Civil society At the heart of the Eastern Partnership, promoting democratic values

Michael_KöhlerCivil society organisations play a crucial role within their societies in providing policy input, developing new initiatives and in holding governments accountable for their actions. They are major actors in promoting democracy and human rights, the rule of law, good governance and sustainable economic and social development, says EuropeAid Neighbourhood Director Dr Michael Köhler in an exclusive interview with the EU Neighbourhood Info Centre. In order for reforms in Eastern Partnership countries to be successful, he adds, a stronger participation of civil society is needed so as to enhance the oversight of public services and strengthen public confidence in those services.

Interview with Michael Köhler

The EU is now giving more emphasis to civil society in the Neighbourhood countries.

What is it doing specifically for the Eastern neighbours?

One of the support tools we set up is the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility (CSF) through which we aim to develop the capacity of civil society organisations (CSOs) to meaningfully engage in reforms in their countries, by financing trainings, seminars, workshops, exchanges of good practices, and providingthem with ad-hoc support. Additionally we try to facilitate multi-stakeholder consultations bringing together civil society actors, national authorities and EU Delegations to discuss sectorial policies. Of course we also directly support activities carried out by civil society actors themselves, be it on monitoring and advocacy or service provision. Overall our support seeks to strengthen the role of civil society actors in the policy-making process, and to promote a more favourable attitude of governments towards them.

In 2011-2013, almost € 40 million went in support of civil society in the Eastern Partnership through the Civil Society Facility. From 2014 onwards, support to civil society at bilateral level will be mainstreamed throughout all three sectors of intervention, with the ultimate goal of ensuring effective and inclusive policies at the national level. In addition, a specific country envelope of 5-10% of the total bilateral allocation is planned to support and strengthen the capacities of CSOs beyond the three priority sectors.

Support at regional level will also continue and will aim to strengthen civil society networks active in several of the partner countries, in particular the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF).

Is there a regional dimension to this effort?

As the Eastern Partnership itself is to a large extent about regional cooperation and bringing partner countries together to work on issues of common interest, our work with civil society clearly has a regional dimension as well, for example look at our support to the EaP CSF and CSO-led regional projects.

EaP CSF representatives are now present in many of the multilateral policy dialogues we have with partner countries during the EaP platform and panel meetings. Let me point out that the EaP CSF has increased the number of common projects developed by CSOs from the partner countries, the number of common recommendations and letters and advocacy campaigns and strengthened ‘the voice’ of civil society in the multilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership. Just as an example, the working group on environment produced assessments and recommendations that were useful in the development of our regional projects on environment.

How do you view the role of CSOs within partner countries and their relation to the authorities?

We believe genuine cooperation between governments and civil society is necessary to establish, for example, independent judicial systems or to introduce systematic anti-corruption measures, both of which are necessary elements for long-term political development and sustainable economic growth. In general, efficient and effective policies cannot exist without the involvement of those they are supposed to serve.

Governments should be held to account and this is one of the main roles of civil society.

EaP countries have been strongly encouraged to establish a regular structured dialogue with CSOs, to discuss issues related to the implementation of the Eastern Partnership at a national level and to promote it amongst society at large. We are happy to see this is taking place in a number of partner countries – in particular Moldova and Georgia.

What other concrete actions has the EU taken to support civil society? Is there any financial assistance to CSOs through cooperation programmes?

Various EU initiatives and programmes supported civil society organisations in the Neighbourhood, such as the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), the Non-State Actors and Local Authorities thematic programme (NSA-LA) and the Civil Society Facility (CSF).

As I was mentioning, the objective of the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility is to strengthen and promote the role of civil society in reform and democratic change taking place in their respective countries.

The EIDHR aims to strengthen the role of civil society in promoting human rights and democratic reform and in consolidating political participation and representation. It also supports respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in countries and regions where they are most at risk. Projects in the East range from promoting the education and rehabilitation rights of the children with hearing impairments in Georgia, to supporting women entrepreneurs in Armenia.

