On 1 March 2023, BCSDN organized a workshop and advocacy event on empowering the civil society in Western Balkans and Türkiye to reinforce rule of law amidst EU accession. Representatives from leading CSOs across the region, presented by members of BCSDN along with staffs from European Commission’s DG NEAR & DG JUST deliberated on how they can work together for more effective contributions to governance accountability as well as expanded democracies. Biljana Spasovska, Executive Director at BSCSDN kickstarted this occasion who presented BCSDN network and highlighted the network’s commitment to strengthening civil society in line with support to the accession process. In addition, Ms. Hilen Francke, the Head of Sector Civil Society, Social Inclusion & Human Capital development at the European Commission welcomed participants and highlighted their commitment to supporting civil society through substantial IPA assistance. She outlined new technical calls for Democracy and Human Rights alongside transformative programming ideas such as framework partnership agreements that have been implemented in recent years.
At the gathering, participants had an opportunity to gain insight into BCSDN’s Monitoring Matrix report 2022 – a key element in assessing and reporting on CS enabling environment in the Western Balkans and Türkiye. Ms. Anja Bosilkova- Antovska, BCSDN Policy and Advocacy Coordinator presented the MM comprehensive draft of findings, providing invaluable perspective for further discussion of this topic.
At the BCSDN meeting, members focused on key regional issues such as diminishing public involvement due to SLAPPs and how legislative changes can better enable citizens’ access to information. Mr. Taulant Hoxha from KCSF and Ms Maja Stojanovic from Civic Initiatives (Serbia) outlined their work helping those targeted by SLAPP suits while also collaborating with journalists, media representatives, activists and concerned citizens in fighting negative trends.
Ms. Dajana Cvijetkovic from Center for Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD) described the challenging search for legal representation of entities facing violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as lawyers are apprehensive to take up such cases and donors retreat from these situations in order to remain on good terms. Ms. Juliana Hoxha’s thoughtful research exposed a worrying decline in public involvement and access to information within Albania, highlighting the need for urgent action. Ms. Zorana Markovic of CRNVO, Montenegro and Mr. Aleksandar Krzalovski from MCIC both highlighted the deficiency in open conversation between civil society stakeholders and government authorities during public processes regarding Macedonian and Montenegrin case.
At the meeting, key stakeholders across the region shared their valuable insights on how to ensure a fair and effective public consultation process between the governments and the civil society. In addition, participants discussed why CSOs in Kosovo have been able to foster trust with citizens – an important success story for governments of other countries looking beyond traditional consultative approaches. This provided DG NEAR representatives with invaluable insight into civil society dynamics throughout Western Balkans and Türkiye.
During the meeting, EU DG NEAR representatives engaged in an insightful dialogue on key facets of CSOs functioning. This conversation ranged from how to effectively prevent and monitor civil society restrictions to why trust for CSOs is higher in Kosovo than other nearby countries. The exchange offered a platform for Western Balkan and Turkish organizations to voice their experiences while providing DG NEAR and JUST with invaluable insight into current trends afflicting this sector of civic life throughout the region.
The workshop concluded on a positive note, with BCSDN’s opinion on the DG NEAR Guidelines for EU Support To Civil Society In The Enlargement Region 2021-2027 and the network’s recommendations for more effective EU support. The EC representatives on the other hand, expressed their satisfaction and appreciated all the inputs shared, committing to take BCSDN recommendations to be taken into consideration in their current and future work.