Going Beyond the Form and Structure, Investing in Critical and Strategic Civil Society Initiatives – BCSDN Analysis of the Annual Reports and EC Enlargement Strategy 2016

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For the 8th consecutive year, BCSDN has analyzed how the European Commission (EC) has treated the issue of civil society development and assessed the progress made in the Enlargement countries within the Enlargement Strategy 2016 and the 2016 Country Annual Reports that have been published recently.

In brief, this year’s background analysis shows that civil society has indeed become one of the key criteria for EU accession, and the EC has put an increasing attention to the enabling environment for civil society development in the Enlargement countries through more systematic and unified monitoring methodologies. The EU CS Guidelines with its benchmarks and country targets are for the second year in a row providing the backbone of the most in-depth understanding and monitoring of the conditions in which civil society activists and CSOs need to operate. While the relations between CSOs and public institutions are again in the spotlight, enhanced attention is put to basic freedoms and financial visibility and sustainability. Furthermore, this year’s reports deliver the old message of “Fundamentals First” – that is, reforms in areas of Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom, and Security).

The 2016 reports introduce several novelties. The greatest novelty is that the EC has moved the annual reporting from the political (autumn) to calendar (spring) cycle. Moreover, for the very first time, the EC has requested for CSOs and Governments representatives to sit side by side and deliver their joint proposal for the Reports on an annual review conference organized in Skopje 25-26th April 2016.

With regards to the future reports, the EC should aim to provide clear progress (or its lack) against EU CS Guidelines targets to show concrete results and achievements with the Guidelines and needed adjustments on the road ahead to 2020. More so, it should also aim to get political level, both in the EU and Enlargement countries involved endorse the EU CS Guidelines. Finally, the EC should continue its support to critical and strategic national and regional civil society initiatives that it has helped to develop and shape.

Similarly to last year, BCSDN analysis of how the EC is assessing civil society development in the individual country reports is presented through the framework of the Monitoring Matrix on Enabling Environment for CSDev. The Monitoring Matrix, developed by BCSDN and its partners, including ECNL, in 2012, provides a set of principles and standards accompanied by 151 indicators for legislation and practice that needs to be in place in a country to have an optimum enabling environment for CSDev.

You can read the full analysis here. Also available is the integral excel table with extracts from the Enlargement Strategy 2016 and the Country Annual Reports related to CSDev since 2006 that we used as a basis for our analysis.

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