Interview with Anna Johansson, Head of Social Services for our Swedish member Stockholms Stadmission.

Over the last weeks, the European Commission has presented its proposals for the 2021-2027 budget. What is your opinion so far?

I welcome the proposals overall, in particular that the social agenda remains strong and that social ambitions has not been watered down. The focus on new budget headings such as “Cohesion and Values” also seem to point in this direction.

However, the focus on migration related to border management, rather than to integration, causes a lot of concern. A European community that sees asylum seekers and migrants mainly as a matter of security will of course also struggle to achieve social cohesion. I believe that this is something that diaconal organisations will need to raise on both a national and a European level.

More specifically, regarding the social sector, the outlined guidelines include the new ESF+ and a doubled Erasmus+. What can we expect over the next months?

This is only the first proposal and lots can still happen in the coming negotiations. One of the positive aspects of the new ESF+ is the possibility to use the fund to ensure implementation of the European Pillar of Social Right and to thus spear-head the future of social Europe. However, the introduced aspect of higher national co-funding may have an impact in terms of how ambitious an agenda is set on a national level.

How are diaconal organisations and your organisation in particular influencing the discussions on the set-up of the post-2020 budget? What can still be done?

Sadly, we have not been involved as much as we would have liked due to capacity reasons. But I believe Eurodiaconia have a very important role to play, not only in channeling the expertise and experience of diaconal organisations in Europe, but also in foreseeing some of the risks and challenges that should be considered.

How is structured your organisation’s funding strategy in terms on balance between EU, national and private funding?

The majority of our funding is national/municipal, with ca 30 % coming from private sources via fundraising. EU-funding is our smallest source of income. Looking forward, however, we see EU-funding as a major opportunity to enlarge and enrich the work that we do.

Therefore, we also welcome the possibility of the European Commission taking a stronger role in direct management of the funds, as we our previous experience is that EU-funds have been channelled through national priorities and policies that do not always concur with the social needs and challenges that we see on a local level. For instance, Sweden has opted to use FEAD funding streams only for information and integration purposes, whereas diaconal organisations like ourselves would have preferred to use the funds for food aid as well.

In your opinion, what will be the main challenges and opportunities in funding for diaconal organisation in the near future?

There is a risk that diaconal organisations will be squeezed between tougher welfare budget priorities in general, and rules and regulations for procurement, that often reward economies of scale, such as larger for-profit organisations. However, both the proposed post-2020 MFF and the new EU regulations for procurement, for example the provision of ‘reserved markets’ may well help diaconal organisations to balance out this challenge. I remain optimistic.