The new DG NEAR Guidelines for EU Support to Civil Society in the Enlargement Region 2021- 2027 are a vital document for promoting an enabling environment and supporting CSOs’ capacities and role in the development of the Western Balkans and Turkey and in the EU enlargement process. For Enlargement countries, the Guidelines have put forward a clear and coherent roadmap of objectives and indicators showing us where countries stand and where they need to improve to fulfill the political criteria for EU accession. Regarding the Guidelines as the key document for ensuring an enabling environment, BCSDN participated in the consultations on the new document and reacted to the need to formalize and strengthen their political weight, incorporating them in existing EU policy frameworks.
The revised Guidelines, published in May 2022, have solid roots in international standards, international law, and European standards. They aim to ensure a shared perspective regarding the expected results of EU civil society support concerning enabling environment, cooperation between civil society and public authorities, and the CSOs performance and the standards they should meet. The new EU Guidelines also address the concept of CSO self-regulation and resilience, a part of the EU’s efforts to build the capacities and support CSO accountability in the Western Balkans and Turkey. Essentially, in this area, the Guidelines take inspiration primarily from the Global Standard for CSO Accountability developed by civil society at the global level. BCSDN has been part of the Global Standard since 2017, as one of the eight founding partners.
The Global Standard is a reference standard that CSOs can adopt and implement to strengthen their accountability practices. Using 12 accountability commitments, it tries to capture a shared understanding of accountability from CSOs from all over the world. Within the Guidelines, most of its 12 commitments are directly interlinked with the Guidelines’ indicators under the specific objectives related to reinforcing CSO capacity and resilience.
Referencing the Global standard acknowledges EU’s recognition for the need for capable, transparent, and accountable CSOs, which operations will contribute to the overall civil society development in the region. This recognition manifests our efforts to promote the incorporation of accountability commitments of Global Standard in essential international programs and documents correlated to effective civil society operations and enhanced civic space globally.
The inclusion of the Global Standard in the Guidelines is an additional indication of the relevance and value of the Global Standard, as it has been already referenced by the Open Government Partnership during 2021 in their international calls for action in support of civic space and civil society; as well as the OECD DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance adopted in July 2021.
Finally, the Global Standard reference in the new EU Guidelines is not only considered as an endorsement by the EU an act of international recognition but is also an inspiration for civil society in the Enlargement countries and beyond to change the way accountability is practiced in the sector. CSOs should use this opportunity, through their own advocacy and other initiatives towards and with other CSOs, governments, donors and international organizations, to further the accountability commitments as a way to expand civic space and empower civil society.