Foreword by the Executive Director
Dear partners and colleagues,
It has been a busy end of 2015 for BCSDN: in challenging times for civil society in our region and across the globe our network has been working equally to contribute to promotion and advancement of civic space and positive conditions CSOs need for their operation. Our Executive Director has acted as a speaker at the OGP Summit and co-authored an OGP blog. We have supported the development of the first expert mapping of conditions for CSO work in BlackSea region. We launched an equally exciting endeavor: development of a self-assessment tool for Governments. After a long effort, we are for the first time able to present some basic economic data about civil society, but also key obstacles – lack of data – to debunk the debate about who CSOs, their financings, staffing etc. and, more importantly, inform policies for their support and development. One of the key moments for us has been to see the European Commission clearly unfold democratic standards in its 2015-2016 Enlargement Strategy by clear messaging to governments on what is expected of them and noting concrete issues to be tacked upon. 2016 will be a defining year for the network – we have launched a process of consultation on a strategy that looks to the challenges and defines our network’s contribution in facing them till 2020. Our Newsletter brings you further news about our member’s own efforts and work as well as plans for upcoming activities.
Enjoy your read,
Tanja Hafner Ademi
- Changes in BCSDN EO Staff
In December 2015, a new Finance and Administration Officer joined the BCSDN Executive Office. Voislav Pangov has considerable experience working in the private sector, as well as experience in international organizations working on EU funded projects. He’s available for contact at email@example.com.
- Annual Council Meeting 2016 - 18-19 April, Skopje
The 2016 annual gathering of BCSDN members will take place on 18-19 April in Skopje, Macedonia, hosted by MCIC. The aim is to review the network’s activities for 2015 and discuss and launch the strategic outlook for 2017-2020. The draft agenda and details on the meeting premises will be communicated additionally.
- Annual Policy Workshop 2016 - end of May (Date TBC), Brussels
At BCSDN’s annual policy workshop for 2016, the regional findings of the monitoring of the enabling environment for civil society development in 7 WBT countries will be presented and recommendations for improving the enabling environment will be discussed. More information to follow.
- Regional Event on Development Cooperation - June (Date TBC), Skopje
BCSDN will organize a regional workshop on the current global development agenda in the scope of the project Western Balkan CSOs for Global Development. During this two-day workshop, 20-25 participants from WB CSOs will receive a general introduction to the European development cooperation (DC) landscape and current debates in global development such as the principles and implementation of CSO development effectiveness, the European Development Consensus, and the Post-2015 agenda.
- EC/TACSO Conference on EU CS Guidelines Monitoring - 26-27 April, Skopje
A regional conference on Monitoring of the EU Guidelines for the Support to Civil Society in the Enlargement Countries, 2014-2020 has been announced to be held in Skopje to be organized by TACSO.
...IN THE NETWORK
BCSDN Participation at OGP Summit 2015: Advancing Open Governments but Shrinking Civic Space
27-29 October 2015, Mexico City:
Around 2000 representatives of governments, civil society, business and academia gathered to mark 4 years since the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative and reflected on the successes and remaining challenges in pushing forward open governments for citizens, including the shrinking space for citizens and civil society. Tanja Hafner Ademi, our Executive Director, spoke on the panel devoted to the new CIVICUS Civic Space Monitor and shared experience from the monitoring and advancing enabling environment for civil society in the EU Accession Countries, all of them also members of the OGP initiative. Together with CIVICUS’s Cathal Gilbert, she reflected on the OGP contribution to protecting civic space via an OGP Blog post: Will the OGP Sink or Swim? Civic Space Will Be the Lifesaver
2 November 2015, Tbilisi
: BCSDN team presented the report Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development in the Black Sea Region: Towards a Regional Strategy for Cooperation
at the 8th edition of the Black Sea NGO Forum
held in Tbilisi, Georgia. The analytical framework was based on a combination of its experience in monitoring the EE for CSDev in EU Enlargement countries with the Monitoring Matrix Toolkit and the CPDE Framework for Assessing Enabling Environment Progress. For BCSDN, this has been an opportunity to test the Monitoring Matrix tool in other regions outside the Balkans and help civil society in the Black Sea region discuss strategies about common actions to address identified challenges.
