EU-China Civil Society Forum
February 25, 2010

Statement: EuropeAid-Call on "EU-China: Civil Society Dialogue"

Kontakt: Dr. Klaus Fritsche, Asienstiftung, Bullmannaue 11, 45327 Essen


EuropeAid: Civil Society Dialogue between Europe and China a False Promise?

Civil society dialogue has become a trendy buzzword also in EU policy toward China. And while only two years ago the EU Parliament’s critical inquiry about the lack of consultation with Chinese NGOs was countered by pointing out that there was no independent NGOs in China, we are now hearing a different tune from Brussels.

On February 5, EuropeAid, the institution in charge of EU development aid, published a call for proposals on the topic "EU-China Civil Society Dialogue". The goal of this call is to support the development "of a structered ongoing dialogue between European and Chinese civil societies". The activities envisioned intend to bolster what is described as an "increasingly vibrant civil society sector in China."

While this sounds good, on close inspection some questions arise. For instance, the call for proposals reveals a conception of dialogue best characterized as a false promise. How can we speak of a European-Chinese dialogue when the dialogue concerns only the situation in China? Would genuine dialogue not also require political developments and the work of civil society organizations in Europe being addressed and similarities and differences identified?

By contrast, the EU call for proposals idealizes European civil societies, presents them as role models, and limits "dialogue" to the development of civil society in China. In this vein, it states, "The Chinese civil society is facing challenges that were familiar to its European counterparts in the past,  and would greatly benefit from lessons learned from the EU side while looking together with EU counterparts for a Chinese version of approaches used." 

Whether this understanding of dialogue indeed reflects the intentions of the European Parliament in providing funding for the EU-China dialogue is certainly one question that needs to be answered.

However, the call for proposals also raises another question. For the European Commission, civil society comprises all non-state actors, even including universities and chambers of commerce, not just NGOs and social movements. Of course, there are shelf-loads of literature on the concept of civil society, this shall not further concern us here.

Yet, a fact worthy of criticism is that the rules of application stated in the EuropeAid call for proposals ultimately make it impossible for European NGOs and the mostly smaller independent Chinese NGOs to submit a potentially successful proposal. This starts with the overall amount of available funding  at 1M euros while the minimum funding per applicant is set at 400,000 euros so that a maximum of two grants can be awarded.

Politically even more problematic is that the call for proposals fails to take the difficult situation of Chinese NGOs into consideration. They do not have only difficulties in dealing with the modalities of financial reporting required by the EU – a constant source of complaints – but also face the question of whether they can afford to take a public stance by participating in such a proposal. This, of course, is a prerequisite for any application for funding of joint activities under this call for proposals.

In sum, the Commission has to reconsider its perspective if it is serious about promoting a real dialogue between civil society in Europe and China. And the European Parliament is called upon to champion genuine dialogue.

Contact us: Klaus Fritsche <>, Asienstiftung, Bullmannaue 11, D-45327 Essen, 0201-8303838