Norms over Forms: Civil Society Development in the Enlargement Process Debated in the EP

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On 4th June, 2015 BCSDN organized a debate at the European Parliament to present to MEPs and other key EU stakeholders the state in which civil society operates in Western Balkans and Turkey, and how the accession process can promote a more enabling environment for its development.

2The debate “Norms over Forms: Empowering Civil Society in the Western Balkans and Turkey” was hosted by Ms. Ulrike Lunacek, Vice-President of the European Parliament (The Greens/EFA) and it gathered over 80 participants, Members of the EU Parliament and the Parliament’s services, representatives of the European Commission, the Permanent Representations of EU Member states, as well as representatives European civil society networks.The debate was chaired and opened by Ms. Lunacek, and co-chaired by Ms. Venera Hajrullahu BCSDN’s Board Chair both speaking about the value and importance of the civil society for the reform and accession processes in the Enlargement countries.

Ms. Tanja Hafner Ademi, the Executive Director of BCSDN and Ms. Eszter Markus, the Managing Director of ECNL presented the challenges and recommendations for tackling key issues for the enabling environment for civil society development in the region, based on findings from extensive monitoring conducted by BCSDN’s members and organizations through the jointly developed tool – Monitoring Matrix on Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development.

Following the presentation of the regional state of play, representatives of BCSDN member organizations took the floor to speak about the specific challenges faced in each country.

IMG_5379Selen Lermiouglu Yilmaz from Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV) noted that in Turkey the civic space is shrinking instead of enabling civil society to respond to the growing political and societal challenges. Juliana Hoxha from Partners Albania stated that while there is positive progress in the legal framework in Albania, a potential threat for the civil society development is the implementation of new anti-terrorist legislation. Omir Tufo from the Center for Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD) urged EU to invest more in building civil society capacities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Vladica Jovanovic from Civic Initiatives said the civil society in Serbia is being contaminated by newly emerging organizations founded by political parties are substitute for institutional cooperation with civil society. Simona Ognenovska from the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC) spoke about the need for civil society to be supported and partner in resolution of the current political crisis in Macedonia.

Tina Divjak from the Centre for Information Service, Co-operation and Development of NGOs (CNVOS) from Slovenia stated that there is an overall decrease in standards in almost all countries and evidently civil society development and cooperation is not very high on the political agenda anywhere.

Representatives of the EU institutions and other relevant stakeholders also contributed with valuable questions and comments.

IMG_5399The debate finished with a strong message delivered by Ms. Lunacek, the host of the event, who stated that governments should not see civil society as opponent, but rather as ally, whose criticism can improve their work, strengthen the democracy and support the accession process.

For more details on the regional state of enabling environment in Enlargement countries and the recent developments in 2014 including highlighted key findings and recommendations, read our Regional Report. The detailed countries’ reports can be found here.

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