‘Criticism fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things,’ Winston Churchill once pointed out. Without a doubt, Helmut Anheier is right when he suggests that most European foundations have an insular mentality and lack a pan-European outlook.
Right now, there are just a few foundations active in the field of cross-border cooperation. The Network of European Foundations works on European integration and social cohesion and fosters European Citizens Consultations, which are the first-ever pan-European debates on the future of the European Union across the boundaries of geography and language, involving citizens from all 27 member states. The European Consortium of Foundations on Human Rights and Disability aims to play a catalytic role in ensuring that European governments and other relevant stakeholders commit to and support both ratification and implementation of the Convention. So far, seven foundations are working together to raise the profile of disability in the EU agenda.
The bigger picture, too, looks quite grim. The number of European foundations with international programmes is small, with most foundations acting at national level. We need to break through the self-enclosed state and self-imposed borders so that a common, strong identity of European foundations can develop.
I strongly agree that the need for the European Foundation Statute has been there all along. We should take the blame for being too passive in the past and look to the future. We need to act upon the growing will of foundations. A greater degree of self-evaluation and a more open attitude towards the public would also help both foundations’ standing and their effectiveness. A look in the mirror always reveals something that might be improved and might show us that there is no occasion for the ‘self-congratulatory style’ that Anheier refers to.
Executive director, Open Estonia Foundation