25 November 2015, Belgrade:
А brainstorming meeting on designing “Government Self-assessment Tool on the Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development” took place with representatives of six national Offices for Cooperation with Civil Society and other similar type of mechanisms mandated to develop policies and mechanisms for cooperation with civil society in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. The aim was to present the idea and exchange opinions and expectations for the developing a practical, effective and immediately implementable government self-assessment tool for monitoring, tracking and improving national-level measures for civil society development at national level.
2015 EC Progress Reports Analysis: Democratic Standards Unfolding, Basic Rights Under Threat
BCSDN for the 7th consecutive year analyzed how the EC has treated the issue of CSDev and assessed the progress made in the Enlargement countries within the Enlargement Strategy 2015 and the country Progress Reports. In brief, this year’s analysis shows the civil society has indeed become one of the key criteria for accession, and the Commission has put an increasing attention to the enabling environment for CSDev through more systematic and unified monitoring methodologies. BCSDN Biljana Spasovska presented the analysis at the EESC hearing taking place on 8th January 2016 which is preparing an opinion on “EU Enlargement Strategy “alongside experts from DG NEAR and other institutions and think tanks and CSOs from Brussels and the Western Balkans.
BCSDN Beyond 2016: BCSDN Board Met to Discuss New Strategy Proposal
17-18 December 2015, Skopje:
BCSDN Board held a Strategic workshop and a regular 3rd Board session that served as a basis for discussing the new Mid-term strategy of the network and next steps to be taken in this regard. The Executive Office had previously prepared a discussion document, which served as a basis for the development of the new strategy for the period 2017-2020. The Board focused on discussing key challenges and dilemmas, starting from the network purpose, membership and fine tuning of the mid-term goals and priorities. The Strategy is currently under consultation by membership expected to be approved by all members at the next Council meeting-April 2016.
Research on Economic Value of CSOs in WBT Shows Dire State with Civil Society-Related Data
In December, BCSDN published the study “Economic Value of the Non-Profit Sector in the Countries of the Western Balkans & Turkey” – the first study that gives an overview of the current situation with the non–profit sector-related data collection, analysis and presentation in: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. It aims to illustrate the financial capacities, size, outputs and value of the sector, as well as vis-à-vis the overall economy. Most importantly, it provides information on the quality and reliability of economic data on the sector in those countries, including also challenges that CSOs face obtaining relevant data. In order to support the development of specific country advocacy campaigns to improve the situation, a webinar was organized in cooperation with Ksenija Fonovic (SPES, Italy) who shared latest global efforts in measuring third sector size and impact.
MAXCAP Final Conference: Reflection on Key Findings on EU Enlargement and their Policy Implications
22-23 January 2015, The Hague: “Maximizing the integration capacity of the EU" (MAXCAP), an FP7 project in which BCSDN is a partner, held its final conference, which brought together prominent academics, policymakers, civil society representatives and the broader public to discuss and reflect on the key findings on the effects and prospects of EU enlargement and discuss their policy implication across member states and Enlargement countries. During the two days of the conference and building on the research presented in the previous conferences and publications, participants discussed the findings and lessons of the MAXCAP project.
EU Officials Presented with the Concept of EE through the Monitoring Matrix Methodology
25 January 2016, Brussels: BCSDN organized a meeting with EC officials working on civil society in Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries with the aim to share its experience with monitoring the enabling environment (EE) in practice. Tina Divjak, Head of Advocacy at CNVOS Slovenia and BCSDN Board member, presented the Monitoring Matrix methodology and its complementarity with the EC Guidelines for Support to Civil Society. The purpose was to build a common understanding about the scope and content of EE and indicators that define it, but also aimed to get an overview of the EE monitoring and its challenges and to discuss the influence of monitoring on advocacy and changes in practice.
CRNVO: No Improvements on on Financing of CSOs from the State Budget of Montenegro
CRNVO has been advocating for the necessity to urgently create a new system of financing of CSO projects from the state budget, as envisaged with the changes of the law on CSOs. CRNVO analysed the process of distribution of funds from games of chance and expressed concern about how are the CSO projects being evaluated, as well as the results of the competition itself, which shows that the Commission has not made a single qualitative shift in the funds allocation process, as previously announced. CRNVO representatives argue that, as in the previous 7 years, the Law on Games of Chance has been continuously violated, in a way that CSO projects are being distributed a smaller amount than the one provided by the Law.
