Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A Reflection on the Hearing/Exchange of Views with the CULT-Committee of the European Parliament on April 2nd 2009

First I have to mention that the invitation to speak to the Education and Culture Committee of the European Parliament in itself is a big success for DARE, since it is the first time DARE was officially asked by a European body to present its view. This step for DARE is something like a crowning glory. But does it make a difference if someone receives a crown and what makes the difference?
After speaking with MEP Doris Pack (EVP) who put a lot of energy in making this hearing come true, I will try to draft some personal reflections with the intention to encourage you to further discussion.

DARE has arrived in the EU logic now. First of all the hearing points out that DARE right now belongs to the actors IN the EU logic. We are no longer outside the institutional logic of the European bodies, but the doors are open now to do more - which by the way has also consequences for DARE´s structure as an NGO.
In this regard I wondered a bit when one of the MEP´s present at the hearing mentioned: “How good you are finally here. We support you already the second period! You should come more often and we wonder why you did not come earlier.”
For me this is a clear indicator that most of the actors on the European policy level do have no idea how bad the (financial and structural) support for NGOs work on level of most of even the EU´s member states is. On the other hand – pragmatically spoken - we should enable ourselves to make more use of this invitation.

The Grant givers logic: At first glance I would describe the reactions and recommendations of the MEP´s as friendly and constructive. By inviting DARE – the already second time by the EU funded network for EDC/HRE – the EU approved their decision to fund EDC/HRE issues in Europe. Out of the Grant Givers logic, the Grant giver defined the field of EDC/HRE as important. The supporting of DARE as network is in this regard a self evident process.

The “Human Rights Trap”: The recommendations given to DARE after the presentation showed that there are some hints: By the EU´s defining of EDC/HRE as an important issue in Europe and by funding DARE and related actors in the field, there is the danger of a political tendency to water down the issues in the field: “Look what we in Europe do and what we as EU do here and how good we support it! Look how bad HR issues are treated elsewhere in the world! You should become more active there! Gender discrimination is incredible important issue for the countries in the south etc”.
In this regard we experienced the typical trap that human rights issues are always important as long as they are bad and happen somewhere abroad. Again to argue for the need for education in this field in Europe and the important role NGO´s play – even for the formal education system - seems to me something that needs to be clearly communicated.
It might be worth discussing if by setting a clear communicative focus on the aspect of Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights and its contribution to citizenship in the EU and its member states we can avoid to fall into this EU´s “Human Rights trap”.

Education and the national level: I do not know how often I have heard this killer phrase.
“Your work is incredible important, but Education is a subject to national policies”.
By the way: when setting the Hearing on the CULT-Committees agenda Education was one of the reasons because of its TOP priority on European level☺…
I would again define this as a trap we have to live with. But to me there seems to be need to turn this in an argumentative way. The EU (but also other grant givers) make EDC/HRE an issue by funding related activities and by this generate a demand. It offers NGO´s the possibility to widest mutual exchange in the field and offers assistance to their working context. However there arises the paradox situation that the member states see no need for proper support of the work of organisations in the field, because they can get funding from elsewhere. DARE can give a lot of examples what happens to the NGO level when funding from abroad ends.

Structural Consequences and arising challenges:
Undoubtly the hearing is a huge step for DARE! The above described obstacles are clearly showing that there is an increasing need to substantially feed and inform the relevant stakeholders on the policy level about EDC/HRE related topics and developments. I see the biggest challenge that with the current structure of the network as a platform moderating exchange and knowledge, facilitating discussion, offering Trainings etc for NGO´s from all over Europe we can not follow the demand to properly feed and constantly react on policy developments on the EU level. Even with a group of people concentrating on advocacy work as we do it currently in Special Interest Group “Advocacy” it is difficult to steady contribute on the required professional level and with the necessary depth of argumentation. Even worse: the better the results of the Special Interest Groups work are, the more the demand on policy level rises for even more expert input from DARE´s side.

This in my opinion can only be solved if DARE manages to establish a professional working structure, that can follow up on this task (which by the way is only one task of the network).

Georg Pirker, Arbeitskreis deutscher Bildungsstätten (Germany)

P.S. The full text of the speech Frank Elbers held at the the CULT is available for download on the DARE website