We as members of the European Foundation Centre Aisbl (EFC), public-benefit foundations and corporate funders from across Europe and beyond, are deeply concerned about recent developments affecting the NGO sector in Russia.
The European foundation sector has grown significantly over recent decades, and has become more international. As an integral part of our public-benefit work, we as foundations often support beneficiaries across borders. We believe strongly that charitable contributions should easily flow from one country to another, without the worry that beneficiaries will suffer negative consequences for receiving those funds. The right of NGOs to freely receive funding from national and foreign individuals and legal entities is at the core of the “Fundamental principles of the status of NGOs in Europe”, adopted in 2002 by the Council of Europe.
The Russian philanthropic sector has seen steady, positive progress in recent years and has made significant contributions to Russian society. The positive development includes a significant growth of the sector; the introduction of tax incentives for individual donors; and increased cross-sector engagement of public authorities, NGOs and business through the “open government” approach. The Russian foundation sector is part of the European and international foundation community. At a 2011 conference organised by the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, the EFC had the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into recent developments in the Russian philanthropic landscape, and exchanged views and ideas with representatives of Russian foundations, NGOs and public authorities. This exchange highlighted common support for the promotion of an enabling, transparent and accountable environment for philanthropy in Europe and beyond.
We are now deeply concerned about the application of amendments made in 2012 to the NGO law in Russia. These changes introduced the concept of an NGO performing functions of a “foreign agent” to refer to Russian NGOs receiving foreign funding and participating in “political activity” in Russia. While we fully accept that party political activities undertaken by public-benefit organisations can be restricted, recent incidents suggest that the term “political activity” as it appears in the Russian NGO law is being too broadly interpreted, clearly going beyond party political activities. The result of this is that some organisations carrying out public-benefit activities are now being restricted by the implementation of this regulation. The labelling of beneficiaries of funds from outside of Russia as “foreign agents” stigmatises these organisations and undermines their valuable work for the benefit of Russian society.
The EFC and its members would value a continuation of dialogue and exchange of good practices and call upon the Russian authorities to review the implementation of the law governing NGOs in Russia to ensure an enabling environment for philanthropy. The EFC is ready to share information and best practices on philanthropy law from other European countries.
This statement was released by EFC members during the 24th EFC AGA and Conference in Copenhagen and has been sent to the relevant authorities in Russia, as well as disseminated within the philanthropic community.efc