The Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) has released its 14th analysis of the European Commission’s annual reports assessing civil society development in the Western Balkans and Türkiye.
The largest ever Enlargement Package seems to show reinvigorated energy and greater prospects for accession than in the last decade, in spite of growing challenges such as political polarization and shrinking space for civil society. BCSDN’s analysis focuses on how the EC has assessed the environment of civil society in the Enlargement countries, comparing it with our Monitoring Matrix findings.
The European Commission recognizes the crucial role of a free and empowered civil society within a democratic system but calls for legal improvements and notes instances of state pressure and smear campaigns against civil society in several countries.
Legal guarantees for freedom of association are generally respected in the region, except in Turkey, where obstruction persists. Highlighting the worrying implications of the potential “foreign agents’ law” in Republika Srpska and requesting its withdrawal, the EC emphasizes the importance of broad and effective consultation processes in drafting new legislation across all the countries. Legal guarantees for freedom of assembly exist, but challenges such as attacks against activists, or lack of harmonization of laws persist in Serbia, Montenegro, BiH, and Turkey. The region faces challenges to freedom of expression, marked by threats, intimidation, and violence against journalists and activists in Turkey and Serbia, while legislative amendments re-criminalizing defamation in Republika Srpska (BiH) are criticized for negatively impacting freedom of expression and media.
The reports provide varied assessments of public funding for CSOs, highlighting challenges in Serbia and Montenegro, such as discretionary decisions and inadequate transparency, accountability, and consultation processes, while noting some progress in Kosovo. The EC underscores the necessity for comprehensive reform and efficient monitoring mechanisms to ensure the proper use of public funds.
Cooperation between civil society and governments is vital, yet challenges persist in the implementation of strategic documents and effective CSO involvement. Issues in intersectoral cooperation and trust are noted, especially in Montenegro and North Macedonia. Limited progress is observed in CSOs’ meaningful participation in policymaking processes, highlighting the importance of genuine cooperation and trust-building.
In conclusion, the Commission acknowledges the crucial role of civil society in the Western Balkans and Türkiye’s accession, but highlights insufficient efforts for an enabling environment, with some countries regressing. The new Growth Plan links payment conditions to the rule of law, democracy, and human rights reforms, potentially unlocking the transformative power of the EU. However, amid a decade of stagnation, the EC needs to make sure that civil society in the Enlargement countries is equally participating – in the planning, programming, implementation, and monitoring – and benefiting from it. It is crucial for the EC to ensure that democracy and the rule of law do not suffer from the increased importance of (geo)political considerations, and for the enlargement countries to do their part to deliver on democratic reforms – matching the geopolitical with merits.
Read the full analysis HERE.