SERBIA

 

2018

2019

Number of registered organizations

11,426 CSOs

(400 new CSOs registered in 2018)

11,739 CSOs

(313 new CSOs registered in 2019)

Main civil society laws

–        Law no. 8788 “For the Non-Profit Organization”

–        Law no. 8989 “For the Registration of Non – Profit Organization”

–        Civil Code of Albania

–        National Accounting Standard for Non Profit Organizations

–        Law for the Right of Information

–        Law for Notification and Public Consultations

Relevant changes in legal framework

Law no. 25/2018 “ For Accounting and Financial Statements”

Instruction no. 34, dated 02.12.2019 “On a Modification of the Instruction No. 6, Dated 30.01.2015 “On The Value Added Tax in The Republic Of Albania”, as amended” (VAT Refund)

Roadmap

State funding (key bodies and amounts)For FY 2018 the budget of ASCS in grants for CSOs was 108 million ALL (approx.857,000 EUR)For FY 2019 the budget of ACSC in grants for CSOs was approx. 100 million ALL (approx. 793,000 EUR).
Human resources (employees and volunteers)

8, 917 employees

No information on volunteers

9, 966 employees

No information on volunteers

CSO-Government Cooperation (relevant/new body: consultation mechanism)National Council for Civil Society
Other key challenges

–          Lack of unified data and accurate information for CSOs

–          Financial viability and sustainability of the sector remains weak. The sector is donor dependent, and the foreign donor support constitutes the main source of their incomes.

Lack of data and accurate information for CSOs

-Financial viability and sustainability of the sector remains weak. The sector is donor dependent, and the foreign donor support constitutes the main source of their incomes.

Key findings of the report

In general, the legal framework governing registration of CSOs is regulated in most of its aspects. However, it still presents some problematic issues in terms of centralization of registration/re-registration process in Tirana, and lack of an electronic register with comprehensive records for the CSO sector.

In the last year, it is noticed an increased state institutions control over CSOs operations through approved laws, especially under money – laundry and anti-terrorist package that impede the independence of the sector.

In July 2019, the Albanian Government approved the Road Map for the Government Policy towards a More Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development 2019-2023. The document reflects a revised version of The Road Map 2015 – 2018, which almost 80% of the actions proposed were not implemented. The establishment of the National Council for Civil Society hardly has conducted any productive discussion in voicing CSOs priorities in policy-making processes and as result has limited the wide participation and engagement of CSOs in those processes. In addition, it is noticed a lack of interaction of the members from civil society in the Council with other CSOs that they represent.

With regards to social service, CSOs are one of the main providers of social services. Nevertheless, their contribution is neither fully recognized by the state, nor supported through an enabling legal framework that would facilitate their operation and access to state funds or other non-financial state support. 

Key findings of the report
1.Lack of an electronic register with comprehensive records for CSOs to be used by public institutions and other interested stakeholders.
2.Increased state institutions control over CSOs operations, through approval of laws under anti-money laundry and anti-terrorist package that impede the independence of the sector.
3.Strategies and mechanisms in place for state-CSOs cooperation (the Road Map and the NCCS) are not producing the expected results towards a more enabling environment for civil society, due to poor implementation and lack of reflection on the sector related problematics.
4.Although CSOs are the main providers of social services, their contribution is neither fully recognized by the state, nor supported through an enabling legal framework that would facilitate their operation and access to state funds or other non-financial state support.

Key recommendations

The main recommendation is with regards to public data. The creation of the electronic register would enable comprehensive, reliable and up-to-date information on CSOs, by relevant public institutions and public. 

With regards to CSOs – state cooperation, a better regulatory framework in place and proper implementation is needed, including the one on the National Council for Civil Society.  In addition, one recommendation on this regard is the effective inclusion of CSOs in consultation processes, discussions and joint working groups for the preparation of draft laws and other regulations that affect CSOs work at the very early stage of legislative process.

CSOs are one of the main service providers. One recommendation on this regard is to support through state funding schemes for CSOs providing social services, and easy access to funding schemes, and procurement mechanisms of state funds.

