Partnership in practice: involving civil society in EU funds for the inclusion of migrants and refugees

In the framework of its partnership with the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) on EU funding for inclusion, PICUM published the Policy Note Partnership in practice: including civil society in EU funded actions for the inclusion of migrants and refugees.

The partnership principle is a key feature of the ‘European added value’ in the EU funds which entails the involvement of stakeholders, in the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the funded actions. Such involvement should include civil society actors, social partners, local authorities, international organisations and the organisations representing beneficiaries, as – in the case of the European Social Fund + (ESF+) and the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) – migrant and refugee-led organisations.

The current health crisis and the following decisions of the European Commission on financial support to the member states hit by the COVID-19 pandemic will have a strong impact on the negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF 2021 – 2027). This will affect as well the for funds such as the ESF+ and the AMIF after 2020, which are currently being discussed. Timelines might change, contingency plans will be prepared to face additional social spending, new solutions on member states’ contribution to the common budget will have to be planned. Meanwhile, national administrations might be obliged to act in short time in terms of funds management and programming. In such pandemic scenario, partnership with civil society in funds management cannot be put aside: only granting a meaningful role to civil society is possible to guarantee that services really reach those who need them the most.

Despite a formal obligation, the partnership principle is very unevenly applied across different funds and member states even in normal times. Different practices are often due to differences in national culture of public administration management, but also the lack of time and existing bureaucratic mechanisms discourages administrations from engaging with NGOs. As programming of EU funds for the next MFF is currently taking place in member states, the upcoming months represent an important window of opportunity for advocating for a better participation of NGOs in this process.

To ensure a full and comprehensive implementation of the partnership principle, NGOs need to be included from the beginning in the programming through open consultations on the need of integration at the national level. Monitoring committees should include organisations working in the field and representatives of migrants and refugees communities; capacity building should be offered to stakeholders to promote their engagement. Delays, meeting cancellations and difficulties in coordinating participative processes due to the current COVID-19 health crisis should push national administrations to develop creative mechanisms for stakeholders’ engagement, and not act as a pretext for lowering NGO participation in this process.

The Policy Note explores the implementation of the partnership principle in EU funds, with a clear focus on AMIF and ESF+, the main instruments responsible for financing integration initiatives. The paper points out the need to promote and replicate good practices in partnership and concludes by listing a number of recommendations to secure the engagement of civil society, both at the national and EU level, within the management of ESF+ and AMIF but also other funds employed for migrant and refugee’s inclusion.


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