Ambassador Jørn E. Gjelstad on the Active Citizens Fund

The Ambassador speech at the Stakeholder Consultation for EEA and Norway Grants program "The Active Citizens Fund".

Kiries kai kirioi

Kalimera sas

Sas kalosorizo sti diavoulefsi gia to neo mas programa ton Mi Ki O. (I welcome you at the consultation for our new NGO program)


Distinguished guests, friends,

It is with expectations and engagement I address you this morning at the stakeholders’ consultation of the new NGO Program of the EEA and Norway Grants 2014-2021. This NGO program has got a new name:  “Active Citizens Fund – Greece” and a new budget of €12 million.  As you may be aware, our previous NGO Fund program (“We are All Citizens”) was the first ever such initiative to be implemented in Greece. This program was a great success. Together with our partners, we achieved significant results within several important areas of the Greek society.

By providing a substantial and visible contribution to the NGO sector, the program has demonstrated fully that the Civil Society has all the skills and competences required to deliver high quality solutions on demanding societal tasks. And not at least, the program has been managed highly professionally by the Bodossaki Foundation. For the new program, we are stepping up, increasing our support and assigning both the Bodossaki Foundation and Solidarity Now to manage the Fund in the best possible way.


As a Norwegian, I feel a certain obligation to address the role of the civil society in modern democracies.


Norway has a long-standing tradition of prioritizing civil society to make it robust and influential. We look at the civil society sector as an important contributor to democratic values and welfare as well as a watchdog of national and local governance. Every Norwegian government, irrespective of party composition, has taken an active supportive role in this regard.

We believe that without the active engagement from the civil society and their organizations, the necessary consensus and trust for rational and inclusive governance would be much weaker. Together with our welfare system and collective mindset, the Civil Society stands out as part of the glue that provides cohesion and binds things together within the Norwegian society. This is the reason why we have been so insistent in focusing on a significant presence of the NGOs within the programs of the EEA and Norway Grants.  


I think it is fair to say that Norway would not have managed to become one of the world’s most developed democracies without the contribution from a strong civil sector. A vibrant democracy is dependent on impulses from its citizens, and the NGOs serve as important communication channels between the public and the private areas. The NGOs advocate views and interests that inform and shape the public debate. Mutual respect and professional connections should therefore be developed between NGOs and both central and local authorities, provided that roles are well defined and the relationship transparent.

On this merit, my Government believes that our funds should continue its contribution to a vigorous, independent and highly professional NGO sector in Greece.


Having said that, I believe it is also pertinent to ask: What does Norway actually want to achieve on the ground by using the fund? By answering this question, I would like to draw your attention to two core elements of our philosophy, which also informs priorities in the Norwegian foreign policy:

First, the concept of promoting political stability and economic growth through social inclusion; and second, the belief that welfare can more easily be achieved through the promotion of fundamental rights and democratic values. These goals are mutually interlinked and reinforcing, but I will comment on them separately.


Poverty, marginalization and social exclusion still stands out as one of the greatest challenges of our time. This applies of course to Greece as well. Norway is strongly committed to poverty reduction worldwide; to improve the everyday life for vulnerable people; to reduce social inequalities; and to strengthen social cohesion. The Norwegian governments have through the years acted within this area not only out of moral responsibility but also for rational reasons;

Because we believe that the utilization of all available social resources in a society is the best possible way of maximizing socio-economic outputs and thereby enhancing collective well-being.  Social equality fosters political stability, and is a prerequisite for sustained economic growth over time. Conversely, social inequality entails dysfunctionalities and threatens us with frustration and disintegration.

Marginalized people are not in a position to contribute effectively to the society they live in. And due to a limited use of the human capital, sustained inequality structures of a certain level can easily undermine the very foundation for economic growth and prosperity. In the current European context with populism still on its rise, such a situation can easily be utilized in a manipulative way by populist leaders and contribute to increased political polarization, a more confrontational style of politics and mistrust of the institutions. In such a situation, core values, established democratic principles, and highly-hold standards can come under fire.


Therefore we have to step up our efforts to reducing social inequalities and combatting poverty and social exclusion. I believe a strategic partnership with Greek NGOs can really make a difference in this regard. 


Second, universal rights and democratic rights must be respected by everyone. We all have an obligation to contribute to that end. Norway has for long been at the forefront to put this issue on the international agenda, in cooperation with countries from all regions of the world.

