The project aims at addressing the trends of democratic backsliding and shrinking civil space observed for the past six-seven years particularly in Central and Southeastern Europe. The relatively weak response of civil society organizations (CSOs) to these, particularly in rural areas has highlighted important and historical shortcomings of the sector. Furthermore, the trends threaten the principles and the values upon which the European Union is built, and experience so far has shown that existing tools of the EU institutions are unable to effectively turn the tide.
“Democracy can’t function well without a thriving civil society. And civil society cannot thrive without civic space. To support, strengthen and cooperate with civil society organizations is among NHCs top priorities, says Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Acting Secretary General at The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) and continues:
“Therefore, we are very happy for the initiative and to be a part of this project which aims to create more civic space in Europe. And that is exactly what Europe is in great need of now.”
The project builds on two pillars to counter this:
(1) broadening the grassroots basis and constituency of civil society through mapping, training and mobilizing activist groups and movements previously not involved in bigger networks,
(2) and linking this local level to the European by developing together the outlines of a comprehensive European civil society policy. Currently, CSO policy almost exclusively falls under the competence of the individual Member State, and the project’s key goal is to change this, by making civil society a matter for the EU. This can hopefully be achieved through a broad-based civic campaign where organizations and citizen groups from different countries speak up in one voice.
Democracy can’t function well without a thriving civil society. And civil society cannot thrive without civic space.
The project will be conducted by a consortium of CSO partners which is led by Hungarian CSO Ökotárs and will be implemented by CSOs from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is the expertise partner of the consortium.
NHC will provide components of training that will be given to local or national CSOs and activist groups in Central Europe and Western Balkans with the aim of building their capacity and skills in public policy making and empowering them to participate in the shaping of civil society policies in local, national and European level.
The “Reclaim our Civil Space!” project benefits from a 1,8 million € grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation.
The project is implemented by:
Members of the Environmental Partnership Association (EPA):
- Bulgarian Environmental Partnership Foundation (Фондация ЕкоОбщност)
- Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation (Nadace Partnerství)
- Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation (Ökotárs Alapítvány)
- Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation (Fundusz Partnerstwa)
- Romanian Environmental Partnership Foundation (Fundația pentru Parteneriat)
- Slovakian Environmental Partnership Foundation (Nadácia Ekopolis)
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ)
Civil Society Development Foundation (FDSC)
Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC)
Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia (YIHR)