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BCSDN Opinion: IPA III to Continue Promoting the Civic Space in the Enlargement Countries

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Analysis by BCSDN, published on 1 April 2021, accessible here 

In the new IPA III, civil society remains a thematic priority for intervention and is, for the first time, a cross-cutting theme in all five windows.

In a period of growing constraints to civil society operations in the enlargement countries, exacerbated by the COIVD-19 challenges, it will be crucial for the EU to continue to firmly support a more enabling civil society environment, provide a clear basis for defending the civic space and respond to its immediate threats The EU should more effectively respond to shrinking civic space and democratic backsliding in IPA beneficiary countries and establish close collaboration with organizations that regularly monitor the civic space on a national level. Instead of decreasing country allocations through the IPA III, funds should be reallocated to CSOs, enabling them to counter back democratic relapse. Thereby, the EU can still make a strong political message and ‘punish’ unacceptable government behavior without penalizing the whole society.

The opinion argues that the EC should not consider assigning responsibility to governments to manage EU funds for civil society yet, due to the previous misuse and negative governments’ influence towards civil society. It stresses that the EU should utilize instruments for increased core and long-term support, tackling the events caused by the COVID-19 crisis and the already weak civil society’s financial viability in the region. Building on positive experiences with operational grants and long-term framework partnership agreements during IPA II, the EU should further utilize similar instruments and aim for increased core and long-term support rather than short-term project support, especially after the COVID-19 harmful effects on the already weak financial viability of the civil society in the region. An additional challenge would be the EU to balance between supporting well-established and successful organizations whose existence and mission depend greatly on the EU funding, and encouraging the development of a more vibrant civil society by supporting new CSOs or civic movements.

Finally, we welcome the broad consultations with civil society in the early stage of the IPA III development but allude to the importance of structured inclusion of CSOs in all phases of the IPA III process – the preparation, implementation, and monitoring of the use of the future IPA III funds. We also stress the importance of transparency and timely information-sharing throughout the process, which would allow for informed and meaningful contributions from the civil society and all stakeholders.

Read the full opinion here.