1.1.1. Establishment of and Participation in CSOs

Legislation is fully in line with the standards in this area. There is a possibility for any person to establish associations, foundations and other types of non-profit, non-governmental entities for any purpose as well as for both individual and legal persons to exercise the right of freedom of association without discrimination. Article 55 of the Constitution stipulates freedom of association, as well as freedom to stay out of any association. Associations shall be formed without prior approval but shall be entered in the register kept by a state body. The Law on Associations stipulates that an association shall be established and organized freely, and shall be independent in the pursuit of its goals. Article 19 of this Law stipulates that anyone may become the association’s member under equal terms laid down by its statute. An individual may be a member of the association irrespective of his age and in accordance with this Law and its statute.  Article 10 of the Law on Endowments and Foundations stipulates that endowments and foundations may be established by one or more domestic or foreign natural or legal persons having business capacity, they may also be established by a will and if the testator did not specify the name of the executor of the will, competent court for probate proceedings shall determine the executor.

Registration is not mandatory, and in cases when organizations decide to register, the registration rules are clearly prescribed and allow for easy, timely and inexpensive registration and appeal process. Law on Associations envisages that Entry in the Association Register shall be made on a voluntary basis and the association shall acquire the status of a legal entity at the date of its entry in the Register. Law on Endowments and Foundations states that endowments and foundations shall acquire a legal person capacity on the day of entry in the Register and that they may not engage in activities before entered into the Register.  However, The Law on the Procedure of Registration with the Serbian Business Registers Agency stipulates the procedure of registration of an association, the contents of the application and the form in which it was submitted.

The legislation allows for networking among organizations in the country and abroad without prior notification, while there are no legal provisions related to blocking social networks.

Practice is partially harmonized with standards when it comes to possibility for every individual or legal entity to form associations, foundations or other non-profit, non-governmental organizations offline or online. According to the information received upon the FOI request from the Agency for Business Registers, in the past 12 months,  registration applications, due to procedural reasons, was denied to 283 associations (due to formal deficiencies), while the number of endowments and foundations was 11. The Agency for Business Registers does not impose bans on the work of civil society organizations, the Constitutional Court does it. In the requested period, it did not have any decision on the ban of the work of associations, foundations and endowments, which the Agency for Business Registers was obliged to enter in the Register of Associations. According to the information received upon the FOI request, the High-Tech Crime Prosecutor’s Office does not have information on deleted online groups, as they have no technical capabilities.

According to a survey on civil society conducted by Helvetas and Civic Initiatives for the purpose of the program „Together for an Active Civil Society” in April 2019 (ACT study), 13% of CSOs have elected, appointed and/or representatives of public administration on their Managing Boards and/or among employees. Looking at the area of work, CSOs dealing with law, public representation and politics (human rights) (23%) have such a person on their Managing Board/as an employee more often than others, while they are least present in CSOs that are active in the area of culture, media and recreation and philanthropic mediation and promotion of volunteerism (10% each). CSOs from Belgrade (18%) and those with budgets exceeding EUR 20,001 (25%) have, more often than others, elected/appointed persons on their Managing Boards or among staff.

Practice also indicates partially enabling environment in the area of sanctions for non-registering organizations. The previous period in Serbia was marked by the formation of a number of grassroots organizations/movements due to the lack of space for public debate. They are particularly active in the fields of ecology and environmental protection and socio-economic rights. One of the most significant results of these local initiatives is that they unite citizens in the fight against corruption, nepotism and negligent dealing with community issues. Without clear operational division, their structure is fluid and depends on personal engagement. Grass roots’ key advantage is openness, immediacy and inclusivity, while the key drawback is a lack of clear roles and division of responsibilities. Grassroots have great reach via social networks but with no strategic approach to their work, they react ad hoc. They perceive themselves as well networked with other local grassroots and CSOs but based on personal contacts, while some representatives of formal CSOs identify the lack of strategic connections between these two groups. Due to its unregistered status, the informal group “Defend the rivers of Stara Planina” has been exposed to smear campaigns in the previous period. As they are an unregistered group, donations are received through an individual’s account. This was used to accuse them of non-transparency and spending of citizens’ donations for private purposes.

0 - 20 Fully disabling environment20 - 40 Disabling environment 40 - 60 Partially enabling environment60 - 80 Enabling environment 80 - 100 Fully enabling environment

BAR ASSOCIATION
AGAINST CSOS

The Board of Directors of the Belgrade Bar Association has decided to delete from the directory of lawyers, the lawyer Blazo Nedic because of an alleged conflict of interest. Nedic
is a President of the National Association of Mediators of Serbia and one of the registered legal representatives of Partners for Democratic Change Serbia. In an open letter to the public, he stressed that there was no legal basis for such a decision and that it was only part of an orchestrated campaign against him and NGOs. The Bar’s decision in the Nedic case is not yet publicly known. Other lawyers who are working in citizens’ associations have received similar letters from the Belgrade Bar Association. In March 2019, the President of the Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights, Katarina Golubovic, was warned by letter that she could not represent this association and remain in the status of a lawyer. Faced with such a threat, the Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights changed its representative in April 2019.

