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In 2011, as part of its Social Business Initiative, the European Commission relaunched the process of creating a European legal status for foundations. the folliowjngn defintion is taken from its working paper.

There is no universal definition of a "foundation" or "public benefit purpose foundation" across the EU. Definitions in national laws vary considerably.

The overall definition of a foundation used for the purpose of this report follows the one put forward in the feasibility study. The authors developed a definition based on the lowest common denominator of the legal definitions in the Member States. Accordingly, a foundation:

  • is an independent entity (generally with its own legal personality);
  • has no formal membership;<ref>A membership based organisation would be either an association or a corporation. However, according to the information provided by the EFC, in Italy there are foundations that have a particular type of "participatory structure" (i.e. they have members whose rights are regulated by their statutes and they are gathered in an assembly and may be elected to sit on the Board of Directors).</ref>
  • is supervised by a State supervisory authority;
  • serves a specific purpose;
  • has a founder who provided an endowment and determined the foundation's purpose and statutes.<ref>In this context, it is necessary to keep in mind the specific case of the common law countries (Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom) where there is no special legal form for a "foundation" and where the focus is mainly on the "charitable" character of the organisation. Charitable organisations must have exclusively charitable purposes and must be administered for public benefit. For more details see the feasibility study, p. 51. The term "foundation" is traditionally used in these Member States when referring to grant-making charities.</ref>