From Brussels to the Balkans, the Open Society Foundations are actively engaged in supporting an inclusive and democratic vision of Europe—building on George Soros’s early commitments to the region after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Offices and Foundations
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
In 2018, in response to the increasingly oppressive political environment in Hungary, the Open Society Foundations transferred operations and roughly 100 staff from Budapest to a new regional headquarters in Berlin, Germany.
Skopje, North Macedonia
London, United Kingdom
The London office is a base for both regional and global work on issues ranging from education to investigative journalism to economic advancement.
The Brussels office focuses on ensuring that EU policy, laws, and funding uphold human rights and reflect open society values.
The Barcelona office is home to the Open Society Initiative for Europe.
By the Numbers
Regional Budget by Year
The Open Society Foundations’ presence in Europe dates back to 1984, when George Soros opened his first foundation in Communist Hungary. However, it was the end of Soviet Communism in the 1990s that gave the Foundations a historic opportunity to support the newly emerging democracies of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Today, the Foundations support an array of civil society groups across Europe, with the same overall focus: ensuring that everyone should have a voice in the decisions that affect them.
Highlights of Our Work in Europe
Fostering Open Societies in the Former Soviet Bloc
Engagement with the European Union
Moving to Berlin
Our work in the region, coordinated by the Open Society Initiative for Europe, focuses on building a Europe that is more inclusive and more democratic.
The Open Society Foundations responded to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic with emergency funding for city governments and local community groups in Budapest, Milan, London, and Berlin, seeking to support low-income workers and others hit hardest by the crisis.
More broadly, our grantees have taken an active role in addressing the policy challenges thrust to the fore by the crisis—from challenging discriminatory approaches to enforcing social closure orders, to advocating for the protection of personal privacy in proposed digital tracing regimes, and to seeking equal access for all to therapies and vaccines. Open Society grantees in Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere continue to speak out against opportunistic partisan political forces that would use the crisis to justify the erosion of democratic rights.
The Open Society Initiative for Europe supports a range of groups across Europe that promote fundamental political and personal rights and challenge discrimination and abuse. This included supporting the 2017 launch of Liberties, a Berlin-based organization that seeks to give national civil liberty organizations a coordinated voice on Europe-wide issues.
The Open Society Justice Initiative has worked across Europe to challenge racially discriminatory practices, including the disproportional enforcement of fines and penalties related to the social distancing measures introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Healthy democracies involve citizens in decisions that affect them at all levels—not just during national elections. The Open Society European Policy Institute works to influence and inform decision-making on European Union laws, policy, and funding to ensure that open society values lie at the heart of what the European Union does, both inside and outside its borders. Our foundation in Albania has worked with the Swiss government’s aid agency to develop citizen participation in local decision-making, while in France, the Open Society Initiative for Europe has helped fund new online platforms that seek to promote citizen engagement in policymaking.
The Open Society Foundations work to challenge a range of systemic and structural barriers that fuel economic inequality and injustice. This includes efforts by the Open Society Initiative for Europe to support workers in the emerging gig economy, and support from the Economic Justice Program for new models of cooperative worker ownership. The Open Society Justice Initiative has worked to develop legal arguments to challenge home repossession orders in Ireland, and to bring European human rights law to bear on predatory lending practices.
The Open Society Foundations first started working on public health issues in the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where we supported the modernization of decrepit medical infrastructure and a new focus on patients’ rights. Today, our Public Health Program works to ensure that everyone can get access to health care, including Roma communities and other at-risk groups in the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe, and supports efforts to make life-saving medicine affordable to all.
Over the past 30 years, George Soros and the Open Society Foundations have been the leading private funders of efforts to support Europe’s estimated 10 to 12 million Roma people. We support initiatives in the areas of education, early childhood, public health, participation in public and political life, arts and culture, entrepreneurship, and human rights protection.
Today, our Roma Initiatives Office supports Roma participation in democratic institutions, and it advocates for European states to provide equal services and justice to Roma people.
In 2017, Open Society supported the launch of the Berlin-based European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture, the first organization of its kind to promote Roma artists and their work.
Since 2015, the Open Society Foundations have increased our support for groups in Europe that work to ensure the safety of newly arrived migrants and refugees, and to ease the challenges of integration.
Our work has included supporting aid efforts by local groups in Greece, Italy, and the Balkans, as well as human rights groups that ensure that migrants and asylum seekers are treated fairly and with dignity. The Open Society Initiative for Europe works to assist towns and cities on migrant routes in ways that also deliver benefits for local residents.
In Ireland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, our International Migration Initiative has worked with governments on the development of refugee resettlement schemes based on a successful Canadian model for helping newly arrived families adjust to their new homes.
Our national foundations in the Western Balkans are helping governments and society as a whole move toward membership in the European Union.
In Albania, we have jointly funded a network of young professionals that promotes and monitors the performance of the integration process. We are also providing expert support for an overhaul of the country’s judicial system. In North Macedonia, our local foundation in Skopje has backed efforts to bring the civil service, police, and judiciary in line with the standards required by Brussels.
Remembering 1989 In Depth
After the Wall Came Down
It’s been 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell, inspiring a democratic awakening throughout Central and Eastern Europe. What lessons does the Cold War’s end offer for the next generation of reformers?
A Victory for Civil Society
European Union Court Rejects Hungarian NGO Funding Law
A ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union has affirmed the vital role of civil society in democratic governance.
Roma in the COVID-19 Crisis
This brief warns that Roma communities in Europe need more economic support in their fight against COVID-19 and its consequences. The EU also needs the Roma demographic for its own economic and political future.