BCSDN Background Analysis of the Enlargement Package 2020: Should Civil Society Be Satisfied with Just Being Acknowledged?

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BCSDN published its 11th consecutive analysis of the European Commission Enlargement Package 2020, assessing the progress made in the area of civil society development and dialogue with public institutions in Enlargement countries, and published recently, against BCSDN’s Monitoring Matrix on Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development.

The Enlargement Package 2020 follows after major developments on the EU enlargement agenda- concrete proposals for strengthening the accession process, positioned with the Communication “Enhancing the accession process – A credible EU perspective for the Western Balkans”, and the decision to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. “Rigorous, but fair” assessments of the implementation of fundamental reforms in the EU candidates are followed by recommendations and guidance on the next steps, including the enhanced enlargement methodology. The focus on “fundamentals first” is further enhanced with the just-released Economic and Investment Plan.

In the new enlargement package, although civil society continues to be separately assessed within the Political criteria as one of the four pillars of Democracy, there is a lack of a consistent and systematic reference to the Guidelines for EU Support to Civil Society in Enlargement Countries, 2014-2020. Considering that 2020 was marked by an unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in its communication and reports, EC highlights the EU support to the Western Balkans in addressing the challenges. The documents also emphasize the crucial CSOs’ role in the crisis response and their collaboration with the governments to support the most vulnerable categories in society.

Regarding the overall progress in the enabling environment for civil society operations, improvements are evaluated in Kosovo, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. While an enabling environment for civil society “still needs to be established on the ground” in Serbia, no progress was identified in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The “space for civil society to operate freely has continued to diminish” in Turkey.

Increasing threats to basic freedoms are reported in almost all countries, with severe deteriorations noted in Turkey. The hostile atmosphere for CSOs has also been documented in Serbia and BiH, reporting intimidation, smear campaigns by media closely operating with the government. The freedom of assembly is assessed as generally respected in almost all WBT, except for Turkey and BiH and the records of serious permanent bans on different gatherings, contributing towards further shrinking of the civic space. While the rest of the WBT countries noted no progress in improving the overall environment for freedom of expressiondue to the pressures, harassment, and attacks against journalists, media workers, and other critical voices, as well as the lack of judicial follow-ups, only Kosovo and North Macedonia can serve as examples with limited progress this year.

In regards to the Framework for CSOs’ Financial Viability and Sustainability, the EC positively distinguishes Montenegro on the state funding and implementation of legislation defining standardized and transparent state funding mechanisms. Considering the provision of state funding, the EC misses emphasizing public funds’ availability, which is observed as inadequate for supporting CSOs operations.

Similarly, to last year’s reports, through the work of the Council for Development of NGOs in Montenegro, and the Council for Cooperation in North Macedonia, followed by Strategies on Government-CSO cooperation for the next period, the EC has noted positive developments regarding the framework and practices for cooperation in these two countries.

Although some progress has been noted across the region in the civil society’s involvement in the policy and decision-making processes, the EC recommends further improvements towards ensuring meaningful and systematic consultations in all Enlargement countries. Positively, civil society in North Macedonia and Kosovo is recognized as an active key player in policy and decision-making processes.

Access to public information is a somewhat problematic issue in Albania, and BiH and a more serious concern have been noted in Montenegro. As previously, the assessment of service provision by CSOs is not included in this year’s reports.

Read more and download the full analysis, including the conclusions HERE.

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