According to an internal email and several current employees, the leaders of the Open Society Foundations told staff in Berlin that the Open Society Foundations plans to slash its work in Europe and lay off most of its staff on the continent. Said the decision was painful and confusing.

As described in an internal email seen by The Associated Press, the planned cuts in Europe would represent the roots of billionaire philanthropist George Soros’ support for civil society through education, human rights work and policy research. A historic break, this support began in his native Hungary more than three decades ago.

The shift in strategy coincides with the announcement by George’s son Alex Soros Shift to a new operating model The board passed its first major move since he took office in late June Takes over as Chairman of the OSF Board of Directors in December. Grantees in Europe expressed disbelief that OSF had not communicated the proposed strategy change directly to them.

“The Open Society Foundations are changing the way we work, but my family and OSF have long supported and strongly committed to the European project,” Alex Soros said in a statement.

An OSF spokesperson said the foundation remained committed to “the promotion of democracy and the fight against authoritarianism in Europe, and the civil society sector that is vital to these causes.”

Grantees told The Associated Press that withdrawing support for EU human rights, political participation or digital protection would be a strategic mistake, and questioned whether the foundation had made the final decision to do so. They also say a lack of communication and uncertainty is damaging OSF’s reputation. OSF supports work on a wide range of issues including disadvantaged groups, democracy and independent media.

Berlin plans to cut 80% of its workforce

“The newly approved strategic direction stipulates the withdrawal and Terminate most of our current jobs.” EU. The email went on to say that the switch was made in part because the EU provided public funding for human rights and diversity, while the OSF wanted to reallocate its resources elsewhere.

The foundation has proposed laying off 80 percent of its Berlin office staff, the email said, though all proposed layoffs are subject to negotiation with unions. OSF is also proposing layoffs of at least 60 percent in Brussels and an unspecified number in London, several employees told The Associated Press. The staff requested anonymity because the foundation told them not to speak to the media and feared repercussions.

In January, OSF told staff in Barcelona that their offices would be closed, and most staff there have already chosen to leave. OSF leadership has until January to complete the planned layoffs.

OSF did not dispute the numbers when asked for comment.

An OSF spokesman said the “reorientation of our work in the EU” was part of larger organizational changes, adding that they would continue to “fund civil society groups across Europe, including those working on the EU’s external affairs”, Also supporting the European Roma community.Modeling for “opportunity”

OSF’s board adopted a new “opportunity model” on June 28, laying out a 12-page document that offers some clues but is less clear about the foundation’s immediate future plans. Rather than projects, the foundation will be restructured around “opportunities,” defined as “bodies of work organized around clear, ambitious goals.”

What those opportunities will be has yet to be determined — another reason some employees are unhappy with the proposed program cuts. How can it be determined that they don’t want to continue working in Europe if OSF hasn’t decided what the future priorities are, the staff asked?

Grantee organizations also feel disenfranchised.

“There are probably hundreds of groups across Europe, but we don’t know why we made such a decision,” said Márta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group , and a long-term recipient of OSF funding. “When we look at the EU, we really don’t see a reason to reduce support for human rights and democracy and support for marginalized groups.”

She and others point to the war in Ukraine, the erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, far-right government elections in Italy and almost Spain as reasons to question the future of Europe’s democracy.

New European legal norms social media platform Staff said it was another example of urgent and ongoing work involving the OSF, as well as proposed legislation on artificial intelligence. A june report The European Foundation for AI and Society found that OSF, along with two other foundations, provides core support for a large number of non-profit organizations working on AI regulation in the EU.

“This leaves funders vulnerable to any shift in priorities, with some grantees raising concerns about current strategy discussions at some of these foundations,” the report said. Cuts would help conservative movements ?

Unlike other major donors or the European Commission, OSF typically provides nonprofits with fast, flexible funding rather than project-based grants. In addition to this, strategic support, legal research, communication advice, networking and the staff’s own expertise are provided. OSF itself has a strong voice within the EU, advocating for policy and engaging policymakers, staff and grantees. That way, they say, it becomes more than an easy source of funding and more difficult to replace.

One of the things that differentiates OSF from other charities is its name, Pardavi says, “It’s called the Open Society Foundations. It’s not called the George Soros or Alex Soros Foundation anymore. “

She and others, like Alberto Alemanno, a law professor at the HEC business school in Paris, worry that the OSF’s withdrawal from European civil society will open the door for philanthropy in support of conservative social movements.

“Suddenly, you’re seeing more opportunities for different forms of philanthropy to enter the European sphere, mainly in support of organizations that are currently very marginal, such as those promoting anti-abortion rights or opposing LGBT rights,” he said, adding, These donors “will find Europe easier to access because Europe lacks countervailing forces. “

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AP’s coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits is supported through a partnership between The Associated Press and The Conversation US, with grants from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The Associated Press is solely responsible for this content.

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