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EU Commission proposes ‘one stop shop’ for civil society groups

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Non-profit and civil society groups will have a ‘one stop shop’ to allow them to operate in EU countries where they are not registered, under a new proposal tabled by the European Commission on Tuesday (5 September).

The proposal “will improve the functioning of the internal market by removing legal and administrative barriers for non-profit associations that operate or wish to operate in more than one member state”, the EU executive explained in a press release.

Currently, when an association conducts activities in a country that is not the one they are legally registered, they “do not receive uniform acknowledgement of their legal personality and capacity”, the Commission said.

In some cases, non-profits need to establish a new legal identity in the interested member state.

The new law would require organisations to fill out a legal form, called ‘European cross-border association’, to reduce administrative work by national authorities.

The EU executive estimates that the new law could cut administrative costs across the EU by around €770 million per year, considering that about 310,000 associations are currently conducting cross-border activities.

The proposal follows a European Parliament report on the issue in February 2022.

“Today’s proposal is a breakthrough for all those who are fighting to support democracy across European borders, and a first step towards protecting civil society as a whole throughout the Union,” said Green MEP Sergey Lagodinsky, who drafted the Parliament report and will pilot its position on the legislation.

“Ensuring legal protection is crucial today with civil society under attack in many EU countries. Restricting activities, discriminating against individual members and limiting access to funding are ways of pressuring NGOs,” added Lagodinsky.

“Non-profit associations and public benefit foundations create societal and economic value as providers of services in social, health, care, culture, employment, education, sports, environment, international cooperation and humanitarian support, among others, leaving no one behind,” Civil Society Europe director Carlotta Besozzi said in a statement.

The proposal can “further unlock the potential and support the essential contribution of civil society organisations of all sizes to our society” Besozzi argued.

Next steps

Lagodinsky told EURACTIV that his goal is to have a “fast trilogue” between the European Parliament, Council and Commission to conclude the file before next June’s European elections.

“I am aware of the time constraints, however, we urgently need this legislation,” he told EURACTIV.

However, a European Commission source told EURACTIV that the legislative process for such files typically lasts over a year, leaving lawmakers in a race against time. 

[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Nathalie Weatherald]

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