- In a new Communication on "The roots of democracy and sustainable development: Europe's engagement with Civil Society in external relations", the European Commission announces it will engage further and will provide more support to civil society organisations (CSOs) in its partner countries. The Commission recognises that Civil Society organisations can be efficient independent development actors. It commits to promote a more conducive environment for civil society organisations, so that they can fully play their role in the delivery of social services, transparency and good governance advocacy, and contribute to policy making.
EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs commented: "The Arab Spring, as well as other recent events over the world, has confirmed that civil society organisations can be powerful actors of change. The EU has drawn lessons from this, and we commit to help develop a dynamic, pluralistic and competent civil society in our partner countries. The renewed EU response aims to empower local CSOs in their actions for democratic governance and equitable development".
Štefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, added: "Civil society organisations have a crucial role to play in the transformation process and in holding governments to account. Working with civil society organizations and supporting them is at the centre of our new neighbourhood policy. We have had a civil society facility in the enlargement countries for many years and have established a neighbourhood civil society facility last year. As a testimony of our commitment, the Commission intends to allocate more than €65 million to the neighbourhood civil society in 2011-2013. Also, we are keen to consult CSOs more systematically on our policy initiatives and cooperation programmes".
The Commission's new proposals put an emphasis on working with governments and public institutions to ensure the creation and promotion of a more conducive, fair and democratic environment for civil society to operate in; enabling CSOs to help more of the world's poorest and vulnerable people as a result. The Commission also proposes to launch "EU Roadmaps" for stronger engagement with Civil Society Organisations – a new way of working for EU Delegations, allowing for more structured and strategic cooperation with Civil Society in each of the countries the EU works with.
The work of civil society groups is vital in partner countries; giving marginalised groups a voice, and empowering them to take part in the decisions which affect them. This communication is particularly timely, as it responds to a clampdown on CSOs in many countries.
Examples of EU-funded projects in support of CSOs
- After the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, a support programme for economic recovery was made available to the Government on the condition that it adopted a new law on freedom of association. This law amended conditions used by the previous regime to control this freedom.
- Supported by a multi-donor pooled funding mechanism co-funded by the EU, CSOs in Ghana actively contribute to the Public Interest and Accountability Committee which monitors and reports on oil and gas revenues, which are of increasing importance. Through consultations, proposals and presentations to the relevant Parliamentary Committee, CSOs have been successful in influencing the drafting of important energy legislation. They are now monitoring implementation, raising awareness and calling the government to account over possible infringements.
- In Somaliland, the EU and other donors supported two European CSOs to establish a regional veterinary training institution. Through a bottom-up approach and using innovative learning, it has educated a new generation of veterinary professionals to addresses the specific needs of the Somali livestock industry. Despite the fragile context, it is now a well-established tertiary education institution with affiliations with European and African institutions.
This communication builds on a long-standing partnership with civil society groups and particularly on the results of the "Structured Dialogue"; a two-year consultation (including an online consultation) with Civil Society from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Neighbourhood region.
Under the current EU budget which runs from 2007 to 2013, around 1 billion per year is channelled through civil society organisations.