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 neighborhood, 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 channeling 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 neighborhood 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.