With around 400 participants from all over Europe, the European Civil Meeting was an official high visibility event of the Hungarian EU Presidency, designed to be the next chapter in a series of European civil society conferences known as the European Civic Days. The 3-day conference took place in the form of plenary and workshop sessions. The Budapest-based Századvég Political School Foundation was the organizer of the 2011 European Civil Meeting. BCSDN participated on the workshop dedicated to Western Balkan European integration.
In connection with the previous events, the chief theme of the European Civil Meeting was built around the concept of an active European citizenship. This was further subdivided into four topics: active European citizenship and civic participation, EU citizenship education and active youth, the role of CSOs in the Western Balkan enlargement and active European citizenship and volunteering.
The International Center for Democratic Transition (ICDT) organized one of these workshops, on the subject of the Role of CSOs in the EU Integration of the Western Balkans. The topic was addressed in four panels, each with a different approach.
The first panel focused on the official perspective of the EU integration process of the Western Balkan countries, while Panel 2 presented the point of view of research institutes and think tanks. Panel 3 gathered representatives of CSOs who discussed the opportunities and challenges of civic activism in the respective countries. The fourth panel introduced ICDT’s feasibility study on the possibility for creating a Western Balkans Civil Society Fund, an initiative modeled on the successful example of the International Visegrad Fund. The concept raised significant interest among the participants which led to a lively discussion on the opportunities and obstacles of this initiative, its feasibility, as well as the potential sources of its funding. BCSDN representative Ilina Nesik was invited to participate on this panel discussion related to the creation of a Western Balkans Fund and to comment the feasibility study with regards to the CSO current situation in the Balkans. The other panelists were Tomáš Strážay, Foreign Policy Association, Slovakia and Sandor Koles, ICDT.
Beside the high quality presentations, all sessions included an active debate involving the audience on the issues raised by the speakers. More than 60 people took part in the discussions, half of which were prominent representatives of organisations based in the Western Balkan countries.
The four panels and discussions shed light on several important conclusions. First, there is a perception gap between how civil society and governments see the issue of EU integration. Second, participants highlighted that the EU sends contradictory messages to the Western Balkan countries. Third, there are serious obstacles in the way of engaging youth and involving people in voluntary activities due to poorly formulated laws and limited implementation of policies regarding volunteers. Finally, participants concluded that the creation of a Western Balkan Civil Society Fund after the fashion of the successful International Visegrad Fund would strengthen regional and cross-border cooperation and reconciliation, which are also inevitable elements of the EU integration process. As the current economic situation in the EU is leading to widespread populism and decreasing trust in a strong, united Europe, it is important to remember that a fragmented, nationalistic, mistrusting European climate is the antithesis of the ideal of a European Union based on democratic, active citizenship.
For further information, please refer to the ICDT website where the feasibility study will be published in the upcoming days.