Russian and German experts discuss NGO legislation

Russian and German experts are preparing a comparative study of national legislation on NGOs

Russia, 16.09.2015

A study of national legislation on non-profit organisations is planned for spring 2016. Chair of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, believes that the study will be useful to legislators and government officials, as well as the non-profit sector.

The study ‘Non-governmental organisations in Russia and Germany: legislation and its enforcement’ is supported by the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Between now and spring 2016 three conferences will be held with the participation of experts from Russia and Germany, resulting in the publication of a book. The first of the planned conferences took place on 16 September.

“This study will reveal the commonalities and differences in Russian and German legislation on non-profit organisations. Both we and the Germans are advocates of clear classification, clear conceptual frameworks, and clear legal models. But in practice it appears that both here and in Germany there is a lot of confusion and disorder. And therefore researchers from both countries are interested in helping one another to fix these problems”, said the Chair of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov.

At the first meeting experts from Russia and Germany discussed the structure of the forthcoming study, differences between national legislation and variances in terminology.

Cultural differences affect the perception of terms in Russia and Germany, emphasises Elena Abrosimova, Head of the Department of Commercial Law and Law Fundamentals at Lomonosov Moscow State University. Thus, where the German legal system employs the term ‘non-governmental organisation’, in Russia the same entity is referred to as ‘non-profit’ or ‘non-state-owned’. “Russian legislation has abandoned the term ‘non-governmental organisation’”, Abrosimova explained. The term ‘non-state-owned’ is perceived to be more loyal, as it does not place the organisation in direct ‘opposition’ to the government. She noted that the basis of the contemporary Russian Civil Code is primarily German legislation.

Fedotov recalled that in 2004 within the framework of the Petersburg Dialogue similar research was carried out in relation to media legislation. It began with a heated discussion of whether the substantial differences in legislation and its enforcement in Russia and Germany meant the project was doomed to fail. “In the end everything worked out, and I think that in this case too we will succeed. And the book which will result from this study will be useful to our legislators, our judges, prosecutors, employees of various ministries and agencies, and those working in non-profit organisations. It will reveal both positive experiences and problems”, he believes.

The Chair of the Presidential Council on Human Rights also considers that the study will be useful to both Russia and Germany. “The legal systems of our countries are sufficiently close in nature and structure for us to be able to learn from one another. In this field nobody is the teacher, we are all students, learning together”, stressed Fedotov. He did not exclude the possibility that the three planned conferences may not be sufficient for the successful completion of the work and that more expert meetings may have to take place.

Elena Topoleva, Director of the Permanent Commission of the Human Rights Council for the Development of NGOs, believes that it would be interesting to see not simply the differences between Russian and German legislation, but also an expert evaluation of how changes in legislation and its enforcement affect the daily operations of non-profit organisations. Serious research on the implications of legislation for the life of NGOs and the effectiveness of their work are few and far between, she says.

Earlier a meeting was held of the Civil Society working group of the Russo-German Petersburg Dialogue civil society forum. The forum takes place on 22-24 October in Potsdam and will be held without intergovernmental consultations. The main theme for discussion at the forum within the framework of the Civil Society working group will be the situation of refugees.

Author: Georgii Ivanushkin

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