A strong commitment to human rights serves as the centerpiece of my Government´s policy with application not only at home but also abroad. Promoting equality and equal opportunities for all is a priority.


Faced with the new reality where cultures clash, it is inevitable that some seek comfort in nationalism or ethnicity. If we take a look at our own continent with a migration-crisis running on its third year, our liberal, tolerant Western societies are showing signs of  descending into a construct of identity politics.

The crisis has brought forward a renationalization of politics, and has challenged the principles and institutions of constitutional liberalism that for long has served as the foundation on which the European Union is built. This is a case of concern, also for a formal non-EU member of Europe. In the long run, such a dynamic can, at its worst, revamp a democracy from an instrument for inclusion into an instrument of exclusion.


We have seen how the migration crisis has provoked almost a moral panic, and how populist leaders have utilized this in persuading a large segment of their societies that “a certain line has been crossed”. 


And we have witnessed how regular, tolerant citizens of liberal democracies have been transformed into angry followers of the extreme right.

Such trends are putting democracy under pressure and are challenging the highly cherished ideals of inclusiveness, participation and dignity. Even when these have become norms, enshrined in laws and protected by institutions, we know that such ideals can be hard to uphold or sustain. We can see this particularly in a time of crisis when social tensions are running high and social services come under strong pressure. 


Therefore we need targeted action to fight intolerance and discrimination, and to promote democracy, fundamental rights, equality, multi-cultural awareness and the rule of law. These are all core values of the Grants. To promote them has been and will still be a marching order. These are also core values of the whole of Europe. We are proud to join forces with Greek NGOs on this issue as well as our partnership with the Council of Europe and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.


In addressing these issues, we believe that any government should look to the civil society for assistance, enter into strategic partnership with relevant organization from the NGO sector, and align themselves with local partners. From previous experience, I can promise your central and local authorities that working in tandem with civil society will always give results. 


Our previous NGO Program in Greece supported altogether 75 project, both small and large, reflecting the goals I have already outlined.  The aim of today’s consultation is to tailor-make the support from the Fund to projects based on the current needs and requirements, aims and capacities. Therefore, your contribution here today will be instrumental in shaping the areas of activity for the new Fund.


Through the our previous NGO programme we have seen many project partnerships being formed, and many activities being organized together with NGOs from the Donor countries. This fulfilled one of the main objectives, namely to create institutional connections and strategic partnerships between our two countries, cutting across both private and public sectors.


Available funding for NGOs is often scarce and inadequate, hampering their capacity to anchor their role in the society.

The economic crisis in Greece has and is still impacting this sector hard. May Government is well aware of these facts.  That is why we have increased the allocation to the civil society considerably for the new funding period.


When looking back I am particularly proud of the fact that most of the projects that were implemented during the previous period, managed to bring about significant improvements and positive changes within various areas of the Greek society. One ambition for the coming period is to build on these achievements in a way that will set our priorities and organize our work.


Another ambition is to contribute to the adoption of a much-needed legal framework for NGOs.  Such a framework would lead to the establishment of a national Registry for NGOs that would require adherence to the principles of sound financial management, aiming at sustainability, efficiency and accountability. Such a registry would not only improve relations between NGOs and the State.

It could also lead to an operational connection between the Greek NGOs and the broader NGO-network within the rest of European, which will require Greek NGOs to adapt to transparency and accountability standards under which international NGOs operate. This should be a win-win for all.



The new EEA Grants and Norway grants leading up to 2021 will see a doubling of allocations to almost euro 120 million and include previous programs like Water Management and Renewable Energy, Asylum and Migration management and Local Development and Poverty Reduction. In addition three new programmes will be introduced: The Innovation and Business Development, the Roma Inclusion and Empowerment, and Good Governance.


We are currently in the final phase of designing most of these programs with a view to submit them for approval to the Donors within the coming month.  Hopefully, the Active Citizens Fund – Greece will follow suit.  We are well aware that the work ahead is both complicated and demanding.

But I am confident that the results will even surpass the success of the prior NGO program, with the excellent management capacity of the Bodossaki Foundation and Solidarity Now.


In closing, I will urge you all to be creative and inventive in our discussions today. Make sure that synergies are created, and that all relevant aspects of the core areas are being considered. On that basis, I am certain that your efforts will lead to the design of an exceptional good concept note for this new NGO program. The Civil Society of Greece really deserves it.

Thank you for your attention