Brussels Urged to Support Balkan Civic Society Groups

The Balkan Civil Society Development Network, BCSDN, in its latest report, says civic organisations in Balkan countries are at a critical juncture in their initiatives in key areas such as media freedom, rule of law and anti-corruption.

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The report urged the European Commission to “continue its support for critical and strategic national and regional civil society initiatives that it has helped to develop and shape.”

The BCSDN report, which analyses the latest Commission progress reports on Balkan countries, highlighted that the EU had “noted the declining pace of reforms, a trend towards authoritarianism and an unstable economic situation in Enlargement countries”, while assigning an important role to civic society organisations as the “fourth pillar” of democracy in the Balkans.
However, the BCSDN stated that the Commission had not addressed the problem that these organisations “still do not sufficiently diversify their funding, remaining overly-dependents on limited public funding and foreign funds”.
“Considering the lack of significant progress in the structural reform process in all countries and the political instability, providing the background for increased attacks and pressure on civil society activists and CSOs, the Commission will need to both push further and higher,” it said.
The network urged the Commission to “provide clear progress (or its lack) on EU CS Guidelines targets to show concrete results and achievements with the Guidelines and needed adjustments on the road ahead to 2020”, in its next reports in 2018.
The BCSDN wrote that the Commission had noted numerous issues that civic activists and organisations are facing.
“Restrictions on freedom of association were this year again reported in Montenegro and Turkey as well as in Macedonia. While in Montenegro this was due to intimidation of civil society activists, freedom of association was overtly restricted in Turkey as part of the post-coup measures taken by the Government.
“In Macedonia, targeted investigations and infringement of privacy by law-enforcement agencies, when CSOs disagreed with the government on sensitive political issues, were noted,” the BCSDN wrote.
Additionally, the Commission also observed that activists in Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey faced smear campaigns run by pro-government media.
In Macedonia, activists in the anti-government “Colourful Revolution” movement had been fined and taken to court following civil disobedience during the protests.
The BCSDN observed that, according to Brussels, civic organisations are too “dependent on limited number of donors and other sources, hindering their ability to plan long-term and work independently”.
This was because in most countries governments had failed to establish “frameworks and transparent access to and distribution of public funds”.
While steps have been taken to establish better cooperation between state and civic organisations in Albania, Bosnia and Serbia, by establishing state or local bodies, or appointing figures to lead dialogue with NGOs, there is still much room across the region for the further engagement of civic society groups in policy-making.
The BCSDN stated that the Commission had failed to take note that “the involvement of CSOs in service provision on behalf of the state is under-regulated and rarely practiced”.

28 November 2016

Balkan Insight

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