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NGOs, corporate sustainability and the sad irony of modern Belgium*

An American executive once said to me that he couldn’t understand why the European Commission provided funds to groups who protested publicly about its policies and actions.

That, he said, would never happen in the US of A.

My response was that a comparison between the two political systems was not helpful.

The current EU, I argued, for all its flaws, had a much longer history of taking an inclusive ‘stakeholder’ approach to governance.

Look at Germany, I suggested, and Scandinavia.

The US, with its better-funded social groups (e.g. Unions, in the past) and very different culture towards social and environmental issues (e.g. Sierra Club et. al.) and business is just, well, more conservative than Europe.

Whether that statement about EU/US NGO funding is still true in 2011 I don’t know. I suspect it is.

That aside, the EU’s approach to providing funding for groups such as SOMO in the Netherlands has been the right one.

Without groups such as SOMO, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Bank Track, the Clean Clothes Campaign etc, the corporate sustainability world would not have progressed as far or as fast as it has.

There’s no doubt about that.

Not that they are always right, but they only need to be right some/most of the time to make a positive difference.

So when the Belgian authorities start trying to muzzle protest on spurious grounds it seems very much at odds with the activities and outlook of the European Commission.

The irony being, of course, that the Commission is basically what sustains Belgium’s capital Brussels. More importantly, it’s the capital of Europe, seat of EU power and espouser of multi-stakeholder liberal approaches to debate.

The term “Brussels” is often interchangeable in EU-based conversation with “European Commission”.

Have a look at this latest news about campaigner prosecutions on the Greenpeace website.

You’ll surely agree that the Belgian authorities are over-stepping the mark.

Prosecution of campaigners merely for stepping on a carpet sounds like the kind of practice that led to the current turmoil across the Middle East.

Even if you can’t form a Government after nearly a year, as in Belgium’s case, you can still adhere to fundamental EU values and legislation such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Call me a liberal young(ish) idealogue, but surely that’s how it should be?

* my use of the term irony here is in the sense of: “an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.” Reference here. I refer to the reference due to a constant publisher’s fear of misusing the term.

(As my colleague Andrew Bold points out, being late for an appointment due to being stuck in traffic is no way ironic. That is, unless you happen to be a town planner)

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