‘Foundations and Europe: Think, Act, Change’ was the title of the European Foundation Centre’s second annual Autumn Assembly, held in Brussels on 12 November. A majority of Europeans are sceptical about the European Union and what it can offer, said Karin Jestin, Secretary General of Fondation Lombard Odier, who chaired the meeting. What can foundations do to support the European project? Tellingly, less than a third of those in the room rated themselves as 6 or above, on a scale of 1-10, in relating to EU institutions.
The European project is fragile due to the crisis, said keynote speaker European Commissioner Michel Barnier. There is a worrying distance between Europe and its citizens, and countries tend to become more protectionist in a crisis. In his view, foundations can play an important role in linking citizens with EU political structures.
Some ways in which foundations might do this were put forward in a panel discussion on Playing for ‘Team Europe’. Katherine Watson of the European Cultural Foundation talked about the Unconventional Summit, convened by members of NEF, to come up with 50 ‘seeds’ for the future of Europe. Bernhard Lorenz of Mercator Stiftung described a media and advocacy campaign supported by three German foundations entitled ‘I want Europe’ (‘Ich will Europa’). A film of that name shows politicians, celebrities and ordinary people reiterating the message that Europe is good for Germany.
Gottfried Wagner, director of the European Cultural Foundation from 2002 to 2009, delivering the inaugural Raymond Georis Lecture, urged foundations for three to five years to form coalitions and take a strong political stance on Europe. No one expects foundations to reinvent capitalism and democracy, he said, but failure to look at transformation will be seen as falling short. ‘Can an independent third sector free enough capacity to help reshape the new Europe?’
Caroline Hartnell is editor of Alliance magazine
For more information
Event: EFC Autumn Assembly
Date: 12 November 2012
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Organizer: European Foundation Centre