The Final Countdown: Which country in Europe is the most charitable?

Next month, people across Europe will go to the polls in order to participate in the 2014 European elections. The 28 member states of the EU will elect 751 MEPs, with the number of representatives for each country being calculated based on their population size. But with all of the attention on voting habits across Europe, how do the member states of the EU compare when it comes to charitable giving?

These are the first European elections since 2009, where the UK electorate voted for 72 MEPs, a number that will increase by one this year. Voters in England, Scotland and Wales will use a closed party-list electoral system, with electors in Northern Ireland using the single transferrable vote – both being forms of proportional representation.Eu flag

The 2009 elections, conducted in the aftermath of the MP’s expenses scandal, saw the Conservative Party top the poll, with UKIP in second place, ahead of Labour and the Liberal Democrats in third and fourth place respectively.

This year, much of the focus ahead of the 2014 European elections in the UK has centred on UKIP, with polls suggesting that they will compete with Labour to top the poll in the UK. UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg have been engaged in a series of TV debates, with Farage urging the UK to withdraw from the EU and Clegg arguing that the UK benefits from a strong relationship with Europe.

Of course, much of the period between the previous European elections and those taking place next month has been focused on the economic difficulties across the region. In addition, the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine has seen tensions between the EU and Russia increase, and the Ukrainian presidential election coinciding with the European elections will mean that much attention is diverted to developments east of the EU on polling day.ballot box

Undoubtedly a busy month lies ahead for European politics but before then we decided to investigate which of the EU member states is the most charitable. Each year CAF produces the World Giving Index, which ranks countries of the world based upon their charitable behaviour, with three individual measures combined to create an overall ranking.

The World Giving Index 2013 finds Ireland as the most charitable member of the EU, followed closely behind by the UK and Netherlands. At the other end of the spectrum, the least charitable countries include Greece, Croatia and Lithuania.

Looking at the individual giving measures that the World Giving Index scores, the UK leads Malta and Ireland for giving money to good causes, with the least generous countries in Europe on this measure being Greece, Lithuania and Croatia. For giving time, Ireland, the Netherlands and Slovenia lead whilst Greece, Croatia and Bulgaria follow. Finally, people in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands are the most likely to help a stranger, trailed by Greece, Slovakia and Croatia.WGI 2013

It’s interesting to note that there is no clear link between a country’s ranking in terms of charitable behaviour and their wealth. On a per capita basis, citizens in Luxembourg are the richest in the EU, but only the 10th most generous country in the EU across the range of giving behaviours measured.  Elsewhere, Malta is the fourth most charitable member of the EU, but ranked only 15th in terms of GDP per capita.

The World Giving Index provides just a snapshot of charitable activity, and does not take into account the ways that charities are regulated in different countries, or the different tax incentives that are provided in order to encourage individuals and organisations to give more. CAF’s Future World Giving project is looking at these issues in more detail, and the FWG blog is a must-read for those with an interest in international philanthropy.

One area that we may investigate briefly after the European elections is whether the most charitable countries see a higher level of participation in elections. CAF’s ‘Civic Core’ research last year discovered that people who are involved in giving and volunteering are more likely to engage in a range of social behaviours, and it will be interesting to see if this trend is replicated across the continent.

In the meantime, as media attention begins to turn to the elections it is worth bearing in mind just how much many EU citizens do in support of good causes. Whilst debates about the future of the political and economic union may divide countries, a commitment to helping those in need is something that transcends borders, and should be celebrated.

Steve Clapperton

(NB – re the title, yes, I’m aware there is a difference between Europe and the EU, and that this post doesn’t actually include all countries in Europe, but only using the former allowed me to reference a classic 80s anthem.)

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