Members of EPA, with the Romanian Civil Society Development Foundation implement a joint project supported by the Europe for Citizen program between September 2018 and February 2020. 

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Background:

Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a vital role in upholding of European values on the local and on national levels thereby promoting the idea of European citizenship, and at the same time they also act as vehicles and channels of democratic participation engagement in Union-level policymaking. Thus, CSOs – both the European networks and the organizations working on the national and local levels – can be important allies of the EU institutions in implementing EU policies at times of growing Euroscepticism and anti-EU sentiments voiced by national politicians.

Indeed, governments in some countries, particularly in Central Europe increasingly obstruct the free operation and effective contribution of CSOs through administrative measures, harassment and intimidation and even legal restrictions, as was recently stated by the report published by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in early 2018, among others.

The worldwide phenomenon of closing civil space has during the past 5-6 years entered the EU through countries such as Hungary and the ‘bad practices’ seem contagious, spreading to Poland, Romania, Slovakia, etc., pointed out by various international surveys and comparisons (e.g. the CIVICUS Monitor).
 
The project addresses this trend of democratic backsliding and shrinking civil by building on two pillars:

(1) by broadening the grassroots basis of civil society through mapping, training an mobilizing activist groups and movements (previously not involved in bigger networks) on the one hand,

(2) and through linking the local level to the European by developing together the outlines of a comprehensive European civil society policy on the other.
 
The project was launched with a kick-off meeting in November 2018, held back-to-back with the EPA Annual Meeting, together with friends and partners from our countries as well as the USA. During the preparatory phase, project partners mapped existing, but lesser-known local civic initiatives, employing the “snowball” method: they surveyed and/or met representatives of local activist and civic groups, engaged them through an initial personal visit, and built a database of their contacts.

Summaries of these surveys for each participating countries may be found here: 

 
During spring 2019, a national training is held for the representatives (app. 35 participants at each) of these groups in all 6 countries on the public policy aspect of CSO work, including an introduction of existing EU policies in the field. The participants’ knowledge will subsequently be further refined through individual, distant learning.
 

  1. The first training was held in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia between 27 February and 1 March
 
  1. The Hungary training was held in Budapest on 12-13 April.

 

  • Representatives of 16 local, 1 Czech, 1 Polish and 1 Romanian CSOs discussed the means and advantages of networking among CSOs locally. Trainers of the Civil College Foundation presented the basics of community organizing through interactive exercises, with special attention to “listening tours” (i.e. local needs assessments) and group building. An expert of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union provided a detailed overview of the rules and procedures of upcoming local elections, how and when active citizens can participate. Guest speakers from GlobSec Policy Institute (SK) and the Brasov Community Foundation (RO) provided insights into the situation of neighbouring countries. Finally, next steps of the project were discussed with the participants, who gave an overwhelmingly positive feedback of the previous two days. 



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3 regional consultative evaluation workshops,  to be held in Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic during autumn 2019 will summarise the participants’ own experience with national and EU-level policy making. Based on these the potential elements of this comprehensive EU policy on civil society (including CSO registration, dialogue forums, funding, etc.) will be drafted and eventually be finalized by the project partners.
These results and policy recommendations will be discussed and disseminated with the help of the major European CSO umbrellas, sent to interested policy makers, and promoted among the broader public through social and mainstream media.