The vast majority of the active civic organizations in Bulgaria have rejected the changes to the Non-profit Legal Entities Act (NPLEA) proposed by a group of MPs from the United Patriots alliance labelling these discriminatory, repressive and anti-European in spirit and content. This has been revealed in a survey among almost 400 NGOs conducted in August and September 2020 by Open Society Institute – Sofia Foundation and Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation after several members of the United Patriots parliamentary group lodged to the 44th National Assembly on July 1, 2020, a bill for changes to the NPLEA. The outcomes are not representative for all registered non-profit legal entities, yet they reflect the opinion of a large number of the active non-governmental organizations keeping up-to-date profiles at the Bulgarian NGO’s Information Portal (www.ngobg.info) and/or having registration with the Electronic Proposal Submission System (ЕPSS) for participation in the Active Citizens Fund programme under the EEA Financial Mechanism 2014-2021.
Close to 78% of the surveyed representatives of non-governmental organizations claim that if they were Members of Parliament they would vote against the introduced bill. Just around 9% would support it, whereas approximately 13% would abstain. More than 70% of the respondents do not approve of the bill’s proposition for creating a special register at the Ministry of Finance enlisting the NGOs with public benefit status, which have obtained any amounts over BGN 1000 from another country / foreign legal or natural persons, with the exception of EU funds. The majority of these organizations consider the introduced bill to be discriminatory (76%) and limiting the right of association (70.4%). Some 73% of the respondent organizations also find that the proposed bill is anti-European in spirit and content. Just 5.6% of the surveyed participants explicitly take the opposite stance.
According to 77% of the respondents, the bill is an attempt to repress the public benefit NGOs. This assertion is also shared by almost 60% of the organizations with public benefit status, which have taken part in the survey. A total of 75.5% are of the opinion that should the proposed amendment to the NPLEA be passed, it would discriminate unjustly the public benefit organizations receiving funding from abroad in favour of entities with both public and private benefit status obtaining funding solely from Bulgarian sources and from the EU, incl. through different ministries, for which such requirements are not foreseen.
The share of organizations, in whose opinion the purpose of the bill is achieving greater transparency in the civil sector, is a mere 19.7%, whereas 75.2% disagree with such a claim. The majority of the respondents think that the levels or transparency and regulatory requirements toward the civic organizations are already high enough – these two assertions are backed by 78.3% and 86.2%, respectively. At the same time, more than 87% of the respondents do not agree with the claim that the state has a good policy for encouraging the proper functioning of non-governmental organizations and do not think that the country’s government provides adequate financial support for their existence and consolidation. Just 5.6% of the surveyed organizations are of the opposite opinion. According to 86% of the respondents the possible adoption of the proposed changes to the NPLEA will introduce an intolerably high level of personal responsibility for the members of the governing bodies of public benefit organizations that would be disproportionate to the state-granted support – both in financial terms and with regard to the creation of favourable environment for the functioning of the civil sector.
The survey also demonstrates that the eventual passing of the bill is perceived by 42% of all participating organizations as a risk to their very existence in the long run. At the same time, 60% of the surveyed organizations agree with the assertion that should such a bill be passed they are likely to lose some of the members of their governing bodies.
The survey has been conducted between 7 August and 12 September 2020 by a joint team from Open Society Institute – Sofia Foundation and Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation. The survey questionnaire was sent to the non-profit legal entities (non-governmental organizations), which have an updated profile at the Bulgarian NGO’s Information Portal (www.ngobg.info) and/or have registration with the Electronic Proposal Submission System (ЕPSS) for participation in the Active Citizens Fund programme under the EEA Financial Mechanism 2014-2021. A total of 410 NGOs have participated in the survey (49.6% of all organizations approached). 85.9% of them have answered all of the survey questions, whereas 14% have provided partial response. Among the entities that filled in the survey form, the majority come from the field of education (35%), followed by organization engaged in the sphere of social services and healthcare (23%) and in the field of regional and local development (23%). The survey has been funded with own resources of the conducting organizations.
The full results of the survey will expectedly be published in October.