Recommendation adopted on 27 January 2010

Internal governance of NGOs

The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe,

Recalling its decision at its January 2008 Session to formally create the Expert Council on NGO Law as an organ of the Conference;

Reiterating its great satisfaction at the correlative decision in October 2007 by the Committee of Ministers to adopt CM/Recommendation (2007)14 on "The legal status of NGOs in Europe" which continues to provide a bedrock and guidance for the Expert Council's work;

Congratulates the Expert Council on its second substantive report, this time on internal governance of NGOs, with five illustrative case studies included;

Considers that the ongoing work of the Expert Council constitutes a contribution by the Conference of INGOs to the strengthening and deepening of the core values of the Council of Europe: Democracy, human rights and the rule of law;

Underlines that the self-governing character of NGOs is an essential aspect of the right to freedom of association guaranteed by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and of many other international legal instruments:

Notes that while there is widespread conformity with European standards on internal governance of NGOs, notably those prescribed in CM/Recommendation(2007)14, there are many specific cases where improvements would be required;

Highlights that the following recommendations are addressed to governments and administrations, parliaments and NGOs in Council of Europe member states ;
Considers that the following recommendations are also of relevance for the flourishing of civil society in Belarus ;
Adopts in consequence the following recommendations:

1. The appropriateness of certain legal requirements relating to internal governance needs to be reviewed, both to lighten the burden placed on NGOs and to remove any scope for imposing requirements at registration or grant of legal personality which are not prescribed in the law;
2. Inappropriate obstacles to the full participation of children and non-citizens in the decision-making of NGOs should be removed;
3. Restrictions on the freedom of NGOs to adapt their internal rules and structures, and to establish and close branches without legal personality, should be removed;
4. The basis for public authorities to challenge the decision-making of NGOs should be limited to circumstances in which there is a clear and legitimate public interest to be protected;
5. The authority of public officials to attend the meetings of NGO decision-making bodies without specific invitation should be restricted;
6. The scope of obligations relating to the auditing of accounts and reporting on activities must be clear, and not place an undue burden on NGOs;
7. Public authorities must not use their powers to grant or withdraw funding, or the participation of officials in meetings of NGO decision-making bodies, to exercise undue influence on the decisions being taken by NGOs;
8. All Council of Europe bodies, and not only the Committee of Ministers, need to make stronger efforts to raise awareness throughout Europe of CM/Recommendation(2007)14, particularly through its widespread dissemination, and through organizing and supporting training activities for NGOs and public officials;
9. The Expert Council is encouraged to continue to foster and strengthen attentive and enlightened monitoring of the legal and regulatory frameworks concerning NGOs across Europe, as well as relevant administrative and judicial practices and further to devote increased attention to the follow-up required by the successive recommendations of the Conference based on Expert Council reports.
Finally, the Conference requests its President and the President of the Expert Council, as appropriate, to convey and promote these recommendations to other relevant Council of Europe bodies and partners, as well as to NGOs and appropriate authorities throughout Europe.