Associations are no longer ghosts

An international project, made in Liège

This observation is not specific to Belgium and it lies at the source of a development, under the aegis of the United Nations, of a common methodological basis aimed at encouraging the elaboration of a satellite account for associations, also called “non-profit institutions", all over the world. This task was co-ordinated by the Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA), in collaboration with several international experts. It saw the light of day with the publication of a Handbook, which established a common way to collect information on associations. This information relates to their production, added value, costs, resources, salaried work and the voluntary work from which they benefit. This information constitutes the “satellite” account for associations, so called because it “turns” around a central system, i.e. the national accounts.

Rapport Compte satellite

Belgium – and, in particular, the University of Liège – has significantly contributed to scientific advances in this domain. On the one hand, the research led by Sybille Mertens within the framework of her PhD has enabled her to propose, within the group of international experts gathered together by the Johns Hopkins University, several major conventions currently included in the United Nations Handbook. ULg’s Social Economy Centre therefore actively participated in the elaboration of this international methodology. On the other hand, owing to the high level of expertise it has had in its possession for several years concerning the quantitative analysis of the social economy (see, in particular, the work led by Prof. Jacques Defourny and his colleague Michel Marée), the Social Economy Centre also succeeded in convincing the Belgian Institute of National Accounts to play a pioneering role on an international level by being the first country to supply statistical data annually on the domain of associations within the framework of a satellite account. The actual implementation of the first tax year of the satellite account for non-profit institutions was entrusted to ULg’s Social Economy Centre, within the framework of a consultancy mission for the National Bank. The federal science policy financed this project. Today, the account is managed independently by the National Bank.

It was necessary to define the population that was to be covered by this account when actually implementing the satellite account at the National Bank of Belgium. According to the United Nations Handbook, the population of the satellite account for associations includes groups that fulfil five criteria:

- they are organisations;
- that make a profit but do not distribute the surplus;
- that are private, i.e. institutionally separated from public administrations;
- that are self-managed, i.e. not controlled by another group;
- in which the freedom of membership and contribution is guaranteed.

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