2007 is the EU Year of Equal Opportunities. Unclear information on the global budget and funding decisions threathens to hamper ambitious national action plans. And with only weeks left of 2006, time is getting very short.
Each year EU decides on a different topic of interest and design a thematic year. These years have been going on for such a long time and are so invisible in the European context as to almost be counterproductive. What I mean is that by assigning a theme the EU can say it has done something about the topic at hand, and can thus "forget" it. A little bit like the International donīt buy anything day, or the debated car-free day. As if by not buying anything on that particular day, or leaving the car at home that day alone would actually make any difference.
The argument is of course that by organizing these events, the media attention will help focus our minds on these important issues. And because the EU does not want to be limited to media stunts they go for a full year.
However, what might make it into the news because of its one-of-a-kindness is very unlikely to attract any media attention whatsoever if it continues for a year.
Thus expectations rise towards a richer content. After all, a year is a long time, and should provide ample opportunities to highlight important aspects and to further public discussion. It is not that easy though. The activities are carried out nationally, following national action plans. These plans are either developed by civil servants alone, or in consultation with the stakeholders. In the case of Finland the cooperation model is a working one, and ambitious plans has been jointly agreed upon by the Ministry of labour and representatives of stakeholders.
The next step is to apply for funding from the EU. As unfortunately very often happens, the information concerning funding is muddy at best, and decisions are painfully slow. This might be expected as the normal order of things in a machinery as hugely complex as the EU, but with less than three weeks to the beginning of the Year of Equal Opportunities it is hardly appropriate that many still await funding decisions that affects their ability to carry out their laboriously developed action plans.
INFOnet decided to come to the rescue by asking the appropriate authorities outright about the funding schemes, and the total budget available. We asked via e-mail on December 4, and got a reply on December 12, a little more than a week later. Not bad, considering it can take a lot longer sometimes. Now, if we were a daily news broadcast, this response time would be wholly unacceptable. In the e-mailworld we live in now, instant answers are expected. This regardless of all limitations in work forces often cited at European level.
What did they answer?
Local, regional or national activities could be financed by the European Union up to a maximum of 50% of the total cost. In other words, if the total cost of a project aimed at holding a conference on the anti-discrimination issue for health care professionals is Euro 70 000, half of the amount (Euro 35 000) would be chargeable to the European Union. The Member State would have to provide the remaining Euro 35 000.
Apart from the funding available for specific activities, other events and schemes related to the aims of the European Year could also qualify for support, such as advertising material connected to the Year, or permission to use the Year's logo. A trade union keen on focusing its annual conference on the theme of equality could therefore get in touch with the national implementing body to ask for dissemination material for the Year (such as publications). It could also feature the campaign logo on its invitation and programme.
This is useful to know. What the answer fail to address, are the more acute concerns about the size of the global budget, the decisions process and time table for granting money, and the question where the collected action plans from all EU countries can be found. This information was not available on the web site of the thematic year. From the rest of the answer I got it becomes clear they have not read my request, where I cite that I work for INFOnet, a European news agency for adult education. Rather, they seem to think I would like to be active in the thematic year itself, and they reiterate the basic facts about the working conditions for the year. It seems the agency at the EU dealing with the thematic year is not very used to media requests.
(INFOnet - Johanni Larjanko)