CPCD: Programme for Advocacy on Enabling Environment for CSDev in BiH
9 October 2015, Sarajevo: CPCD presented its Programme for Advocacy on EE for CSDev to the members of the NGO Council network in BiH. Four interrelated advocacy campaigns that deal with general and key issues for the development of civil society in BiH will be implemented: advocating for establishment of functional mechanisms of cooperation between the Government and civil society, transparent system of public financing of CSOs, stimulating tax framework for strengthening individual and corporate philanthropy, and promotion and introduction of the CSO Code of ethics and good governance.
Cenzura Plus: Building Capacities of Local Communities in Croatia to Access EU Funds
26-28 November 2015, Dubrovnik: Cenzura Plus organized a two-day seminar titled "How to start development projects in the local communities and how to get EU funds", bringing together representatives of local governments from the communities in South Croatia, where EU funds are still used less than what is possible. The seminar aimed to inform about the basic prerequisite for the development of EU-funded projects, basic methods for participatory development of documents in the local communities, based on needs assessments, and about the existing EU funds and lines of financing, as well as conditions for their use.
Civic Initiatives: “Civil Society Today” Debate Commemorating Miljenko Dereta
23 November 2015, Belgrade: On the occasion of the first anniversary of the death of Miljenko Dereta - founder of Civic Initiatives and long-time BCSDN Board Chair, Civic Initiatives organized a debate to discuss the role and responsibilities of civil society today. The debate was a continuation of the international conference “25 years since 1989 – Unfinished revolution” to the conclusions of which Miljenko had an important contribution as an idealist and fighter for democratic Serbia. The debate focused on discussing the role and purpose of civil society, the necessary strategy for its achievement, the motivation and strength needed from civil society etc. concluding that democracy is not something that the government grants or agrees to, but instead it is something the citizens fight for.
CNVOS Successful in Safeguarding Free Access to Information in Slovenia
In November 2015, after initiating a petition for free access to public information and submitting its comments to the Government regarding the proposed amendments to the Law on Access to Public Information, the Parliament adopted CNVOS and Transparency International’s proposal that access to public information may only be charged material costs and not labor costs as asked by the Government. Such a change in the law would have been contrary to international standards and Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents and would have constituted a step backwards in terms of financial accessibility of information.
During October and November 2015, EHO staff and volunteers have been providing humanitarian assistance to 25.000 refugees in the border area Berkasovo – Bapska and 45.000 refugees in Sid, Principovac and Adasevci, providing food, hygiene products and clothes, as well as first aid services. In addition, EHO worked on renovating and equipping two shelters/detention centers for the refugees, one in Sid and the other on the highway Belgrade-Zagreb.
29 January 2015, Tirana: IDM and ANTTARC organized an Info-session presenting two projects funded by the EUD, which aim at increasing the role of civil society to promote good governance and fight against corruption at the local level, especially in the under-developed and high-risk corruption municipalities of the country. During 2016-2018, these actions will support CSOs through capacity development and sub-granting in order to realize proposals that promote good governance, transparency, accountability and fight against corruption at the municipal level.
28-30 October 2015, Pristina: KCSF organized a three-day training on "Participation of CSOs in the drafting of laws and policies". Opportunities for civil society participation at the level of Parliament was presented, as well as the legal framework and mechanisms for citizen participation in the Kosovo Assembly. This workshop was part of the Training Programme of KCSF covering different topics, with the aim to strengthen the capacity of CSOs in general, and more specifically to increase knowledge about internal governance, fundraising, better communication with the public and media, as well as advocacy for policy change.
27-28 October 2015, Mavrovo: MCIC organized a workshop on the tax framework for CSOs. The participants discussed the findings of the ECNL comparative analysis of the tax treatment of CSO profit tax and personal income tax in the UK, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Croatia. Based on the experiences of these countries, necessary changes in local legislation were discussed , in particular, the need to revise amendments to these two tax laws as proposed by a group of CSOs in October 2014 to the Ministry of Finance and to which initiative the Ministry is yet to follow-up.
