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Associations and foundations


Associations can be defined as a permanent grouping of natural or legal persons whose members pool their knowledge or activities either for a purpose in the general interest or in order to directly or indirectly promote the trade or professional interests of its members.

The main characteristics or associations are:

  • voluntary and open membership
  • equal voting rights - resolutions carried by majority
  • members' fees - no capital contribution
  • autonomy and independence
  • service providers, voluntary work, sports and advocacy/representative
  • important providers in health care, care for elderly and children and social services

The Draft Statute for European Associations (EA)

The Draft Statute for a European Association was proposed in 1992 to enable associations to take advantage of the single market in the same way as companies can, without having to forego their specific character as groupings of people.

The Draft Statute provided for general characteristics of the European Association:

  • Subject to the application at national level of the legal and administrative rules governing the carrying on of an activity or the exercise of a profession, the EA could freely determine the activities necessary for the pursuit of its objectives, provided they were compatible with the objectives of the Community, Community public policy and the public policy of the Member States. It pursued them in accordance with the principles which derive from its character as a grouping of persons and in a disinterested fashion.
  • The profits from any economic activity would be devoted exclusively to the pursuit of its objects, and may not be divided amongst the members.
    The definition covered all categories of "associations" by reference to who benefits from the services, (i.e. those aimed at the promotion of members' interests, and those aimed at meeting the needs of third parties). The Draft Statute was withdrawn by the Commission in 2006 due to lack of progress in the legislative process. Nevertheless, the Commission is ready to continue the dialogue on the subject and to review the situation on the basis of new information.


Foundations are bodies with their own source of funds which they spend according to their own judgement on projects or activities of public benefit. They are entirely independent of government or other public authorities and are run by independent management boards or trustees.

The main characteristics of foundations are:

  • They are run by appointed trustees
  • Their capital supplied through donations and gifts
  • They may finance and undertake research, they support international, national and local projects; might also provide grants to relieve the needs of individuals, fund voluntary work, health and elderly care.

In 1997 Communication from the Commission on promoting the role of voluntary organisations and foundations in Europe COM (1997) 241 final - 06.06.1997 was adopted. Its goal was to initiate a dialogue between the Commission and the key actors in the sector, including umbrella bodies, practitioners, academics, and national and local authorities.

In recognition of the need to improve the relationship with the voluntary sector organisations, the Commission adopted on 18 January 2000 its Discussion Paper "The Commission and Non-Governmental Organisations: Building a Stronger Partnership".

In 2009 the Directorate General for Internal Market and Services has launched a public consultation on the difficulties foundations face when operating cross-border, on the content of a possible European Foundation Statute and on how a Statute might affect donors' and founders' attitudes. The consultation is linked to a feasibility study which the Commission has made public at the same time. Responses will be taken into account in assessing the need for and the impact of a potential Statute. The deadline for responses is 15 May 2009.

To access the consultation website click here.

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