The EU and Civil Society: Where to from Here?. HSG from Brussels, 7&8-05-2012
To Brussels for a two-day forum organized by CIDSE, an alliance of 16 Catholic development agencies, to discuss the central role the EU wants civil society organizations (CSOs) to play in reinforcing democracy. The Forum, entitled “The EU and Civil Society: Where do we go from here?” takes place in the context of Article 20 of the Accra Accords (2008), a series of aid changes agreed by both donors and recipients, which recognised CSOs as development actors in their own right (see Has Aid Changed? Haiti Briefing No. 69). As part of its own new Agenda for Change development policy, the EU wants CSOs to be watchdogs on aid effectiveness “not just of their own government but also of us, the European Commission,” Kristian Schmidt, the EU’s Director of Human and Society Development, told the Forum.
That’s all very laudable but what it means in practice or indeed how it can be put into practice given the limited capacity of both CSOs in the developing world and CSO Liaison officers in 118 EU Delegations in situ, is another matter. Substantive consultation with CSOs in Haiti is due to begin in August-September, but the EU Delegation in Haiti will have to expand the range of CSOs it consults and seriously redefine what it means by consultation for the process to have any real attraction for many CSOs.
Serious investment in the development of CSO capacity is one necessity our own CSO consultation highlighted as urgent priorities, if, as we discuss at greater length in Haiti Briefing No71 (Watchdog CSOs: Wishful Thinking or be Careful What You Wish For?), CSOs are not to fall down trying to do a job the EU has itself failed to do – namely create serious democratic space for CSOs. It’s not just our opinion. “The EU is far too shy in putting pressure on governments who do not allow sufficient public space for civil society organisations,” says Dutch MEP, Thijs Berman, a leading member of the European Parliament’s Development Committee. “Where is the EU on this?” We’ll keep looking, and asking.