Stronger Involvement But our support to civil society is not limited to financing their projects. Another way for the EU to promote a stronger involvement of civil society in the on-going reform agenda in partner countries is to further encourage their engagement in the conception and supervision of budget support programmes, which the EU uses to support reforms in partner countries. This engagement can take many forms, depending on the nature of the programme, the capacity of civil society on the ground, and the level of openness of partner country authorities to engage with civil society: the latter can be part of the steering committee overseeing the implementation of the budget support programmes, can be consulted on sector reform strategies, they can implement certain components of the sector support programmes, monitor the implementation by the government of certain elements of the reforms financed.

How do you select the projects and CSOs?

We have to distinguish between selecting projects and working with civil society. Our projects are usually demand driven: we launch calls for proposals and CSOs both in our partner countries and in the Member States countries can apply. Proposals are then evaluated in an objective and transparent manner and those organisations having submitted the best proposals receive our financial support. Regarding civil society’s involvement in our discussions with government, we try to be as inclusive as possible and our Delegations are regularly organising consultations with civil society actors in the partner countries.

Could you give us a few concrete examples of civil society support that have had results?

The results of our work with civil society are manifold. They range from better living conditions for vulnerable groups (such as children with disabilities) to increased capacities of civil society to carry out budgetary analysis and expenditure tracking in order to make sure that public spending is transparent and responds to citizens’ needs. Our projects support very diverse issues, from service provision to engagement with governments on important reform at local and national level.

Just as an example, in Azerbaijan, through a project funded under the Civil Society Facility, civil society organisations improved their knowledge and capacity on budget analysis and monitoring of state programmes. Concrete results so far include two published State Budget Review Papers, municipal budget hearings for more than 500 community members, capacity-building trainings on local budget development, accountability and transparency for ten rural municipalities. And this is just one of the many hundreds of projects we support…

I must say that strengthening the capacity of civil society has been one of the most important and positive results of our cooperation with the Eastern Partnership. We have given civil society in partner ountries unprecedented support in both political and financial terms. And we intend to continue.

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Civil society At the heart of the Eastern Partnership, promoting democratic values

June 3rd, 2014

Michael_KöhlerCivil society organisations play a crucial role within their societies in providing policy input, developing new initiatives and in holding governments accountable for their actions. They are major actors in promoting democracy and human rights, the rule of law, good governance and sustainable economic and social development, says EuropeAid Neighbourhood Director Dr Michael Köhler in an exclusive interview with the EU Neighbourhood Info Centre. In order for reforms in Eastern Partnership countries to be successful, he adds, a stronger participation of civil society is needed so as to enhance the oversight of public services and strengthen public confidence in those services.

Interview with Michael Köhler

The EU is now giving more emphasis to civil society in the Neighbourhood countries.

What is it doing specifically for the Eastern neighbours?

One of the support tools we set up is the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility (CSF) through which we aim to develop the capacity of civil society organisations (CSOs) to meaningfully engage in reforms in their countries, by financing trainings, seminars, workshops, exchanges of good practices, and providingthem with ad-hoc support. Additionally we try to facilitate multi-stakeholder consultations bringing together civil society actors, national authorities and EU Delegations to discuss sectorial policies. Of course we also directly support activities carried out by civil society actors themselves, be it on monitoring and advocacy or service provision. Overall our support seeks to strengthen the role of civil society actors in the policy-making process, and to promote a more favourable attitude of governments towards them.

In 2011-2013, almost € 40 million went in support of civil society in the Eastern Partnership through the Civil Society Facility. From 2014 onwards, support to civil society at bilateral level will be mainstreamed throughout all three sectors of intervention, with the ultimate goal of ensuring effective and inclusive policies at the national level. In addition, a specific country envelope of 5-10% of the total bilateral allocation is planned to support and strengthen the capacities of CSOs beyond the three priority sectors.

Support at regional level will also continue and will aim to strengthen civil society networks active in several of the partner countries, in particular the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF).

Is there a regional dimension to this effort?

