Norway defends NGOs in Hungary and Poland

Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg said Hungary and Poland must allow independent funding of NGOs as part of a €1 billion Norwegian aid scheme, which is currently up for renewal.

Poland and Hungary want Norway to waive a requirement that EEA (European Economic Area) funds to civil society must be channelled through an administrative body that is meant to be independent of their governments. Solberg rejected the demand.

“We cannot allow Poland and Hungary to control the money to civil society. We must have independent organisations that assign them,” she told Norwegian press agency NTB.

She also warned against “illiberal” powers that do not understand the need for an independent civil society.

“The civic sector shouldn’t be controlled by the state,” said the Norwegian PM, who heads a coalition between Conservatives and the anti-immigrant, libertarian Progress party.

Solberg raised the matter with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker during a visit to Brussels last week.

Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, in exchange for their access to the EU single market, fund initiatives aimed at reducing social and economic disparities in 15 poorer EU member states, through the so-called EEA funds.

Norway is the biggest donor and Poland the largest beneficiary, followed by Romania and Hungary.

Under the next scheme, which runs until 2021, Poland stands to receive €809 million and Hungary €215 million in aid.

A small part of the funds, roughly 10 percent, is dedicated to civic society, a mandatory part of the support programme.

Negotiations between Norway and Poland are stuck in deadlock. Another round of negotiations with Hungary will take place later in May.

Norway’s EU minister Frank Bakke-Jensen, formally in charge of the talks, told NTB he hoped to close negotiations by the end of the year.

He said he did not worry about them dragging out.

“It’s a good training camp for young democracies to sit at such a negotiating table,” he said.

(eu observer)