According to available SBRA data, the number of registered associations in 2019. is 2090, while the number of newly registered endowments is 4 and 70 foundations. There are no cases in the survey that CSOs reported that the registration procedure was conducted impartially or that the required registration documents exceeded those stipulated by law.

The practice is harmonized with standards in the area of forming and participating in networks and coalitions. According to the MM survey, 18 organizations responded that they are member of a home network, 13 that they are a member of two, 13 that they are a member of three or more and 8 of them that they are not a member of them of any.  Also, 13 organizations responded that it was a member of one international network, 2 that it was a member of two, 11 organizations that it was a member of three and more and 26 that it is not a member of any. Among the respondents, none of the organizations members of the network faced any demands from the state.

According to ACT study, when it comes to cooperation with other CSOs, less than 63% of organizations have so far established cooperation with other CSOs, which is significantly less than in 2011 (86%). This is expected, having in mind that number of CSOs has doubled since 2010 and that establishing cooperation requires time, knowledge and contacts with other CSOs.  The most common motive for establishing cooperation are common interests and goals (92%), better exploitation of capacities (35%), helping another organization (31%) and better reputation of partner organization (22%), which is similar to 2011. The great majority of CSOs are satisfied with cooperation with other CSOs (82%), which is increase of 6 percent points compared to 2011. 33% of CSOs are members of a CSO network, which is 2 percent point less than in 2011 (35%). In most of the cases, CSOs are members of the national network (20%), and in fewer cases of international (12%), regional (11%) and local (10%). About one third of CSOs (35%) evaluate that there is a strong influence of the network to which they belong, which is significant drop of 16 percent points when compared to 2011 (51%); majority (56%) believe that network influence is weak, while 9% report no influence of the network. 

One of the most important activities in the field of networking in Serbia in 2019 is the launch of the Three Freedoms platform. Representatives of 20 civil society organizations signed in Belgrade the Three Freedoms Platform for the Protection of Civic Space in the Republic of Serbia, in order to protect and promote the freedom of association, assembly and information. The launch of the Platform has also been influenced by the fact that CSOs are exposed to more frequent attacks in pro-regime media and attacks on the physical integrity, reputation and honor of their activists.

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AREA 1

Recommendation 1

Consistent implementation laws and by-laws in the area of freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression is needed at all state levels in order to defend achieved standards in the legal framework, as well as strengthening the accountability of all relevant institutions responsible for the protection of fundamental rights. Urgent reaction of the competent authorities is also needed in cases of threats and attacks against activists and journalists, their personality, property and lives. A strong message must come from the highest political representatives as well as from the relevant EU institutions. Constant monitoring of the European Union with the pressure on political representatives. Clear messages and political punishments in this regard (“Pribe mechanism” or similar instruments).

Violation of fundamental freedoms is one of the strongest findings of this report. Numerous recorded cases of violations of freedom of association, expression and assembly are recorded. Cases include smear campaigns, intimidation and security threats in online and offline spheres, interference gatherings and public events. In some cases, high government officials initiate or participate in campaigns. This particularly affects CSOs with critical attitude toward the authorities at the national and local levels, who are intimidated and abandon their attitudes in the public space and media support the narrative of foreign mercenaries and traitors. It weakens citizens’ confidence in the sector. CSOs and activists are committed to defending attacks that interfere with their daily work.

Recommendation 2

Stop using GONGO and PONGO organizations for the purpose of legitimizing decisions and proposals of institutions of government, faking public debates as well as misuse of state funds for all associations established and operating in areas of public interest. Recognizing the GONGOs in a relevant EU documents and reports (PAR, Progress reports, EU Guidelines for civil society etc.) and sending clear messages to the highest political representatives in Serbia.