In October and November 2015, OAR started a new cycle of the OAR Training of Trainers. The program is conducted in two modules of five days each, where Module 1 is focused on intrapersonal awareness, interpersonal effective communication skills and understanding of the dynamics of group processes and skills to drive these processes. While the first module provides personal development for trainers or managers, the second module focuses on skills for designing, implementing and evaluating a training course based on experiential learning cycle.
During October and November 2015, Partners Albania, as part of the initiative "Participatory Budgeting in Central Government", held trainings in advocacy and lobbying for CSOs operating in the field of social issues, children, youth, education, environment, etc. This pilot initiative aimed at strengthening the capacity of the sector in relation to the budget process at the central level, as well as increasing the influence of the civil society and stakeholders in this process. This was the first time that the central budgeting process becomes the object of analysis and opinion gathering from CSOs on issues of interest to the groups they represent.
In October 2015, TUSEV started the “TUSEV Atolye” (workshop) social media campaign with the aim of sharing data and information regarding CS enabling environment. The campaign has been outreaching to various stakeholders including CSO representatives, citizens, public officials, international donors, and international organizations, universities, and media. Under the hashtag #TUSEVATOLYE, a set of data on the civil society enabling environment including statistics, freedom of association, freedoms of assembly and expression, tax regulations, human resources of CSOs and CSO- Public sector relations are being shared.
28 October 2015, Sarajevo: More than 60 participants, officials of the EU, representatives of state and entity governments and other relevant government institutions and agencies in BiH, as well as international organizations and CSOs in BiH gave their support to the monitoring process of the EU Guidelines for Support to Civil Society 2014-2020, highlighting the importance of the indicators and national targets contained in the document. In the coming years, VESTA as a TACSO Resource Center will monitor changes in the environment, gather data and prepare a summary of the annual report on BiH's progress towards the European Union.
...IN THE REGION
13 October 2015, Brussels:
The mid-term seminar of the FP7 project Third Sector Impact, where our Executive Director Tanja Hafner Ademi took part, dealt with the conceptualization, measurement and impact of the civil society in Europe. The seminar included a presentation of so far work, including the working definition of the third sector, on which discussion is currently evolved around on how to capture the forms such as social enterprises and ventures. While formally the Enlargement countries are not covered in the scope of this project, BCSDN has established cooperation with the project to exchange information and facilitate knowledge-sharing, especially on the measuring of the sector which is currently on of the activities undertaken by the network and its partners.
18-19 December 2015, Sarajevo:
The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) organized the Regional Cooperation Day “End of a tough year, what will 2016 be like?” to discuss with CSOs and academia the upcoming challenges for civil society in the region. Participants spoke on the role of the civil society in the EU integration process addressing common challenges for these countries, from the rule of law and independence of the media to civil society development. The question of the sustainability of the new impetus given to the Berlin process was raised and the need to further include the civil society in it.
3-4 December 2015, Brussels:
The 17th EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights, organized by the EEAS, European Commission, and HRDNetwork, discussed the issue of shrinking space for civil society in the world and EU response to this growing phenomenon. The Forum brought together over 100 activists and other stakeholders to discuss the legislative environment, counter-narratives, and rights to protect and foster participation.
24 November 2015, Belgrade:
The Office for Cooperation with Civil Society in Serbia presented the concept of the online platform aimed at sharing and exchanging information relevant to the enabling environment for civil society in Enlargement countries between Government mechanisms in the Western Balkan region and Turkey, as well as with civil society, allowing the broader public to be informed on such cooperation and its results. The key value-added of the platform is that it will enable a one-stop-shop for all related legislation as well as practice in the area of civil society development.
26-27 January 2016, Brussels:
Representatives of FPA (Framework Partnership Agreement) project partners met in Brussels to discuss the sustainability of their actions and to brainstorm about recommendations to DG NEAR for supporting the sustainability of project outcomes. The conference, organized by the TACSO Regional Office was attended by representatives of DG NEAR and around 85 representatives of civil society organizations participating in the 18 FPA projects. BCSDN and its members were represented at the conference and actively participated in the sustainability discussion.