As the Eastern Partnership itself is to a large extent about regional cooperation and bringing partner countries together to work on issues of common interest, our work with civil society clearly has a regional dimension as well, for example look at our support to the EaP CSF and CSO-led regional projects.

EaP CSF representatives are now present in many of the multilateral policy dialogues we have with partner countries during the EaP platform and panel meetings. Let me point out that the EaP CSF has increased the number of common projects developed by CSOs from the partner countries, the number of common recommendations and letters and advocacy campaigns and strengthened ‘the voice’ of civil society in the multilateral dimension of the Eastern Partnership. Just as an example, the working group on environment produced assessments and recommendations that were useful in the development of our regional projects on environment.

How do you view the role of CSOs within partner countries and their relation to the authorities?

We believe genuine cooperation between governments and civil society is necessary to establish, for example, independent judicial systems or to introduce systematic anti-corruption measures, both of which are necessary elements for long-term political development and sustainable economic growth. In general, efficient and effective policies cannot exist without the involvement of those they are supposed to serve.

Governments should be held to account and this is one of the main roles of civil society.

EaP countries have been strongly encouraged to establish a regular structured dialogue with CSOs, to discuss issues related to the implementation of the Eastern Partnership at a national level and to promote it amongst society at large. We are happy to see this is taking place in a number of partner countries – in particular Moldova and Georgia.

What other concrete actions has the EU taken to support civil society? Is there any financial assistance to CSOs through cooperation programmes?

Various EU initiatives and programmes supported civil society organisations in the Neighbourhood, such as the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), the Non-State Actors and Local Authorities thematic programme (NSA-LA) and the Civil Society Facility (CSF).

As I was mentioning, the objective of the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility is to strengthen and promote the role of civil society in reform and democratic change taking place in their respective countries.

The EIDHR aims to strengthen the role of civil society in promoting human rights and democratic reform and in consolidating political participation and representation. It also supports respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in countries and regions where they are most at risk. Projects in the East range from promoting the education and rehabilitation rights of the children with hearing impairments in Georgia, to supporting women entrepreneurs in Armenia.

Stronger Involvement But our support to civil society is not limited to financing their projects. Another way for the EU to promote a stronger involvement of civil society in the on-going reform agenda in partner countries is to further encourage their engagement in the conception and supervision of budget support programmes, which the EU uses to support reforms in partner countries. This engagement can take many forms, depending on the nature of the programme, the capacity of civil society on the ground, and the level of openness of partner country authorities to engage with civil society: the latter can be part of the steering committee overseeing the implementation of the budget support programmes, can be consulted on sector reform strategies, they can implement certain components of the sector support programmes, monitor the implementation by the government of certain elements of the reforms financed.

How do you select the projects and CSOs?

We have to distinguish between selecting projects and working with civil society. Our projects are usually demand driven: we launch calls for proposals and CSOs both in our partner countries and in the Member States countries can apply. Proposals are then evaluated in an objective and transparent manner and those organisations having submitted the best proposals receive our financial support. Regarding civil society’s involvement in our discussions with government, we try to be as inclusive as possible and our Delegations are regularly organising consultations with civil society actors in the partner countries.

Could you give us a few concrete examples of civil society support that have had results?

The results of our work with civil society are manifold. They range from better living conditions for vulnerable groups (such as children with disabilities) to increased capacities of civil society to carry out budgetary analysis and expenditure tracking in order to make sure that public spending is transparent and responds to citizens’ needs. Our projects support very diverse issues, from service provision to engagement with governments on important reform at local and national level.

Just as an example, in Azerbaijan, through a project funded under the Civil Society Facility, civil society organisations improved their knowledge and capacity on budget analysis and monitoring of state programmes. Concrete results so far include two published State Budget Review Papers, municipal budget hearings for more than 500 community members, capacity-building trainings on local budget development, accountability and transparency for ten rural municipalities. And this is just one of the many hundreds of projects we support…

I must say that strengthening the capacity of civil society has been one of the most important and positive results of our cooperation with the Eastern Partnership. We have given civil society in partner ountries unprecedented support in both political and financial terms. And we intend to continue.

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