Establishing GONGOs and PONGOs is one of the main trends in Serbia during 2019 in the public space and the media. Their role is visible in decision-making processes, distribution of state money, and the initiation and campaigning of critically oriented actors. CSOs and activists are committed to defending attacks that interfere their daily work while a parallel civil society is being created that makes a false image in society. In the decision-making processes GONGOS and PONGOs uncritically support all proposals of the authorities.  They also use state funds contrary to the principle of public interest set out in the Law on Associations

Recommendation 3

Prevent legal interventions that would ban organizations from establishing social enterprises or impose new administrative and financial obligations on them. Introducing adequate incentives, financial and non-financial is also needed as well as recognizing social entrepreneurship as social value in the different sectorial policies

Potential of social entrepreneurship has not been recognized and it is still rare among CSOs. Current legal framework is liberal and allows it, although there are no adequate incentives by the state. There is an intention on the part of the state to regulate the legal framework in this area, but not in a direction favorable to CSOs. As the state of financial diversification of sector is not at the satisfied level, this is a good way to secure funds that are not dependent on the state or donors. Additionally, social entrepreneurship is a solid basis for the strengthening constituency relations of those CSOs and could contribute to the better public image of CSOS. 

AREA 2

Recommendation 4

Providing stronger political label for the philanthropy with stronger incentives for corporative giving, introducing incentives for individual giving, and harmonization of public interest between different laws as well as establishing system for collecting data.

Different domestic and international reports assess non-favorable framework for individual and corporate giving. There are no proper tax benefits underlying the further growth of giving. Implementation of existing incentives is not unique and different practices of the competent authorities in this regard are present. The definition of public interest is inconsistent in Law on Associations law and tax laws. There is no system for collecting data on donations from citizens and businesses. Diversification of the financial sources is weak and needs to be strengthened with funds raised through individual and corporate giving. Poor tax incentives directly reflect the number of those who wish to donate. Analyses of existing donations are not available and do not allow organizations to be adequately informed about those who donate, which also affects their approaches to individual and corporative donors.

Recommendation 5

Developing additional qualitative criteria for participating in distribution of state funds on a basis of expertise and public interest contribution as well as establishing a system for effective regular collecting data on all types of state finding. Providing a political label for the EUG is also needed as it could be used as a regular mechanism for monitoring and pressure on the state (such as PAR). Stronger focus on qualitative indicators in EUG in relevant area. Providing full implementation of recommendations based on EUG criteria by the Government as well.

Although there is a general framework for transparent state funding, it still contains certain gaps, which allow for the prescribed procedures, and in particular the political influence on the final decisions. The state funding for CSOs in Serbia is one of the initial reasons for increasing GONGO activities and a number of such cases have been reported. Existing practices threatens access to the funds of those organizations that have expertise and act in the line with public interest, but criticizes certain actions of the authorities. Even those organizations that are not critical, give up, because it is known in advance who will receive the funding, especially at the local level.

Recommendation 6

Adoption a new Volunteering Act to treat volunteering as an activity of public interest, not as unpaid work as well as by-laws that will make it possible monitoring the effects of its application.

The legal framework still does not stimulate volunteering, no acknowledges the value of volunteer engagement and does not enables the collection and analysis of data on volunteers and volunteer hours. The law is overnormed treating volunteering as free labor, rather than social value. For this reason, most organizations organize volunteering without law enforcement, while official statistics do not include the actual number of volunteers and volunteer organizers.

AREA 3

Recommendation 7

Adoption of the National Strategy for Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development in the Republic of Serbia.

Although, there were some GOCCS activities aimed to establishing of the Council of Cooperation with Civil Society, in order to respond a strong message from the Progress Report in May 2019, the most of liberal/pro EU CSOs thought that forming such body at the moment would only be a check of boxes and another mechanism for maintaining parallel reality due to strong GONGO activities. It is necessary to adapt the existing draft Strategy to the current state of affairs, to define adequate and effective measures and to assess whether certain mechanisms for cooperation are necessary and appropriate.

Recommendation 8

Developing additional qualitative criteria for participating in decision making processes on a basis of expertise and public interest contribution as well establishing a system for effective regular collecting data. Providing a political label for the EUG is also needed as it could be used as a regular mechanism for monitoring and pressure on the state (such as PAR). Stronger focus on qualitative indicators in EUG in relevant area. Providing full implementation of recommendations based on EUG criteria by the Government as well.

Although certain changes in the legal framework have been observed, they are not qualitative and do not address the problem of limited influence in the decision-making process. Due to the focus of the EU on quantitative criteria, a trend of faking public participation and debates was observed, with strong GONGOs activities. The absence of a feedback mechanism, a lack of political will for qualitative contribution of CSOs to the decision-making process are leading to a self-excluding by an increasing number of CSOs, especially those that are critically positioned. Their place is filled by GONGOs that create a parallel reality this way, as well as discredit organizations with strong expertise and that act in the line of the public interest.

