Civil society organisations – non-governmental groups such as trade unions, employers' associations and other social groups– allow citizens to take an active part in setting the political agenda. For an aspiring EU member country, a vibrant civil society contributes to fulfilling the conditions for EU membership.
In some countries wanting to join the EU, these groups may not be as effective as necessary. Or the conditions for them to be able to enter into dialogue with the public authorities may be lacking. Or the legislation on their establishment and activities may need improvement. This means that citizens do not have sufficient influence on and ownership of the reforms leading to enlargement. So the EU:
- promotes citizen participation in social and political life in candidate countries and potential candidates
- monitors the policies of candidate countries and potential candidates towards their civil society bodies
- provides financial support from the IPA programmes, and especially the Civil Society Facility.
Civil Society Facility
The Civil Society Facility (CSF) was established in 2008 to support the development of civil society financially. It includes both national and multi-beneficiary initiatives which are programmed in a coordinated manner to achieve shared outcomes.
The CSF consists of three strands:
- support for national and local civic initiatives and capacity-building to strengthen the role of civil society in the region
a 'People-2-People' programme supporting visits to EU institutions and exchange of experience, know-how and good practice between local civil society, the EU and civil society in Member States
The aim of the CSF is to support the development of a civil society which is participating actively in the public debate on democracy, human rights, social inclusion and the rule of law, and has the capacity to influence policy and decision making processes.
For the period 2011-12 the CSF has a budget of EUR 40 million. It will focus on three outcomes which have been identified on the basis of needs analyses, reviews and feedback from stakeholders:
- CSOs benefit from better national legal and financial frameworks and improved dialogue with state institutions;
- Networks of CSOs show greater commitment and capacity to give citizens a voice and influence public sector reform processes through analysis, monitoring and advocacy etc; and
- Grass-roots organisations and civic initiatives have increased access to financial resources, in-kind contributions or expertise from established CSOs and CSO networks.
The CSF is complemented by a number of other policy and financial instruments which provide support to civil society in candidate and potential candidates:
- Supports dialogue between civil societies in candidate countries and EU Member States to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation.
- EU Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights
- Support for the promotion of democracy and human rights through civil society in non-EU countries.