Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

From Funder to Partner? Prospects for the European Neighbourhood Policy's Civil Society Facility

The Arab Spring was a timely reminder to the EU of its own transitions, in particular events post-1989, and how civil society was at the heart of all of them. The EU now intends to foster a “partnership with societies” in its eastern and southern neighbourhood, in part by creating a facility to provide dedicated support to ensure civil society organizations can monitor reform and participate effectively in their own national debates.

The Open Society Institute–Brussels has assessed current proposals, identified challenges, drawn lessons from experience, and identified six areas that will be integral to an effective Civil Society Facility within the Neighbourhood Policy:

  • Funding for civil society needs to be accompanied by political support for CSOs (e.g. statements and tripartite meetings on pressing issues).
  • In order to build capacity the principle EU actor (the EU delegation in country) needs capacity of its own.
  • Consultations with CSOs are useful if they are planned, regular and genuine - particularly in-country.
  • Supporting local ownership through channelling funds to existing resources (e.g. providing existing networks with logistics and strategic funding) is more effective than putting in place new, parallel structures.
  • Investing in structures that continue beyond the Facility implementation period (e.g providing 3-4 year core support to develop CSO institutional capacities or putting in place offices to facilitate civil society-government links) will enable national CSO champions or standard-setters to emerge.
  • Paying close attention to the local CSO sector, political and donor context to better meet needs and avoid supporting either less-relevant issues or government-organized organizations.

An engaged and robust civil society which holds governments to account is increasingly both a mechanism and a goal of EU foreign policy. Upgrading the EU’s relationship with civil society from benevolent paymaster to a strategic investor in partnerships for change will pay dividends to the societies which are transforming in its neighbourhood as well as to the EU itself. 

For a genuine shift towards a “partnership with societies,” maximum local participation and ownership has to be matched by maximum political and practical commitment from the EU. This could be the essence of a real and mutually beneficial partnership.

The full paper is available for download.

Date: October 2011

Source: Open Society Foundations

Author: Jacqueline Hale and Viorel Ursu

Project funded by the European UnionEU