On 20th May 2010, the BCSDN held its 2nd EU policy workshop in Brussels. This year’s event was devoted to assessing the state of affairs in development and functioning of civil dialogue, i.e. structures and mechanisms for dialogue between public institutions and civil society, in the countries of the Western Balkans.
The workshop brought together 54 representatives of local CSOs, networks and institutions from the region and representatives of EU institutions, esp. the Commissions’ Directorate General for Enlargement, responsible for monitoring the progress of (pre-) accession countries and management of IPA assistance.
The first panel presented the research findings and recommendations from the policy paper “The Missing Link? Development and Functioning of Civil Dialogue in the Western Balkans”. There have been a lot of positive developments in terms of building and consolidating structures and mechanisms in the last year. However, one of the main findings is that the practice and full implementation of these is still hampered by lack of political will, capacity and sometimes even awareness about the mechanisms in place among the public officials. The paper, which is based on joint research by the BCSDN members and partners and includes a comparative review of the general (legal and economic) context; the history; structures and mechanisms and practice in functioning of civil dialogue in the 7 Western Balkan countries, also states that while the frameworks documents (e.g. strategies, agreements) are important to regulate civil dialogue in a systematic manner, the specific acts (bylaws) requiring minimum standards of consultation are crucial in enabling effective participation of civil society to the policy- and decision-making process. The main progress in the area in most countries has been brought about by the initiative of local civil society, but capacities and cooperation among civil society in civil dialogue are important areas which need further attention and support. In this context, 10 recommendations in form of 4 principles – coherence, (cost)-effectiveness, ownership and sustainability – were put forward to the Commission, which has since its Enlargement Strategy 2007-8 recognized civil dialogue as part of the Political criteria for accession.
Adam Fagan, from University London presented his research findings from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia on the interaction between international donor assistance, CSO , of processes and interactions such as dialogue and transmission of knowledge, where civil society is the main actor. The research showed great importance and need for further support to civil dialogue initiatives by CSOs in the region.
In the second panel, the representatives of EU institutions were challenged with an idea of a civil society Acquis. Detlev Boeing, Enlargement Strategy Unit, DG Enlargement (Presentation) responsible for monitoring of progress of candidate and potential candidate countries, stressed that with the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty (Art. 49), the Copenhagen (Political) criteria are now part of the primary EU body of law, i.e. Acquis. The EC monitoring of civil dialogue is focused both on procedures, i.e. standards of consultation and on the sprit of dialogue as a basic principles, on which the EU is based. Yngve Engstroem, Regional Programmes, DG Enlargement, responsible for IPA Civil Society Facility, outlined the new, more flexible approach to financing civil society development and civil dialogue in the (pre-) accession countries, including support to small organizations in terms of funding and capacity building. Metka Roksandic, President of the Western Balkans Group, EESC, stressed the importance of mandatory consultations through specific acts (bylaws) as well as the need for the Commission to assert pressure on Governments to dialogue with civil society through the Progress Reports.
The third panel featured discussion on national and regional cooperation. Nathan Koeshall, BalkanTrust for Democracy stressed the complexity of the issue, as the EU integration process sometimes requires fast-track adoption of legislation vs. requiring from Governments to consult broadly with interested stakeholders. Additionally, the incentives on the part of Governments to make use and benefit from consultations with civil society are very low as in most countries due to the proportional or/and party list election systems MPs are not directly accountable to the electorate. Lidija Topic, Regional Cooperation Council, stressed the new opportunity for regional cooperation in the area of civil dialogue with the RCC’s New Strategy 2011-13 and the need to build this on re-linking already existing experience and knowledge. Marina Buza-Vidas, Croatian GOforNGOs, presented the positive experience of the Croatian model as an example of best practice of civil dialogue. Srdjan Djurovic (Part 1, Part 2), Fund for An Open Society Serbia, reflected on the need to understand civil dialogue beyond structures and mechanism and focus on element of deliberation and impact it can have on policy- and decision-making.
Development of civil dialogue must include structured input, i.e. structures and mechanisms of dialogue between public authorities and civil society, but civil dialogue should be understood and practiced beyond these. Civil dialogue is primarily about building trust and partnership between the two parties;
While Acquis can be negotiated upon in the process of accession, civil dialogue as part of Political criteria should primarily be about adoption of EU principles and values. The Commission, through better policy and assistance coherence could especially influence the indigenous models of civil dialogue to develop to the degree and structures agreed upon on national level;
Regionally, it seems, the links are not missing, but many established links from the past, both between Governments and civil society, need to be re-linked for a more effective sharing of information, knowledge and know-how in the area of civil dialogue.