From the 26th to 28th September 2012, over 100 representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs), support agencies, government and EU Institutions gathered together in the IMPACT Center in Zadar, Croatia to examine the state of civil society and its future development in the Western Balkans and Turkey. The event entitled “Regional Civil Society Conference: for Europe of the Western Balkans and Turkey” was jointly organized by European Citizen Action Service, the National Foundation for Civil Society Development, TACSO, the People to People Programme of the European Commission and Directorate General for Enlargement.
The Conference served as a place to discuss the national reports and develop a consensus document during the course of the event. The national reports in most of the countries were developed by BCSDN member organizations.
There were three main topics for the conference: benchmarking progress across the region, sustainability of civil society and the outlook for EU policies in the region.
The conference tackled issues such as the political context post 2008 Ljubljana declaration and the discussions were centered on three topics: access to information, standards of consultations, participation and partnership, and citizen participation and direct democracy in the region.
The access to information panel showed that the Balkan states are in general very high on the list of enabling legislative framework; almost all countries have excellent laws
guaranteeing access to information and documents but there is a problem in the implementation of these laws. The culture of secrecy still prevails in the Balkans although improvements are noted in all countries in the region.
Tanja Hafner Ademi, Executive Director of BCSDN was one of the panelists on the panel discussing cooperation Government-CSO participation. In her presentation she focused on highlighting the key elements and factors for success which need to be present and put forward recommendations on how the European Commission, esp. DG Enlargement can improve consultations with local CSO via existing mechanisms. The debate concluded that the region has progressed in developing mechanism and frameworks for cooperation and participation, but the problem remain in systematic implementation, which in many cases is hampered by lack of political will or lack of skills and awareness on part public servants on how to engage.
The third discussion The third panel discussion “What possibilities for citizen participation, deliberation and direct democracy in the region” focused on the role of citizens in the reform process in the Western Balkans and Turkey. The workshop concluded that CSOs have an important role to play in promoting and facilitating citizen participation and direct democracy in the region, as well as that they should act effectively in offering solutions for citizen participation through the existing practices.
Traditionly, ECAS prepared a declaration which was debated at the event. The document is currently under consultation and has been renamed to a statement. The general conclusion was that the region has advanced significantly when it comes to enabling environment for civil society development and that this document should only endorse numerous ongoing regional processes in that direction. The statement is envisaged as a part of a process that will result with concrete actions by the end of 2012. More information is available here.