BCSDN annual debate on the state of the enabling environment in which civil society in Enlargement countries operates under the title: “Raising Standards, Declining Trends? Operating Environment for Civil Society in Enlargement Countries” was organized on 7th September in Brussels. The event was organized on the occasion of the presentation of the 2015 Monitoring Matrix Regional Report and its recommendation to the EC. The event brought CSO representatives from Western Balkans to present the key challenges for the civil society operating environment in their countries. The aim was to raise a discussion with the Commission, other EU institutions and stakeholders on how the EU Accession Process can promote a stronger and more empowered civil society that enhances political accountability and fosters deeper understanding of accession related reforms ahead of the publication of the Enlargement Package and Country Progress Reports form 2015-2016.
In response to the Report presentation and recommendations a discussion was organized to discuss how to address the key challenges with the EU Accession Process. Sonja Nita from the Commission has confirmed the worrying trends in Enlargement countries and has called civil society to continue their advocacy in which the Commission has been investing continuously. Speaking of setting up of the National Council for Civil Society in Albania, Klotilda Kosta from Partners Albania confirmed the need for making CSO – state cooperation operation in practice. While the process of establishment has been based on cooperation and support by the Parliament, it is still to be seen how the dialoguing in its initial sessions and how the opens of the Council will commence, starting from publication of Government representatives to sit in the Council. In a similar manner, Taulant Hoxha from KCSF outlined progress being made in the field of making state support for CSOs accessible, transparent and accountable by adopting a model on public funding for CSOs on May 25th, 2016 by the Government of Kosovo. Still, until the model that defines unique general criteria on planning, distributing and monitoring public funds for CSOs, is being operationalized. What should be worrisome to the Commission nonetheless is that, until specific regulations are drafted, public funds for CSOs continue to be distributed without clear criteria and specific procedures. Moreover, he warned that the if no reaction comes with the first potential breach of the regulation, the new legislation in which years of efforts have been invested, the model is doomed to fail. Bojana Selakovic from Civic Initiatives emphasized that serious backsliding with regards to basic legal guarantees of freedoms for CSOs in Serbia, which is currently negotiating its accession to the EU. She explained that as part of the preparations of a comprehensive Civil Code, the Law on Associations and the Law on Endowments and Foundations are undergoing change that might if adopted limit the nature and operations of endowments and foundations, do not provide clear definition on endowments, and are not harmonized with the existing regulations of the Government. Moreover, in April 2015, the Constitutional Court declared the Public Assembly Act unconstitutional, but postponed the implementation of the decision for 6 months. With a delay, and assemblies being held under an unconstitutional law, a new Law on Public Gatherings has been adopted in January 2016, provisioning location limitations, selective notification processes and many other provisions that are not in line with international standards.
The monitoring exercise is repeated in annual cycles for all Enlargement countries with parallel advocacy action by BCSDN and its in-country members to address identified bottlenecks and obstacles. All monitoring matrix reports are available here.
The event also served as a closing ceremony of the 4 year project supported by the EC and BTD: Balkan Civil Society Acquis – Strengthening the Advocacy and Monitoring Potential and Capacities of CSOs and on this occasion the short documentary produced to showcase the achievements of the network through the project but also beyond was presented to the participants.