After one decade of existence and working on the improvement of the enabling environment for civil society development, with the adoption of the Law on Ministries and the formation of Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, the Government of the Republic of Serbia decided to abolish the Office for Cooperation with the Civil Society.
The Office, which has been established by the Government‘s Regulation, aimed to support the civil society organizations in defining and implementing legislative procedures with public policies, contributing to positive pressure on the governmental institutions.
BCSDN with our member from Serbia, Civic Initiatives, were among the proponents for establishing a body facilitating the civil society’s involvement in the decision making process. After joint efforts and advocacy of the civil society in the country the Office for Cooperation with the Civil Society was established in 2011 as an institution to support the dialogue between the Serbian Government and CSOs.
The recent Government’s decision to abolish the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society, and to decrease its role within the new Ministry brought in a non- transparent manner and without public consultations, concerned the civil society organizations in the country, who were already warning about the deterioration in civil society enabling environment. Over 70 Serbian CSOs, lead by Civic Initiatives, signed a Statement demanding the Government to secure resources and mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation between civil society and the authorities.
Among the key CSOs’ concerns and demands are the following:
- The Government should communicate with the public why the relations with civil society are placed under the auspices of one ministry;
- The new ministry narrows the space for cooperation between the public authorities and the civil society and defies the standards of the European Union, according to which the Government and the civil society should be involved in a constructive dialogue. How this issue will be implemented concerning the basic principles outlined in the Guidelines on the Inclusion of CSOs in the Regulation Adoption Process remains to be seen in the period to follow.
- The possibility of citizens to directly participate in the preparation of legal regulations together with ministers and the local governments has been abolished.
- Transparent and accountable provision and management of the public funding for CSOs will be especially challenging.
Eventually, the CSOs hope that employees of the Office for Cooperation with the Civil Society will not bear the worst consequences of this decision and that the Government will secure their job positions.
Following the current circumstances, BCSDN supports and encourages Serbian CSOs to continue their efforts to promote a more enabling civil society environment, the civic space, and the participatory democracy in their country.
*BCSDN provides rapid funding to CSOs in the Western Balkans to support CSOs in: addressing immediate challenges to the civic space in their countries, facing pressure to the civic space, incidences of hate speech, hostile attacks to organizations, or trying to react towards the changes of a law that affects their work. Read more about this opportunity here: https://www.balkancsd.net/regional-cs-hub/regional-cs-ad-hoc-support-grants/