency force foundations to reinvent themselves, ready to take a greater responsibility, and to enable greater European solidarity.
‘Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.’
The pandemic has proven that cooperation and new alliances matter more than ever to make European solidarity a transforming reality. Moreover, in times when philanthropy is often considered to be part of the problem rather than as a way to overcome them, we cannot continue as before.
The process of European integration seems to have stopped at the doorstep of the European philanthropic sector. There is a handful of small European foundations, and there are some national foundations which engage in European exchange and collaboration or dedicate a fraction of their resources to a European programme, project or to European issues, but genuine European philanthropy is hardly existing, a niche. Where are the European philanthropists?
The main barrier seems to be the lack of European ambition, belief and purpose among philanthropists, among foundation board members, among foundation staff. The biggest part of them act local, regional and national. While Europe has transformed so fundamentally and rapidly in the last 70 years, philanthropy has not kept pace.
So, something needs to be done. The corona-shock could become Europe’s moment and the moment for philanthropy to commit to our common ground, Europe. And maybe the European model will be quite different from the traditional foundation model as we know it.
Robert Schuman’s words are far more than a symbolic reminder of the vision of a united Europe, they should remain a lighthouse that offers guidance to this day, also to philanthropy.
Download your copy of ‘Imagine Philanthropy for Europe’.
André Wilkens is the director at the European Cultural Foundation, and Esra Kücük is the managing director at Allianz Kulturstiftung.