A vibrant democracy relies on an active civil society. Individuals looking to get involved often end up joining associations. Last Wednesday (11 December 2019), I met with around 30 representatives from European civil society to discuss this with them over dinner.
On the European level, there is currently no way to found associations. They are founded on the national level, under the differing legal regimes of the EU member states. Some of them might have a European umbrella organisation in Brussels, founded under Belgian law. Belgium specifically introduced the „AISBL“ for this purpose, the international counterpart to their ASBL, the Association Sans But Lucratif, which roughly translates as association with no intention to make a profit.
The possibility to found directly in Europe as an association does not exist. But what a great signal this would be to feel more at home in Europe. A common European public needs a European civil society.
During the roundtable dinner, I also presented ideas how a European Statute for Associations could be designed: the „European Association“ should act in the public interest, and have legal personality. The statute would be additional to what exists in national laws, without replacing or harmonising them.
Moreover, it should be designed to fulfill the necessities of European organisations, and allow for subdivisions – for example to include national associations as chapters, or to allow for different types of sport to come together within one association. And finally, we want to be as unbureaucratic as possible, by allowing for online registration.
We are not alone wishing for a European Statute for Associations. Foundations also don’t have any means to organise themselves on the European level. Many questions and problems that pose themselves for associations, when trying to organise in the EU, are equally relevant for them.
The last three decades have seen numerous approaches to create a European statute for both associations and foundations. But the necessary consensus among European member states could never be found, as big legal and political questions quickly arise on the subject.
But the time has come to support European civil society. To make our wish become reality, what we need now is a joint effort across party lines, throughout Parliament and beyond – together with a powerful civil society.