Recommendation 9

Ensure the status of social service providers to civil society organizations in all relevant fields including equalizing their status with other actors in the field. Improvement of the legal is also needed in the parts related to the criteria for awarding the service contracts and clear monitoring and evaluation procedures.

Currently the most regulated area is the provision of social protection services and consumer rights. CSOs are generally recognized and equated with other providers, but the same needs to be done in other areas (free legal aid, health care, education, culture). In all areas, there is lack of clear procedures to ensure the quality of customer service, so the quality of services in different areas is different according to the beneficiaries. It is not always clear how much money and from which budget lines are allocated in practice for service delivery.

This National Monitoring Report was developed by Civic Initiatives (CI), member of Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN). The Research team consisted of several senior and young researches: Bojana Selaković, Dejana Stevkovski, Ivana Teofilović and Pavle Grbović. CI would like to thank BCSDN for the support provided.

Civic Initiatives are immensely grateful to the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society of the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Business Registers Agency who shared relevant data on registered CSOs in 2019. Also, we would like to thank all other representatives and experts from numerous civil society organizations (Trag foundation, Catalyst foundation, Center for Social Policy, Narodni Parlament, Smart Kolektiv, European Policy Center, Young Researches of Serbia, AIESEC Serba, NCEU, Association Duga, Center for Education Policy) and state bodies (Ministry of State Government and Local Self-Government, the Office for Information Technologies and eGovernment, the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, State Secretariat for Public Policies) who have contributed to the development of this report through sharing their data, experiences and knowledge about the way that certain regulations are being implemented in practice. We would like to give special acknowledgment to Ms. Dubravka Velat, recognized expert for civil society development in Serbia and WB countries, who contributed to more objective assessment and enabling environment scoring.

Socio-political environment in 2019 in Serbia was significantly unfavorable for the operations and development of civil society organizations. The European integration process has been slow, resulting in the opening of only two negotiation chapters, which is the worst result since 2015. Also, no visible progress was made in the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina and the dialogue did not continue during this year, except for certain technical discussions in an insufficiently transparent procedure without any public insight into the content and results. The international community’s attention has largely been directed towards solving this problem while shifting focus to this segment has helped in consolidation of absolute and unfettered power of the ruling party.

Internal political life has been marked by a serious crisis of democracy due to further media control and widespread pressure on voters, activists and opposition representatives. The crisis has resulted in a boycott of Parliament by opposition lawmakers, as well as an announced boycott of the elections by most of the opposition parties. Civil society organizations have played a significant role in trying to overcome the crisis by establishing a formal dialogue between the authorities and the opposition in order to reach an agreement on fair electoral conditions, but with a lack of results.

CSOs efforts have not been recognized as corrective activities in this case. Moreover, they have been characterized as a political opponent to the ruling regime and enemies of the state of Serbia in most of media close to Government or ruling party. Such narrative has been deeply rooted in the Serbian public for decades, but has additionally increased in importance and intensity by the frequent formation of GONGO organizations that, on one hand, receive financial assistance from the state and, on the other, use the space given to them in pro-government media to discredit CSOs with a long tradition and strong expertise. Also, one of the main roles of GONGO organizations is to take the role of “constructive partner” in decision making processes as it is evident that there is no adequate dialogue even in the case of key legal decisions.  Although public hearings were formally held, CSOs proposals were not only taken seriously, but they almost never received feedback on why their proposals did not become part of the adopted documents.

Similar to other European countries, Serbia faces a more severe migrant crisis than in previous years. Inadequate public awareness and the absence of reactions from responsible institutions have resulted in the exuberance of nationalist and extremist groups who have initiated violence and threats as legitimate behaviors, with wide space for presenting such views in the mainstream media.

The position of CSOs has also not been improved in terms of financial sustainability or service delivery. On the contrary, with the adoption of the new law on free legal aid, certain CSOs who have been performing these activities for almost 20 years are now prevented from doing so. There has also been no announced amendment to the Law on Volunteering or further recognition of social entrepreneurship as a social value.

Finally, the best account of the state’s disinterest in the work of the civil sector is reflected in the failure to adopt the National Strategy for an Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development in the Republic of Serbia. At the same time, there were some activities aimed to establishing Council for Cooperation with Civil Society, as response to a strong message from the Progress Report in May 2019. However, the most of liberal and pro-EU CSOs thought that forming such a body at this time would only be a check of boxes and another mechanism for maintaining parallel reality.

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