UPDATE 09 June 2021: Thanks to the swift response and broad mobilization from CSOs across Europe, the Commission has rejected the Minister’s complaint and confirmed the grant to the consortium for the project aimed at combating racism and discrimination.
(15 Apr. 2021) A letter leaked to the media shows that the French Minister of Interior Gerald Darmanin requested to the European Commission to withdraw the funding of an EU project application granted to a French organisation working with Muslim women, Alliance Citoyenne. This solicitation comes after the project proposal was assessed and approved on the basis of eligibility and selection criteria by the European Commission. The request is not based on solid evidence resulting from legally-based processes but on unfounded allegations.
Darmanin says Commission should withdraw funding for @alliancecitoyen who use “guise” of anti-racism to promote “rules compatible with Sharia law”, citing their support for the burkini. This right was upheld by France’s highest administrative court in 2016 pic.twitter.com/bJyPa2EMOL
— Mehreen (@MehreenKhn) March 25, 2021
It would be unprecedented if the European Commission decided to bend to the request of the French government and suspend European financing disbursement for projects that have successfully undergone an independent assessment process. This would set a dangerous precedent, opening a space for interference from any member state. It would also send a disastrous message to civil society actors.
The letter also develops a dangerous narrative on foreign funding developed casting a negative presumption and a general stigmatisation affecting foreign funding to associations. The right to freedom of association includes the right to access funding, including foreign funding. In June 2020, the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that Hungary’s “foreign funding” legislation is in clear breach of EU law and the right to freedom of association in imposing discriminatory and unjustified restrictions on civic organisations’ access to funding outside their country. Nevertheless, since its introduction in 2017, several countries have followed the Hungarian footstep in introducing or discussing restrictions to foreign financing of civic organisations, as also found by the 2020 European Commission rule of law report. The European Commission needs to ensure the implementation of the ruling in Hungary and other countries aiming to pass similar legislation.