What can you do as citizen?

3. Joining a network

National and local civil society groups have the opportunity to join a network and be represented by structured umbrella organisations, present in Brussels and Strasbourg, and thus influence EU institutions. 

One concrete option for local NGOs or groups of activists interested in promoting a more inclusive society and better anti-discrimination measures is to coordinate their local efforts with those who work at the European level.

One of the best known umbrella organisations active in Brussels is Social Platform, the largest civil society alliance for social justice and participatory democracy in Europe. We interviewed Annica Ryngbeck, policy and advocacy adviser at Social Platform. She explained how Social Platform represents its 48 members with the European Institutions.

Interview with Annica Ryngbeck, Policy and Advocacy adviser at Social Platform

Q: Can you describe how Social Platform represents its members with EU institutions?

A: Social Platform consists of 48 pan-European networks of NGOs. We campaign to ensure that EU policies are developed in partnership with the people they affect, respecting fundamental rights, promoting solidarity, and improving lives. Our members work on a whole range of issues, such as gender equality, LGBT rights, anti-poverty, non-discrimination, Roma rights, homelessness, etc. On some political issues encompassing the concerns of many, we come together to develop a joint position and EU recommendations, which we then bring to decision-makers by requesting bilateral meetings with them and inviting them to our public events and meetings. In 2016, we invited representatives of the European Parliament, Council, and Commission to talk to us and our members and share their top tips for successful advocacy towards EU institutions.

Q: How does Social Platform raise awareness of EU institutions on issues of discrimination and violence against specific target groups, such as homeless people and people with mental issues?

A: While EU legislation criminalises racist and xenophobic hate crime, it does not recognise other forms of intolerance that may result in violence against, for example, LGBT people, the elderly, people with disabilities, or people living in poverty. This is why, in 2012, we developed a position ‘towards EU actions against all forms of bias violence’ with recommendations to EU decision makers and Member States to extend existing legislation to cover other forms of violence, but also to recognise additional needs, such as victim support and training for relevant professions. For example, policy-makers are rarely concerned with violence and harassment against persons with mental health issues or due to homelessness. It is therefore important for us to remind them and bring visibility to other forms of intolerance that also deserve acknowledgement and visibility. An important part of our work is also to try to ensure that not only the ‘usual suspects’ are invited to relevant meetings with decision makers, but also other civil society representatives that work to tackle other forms of intolerance. Many of our members are service providers and work on access to quality social services in the EU, such as education, housing, and care; others work specifically on different grounds of discrimination, such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, or age. We therefore try to raise awareness and exchange on non-discrimination as an important criteria of ‘access to’ services. This encourages organisations to work together, amplify their voices, and highlight intersecting inequalities (e.g. a Roma person can be a victim of violence due to both ethnicity and poverty; an older woman due to both gender and age). Bringing cases and good practices to the forefront is also a way for us to show that the EU proposal for an Equal Treatment Directive in access to goods and services is still very much needed, yet being blocked by Member States in the Council since 2009.

Q: What kind of advocacy tools support Social Platform’s work and how do you bring your members closer to EU institutions?

A: Firstly, we make sure we are invited to relevant meetings in the European Parliament, whether with individual Members of the Parliament or for a hearing to highlight our recommendations about the need to combat all forms of hate and intolerance. Secondly, we inform our members about important meetings or consultations of the EU institutions, explaining why it can be relevant for them to contribute to policy processes they otherwise would not prioritise. For example, organisations working on anti-discrimination typically cooperate with the European Parliament’s intergroup on anti-racism and diversity, while organisations that are service providers commonly work with the intergroup on common goods and public services. As Social Platform, we try to bring these politicians and stakeholders closer to each other, on the understanding that anti-discrimination and access to goods and services are closely related issues.

Reflective questions

How did you find this interview useful? Is there anything that surprised and/or inspired you?