– Civil society is essential for democracy

blabla - Photo: Mathias Dyb Ulstein/Mission of Norway to the EU
Katarzyna Batko-Taluc, program director at the Citizens Network Watchdog in Poland, spoke about the importance of civil society to combat populism, at the event on Norway House on October 11. Photo: Mathias Dyb Ulstein/Mission of Norway to the EU

– Active citizenship is the medicine against populism, said Katarzyna Batko-Taluc from Citizens Network Watchdog Poland, in Brussels October 11. Norway House hosted an event to highlight civil society’s role in local and regional governance.

The event “Active Citizens – Supporting civil society to foster resilient cities and regions”  took place in Norway House in Brussels October 11 as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities.

Katarzyna Batko-Taluc is the Program director at the Citizens Network Watchdog in Poland, and was one of the main speakers.

– It is about freedom. For years, nobody listened to the civil societies. The civil societies are the first to see what is going on in the societies, and we can propose and protest. It is also in the best interests of the authorities to listen to the civil society, as politicians need peoples support in order to survive elections, Katarzyna Batko-Taluc said.

An independent and more active civil society is a key constituent of the resilience of cities and regions, and is highlighted as increasingly important in a time where the base line of civil society in Europe is shrinking. The workshop was hosted by the European Commission, the Oslo Region European Office, the Mission of Norway to the EU and the Financial Mechanism Office.

– The space for civil society is shrinking

Civil society encompass non-governmental organizations, grassroots organizations, cooperative, trade unions, professional associations, universities, media and independent foundations. Their common feature lies in their independence from the state and the voluntary basis upon which they have come together to act and promote common interests.

– It is important that we put this on the agenda. The space for civil society is actually shrinking. We cannot have a resilient democracy unless we can safeguard civil society in all countries, stated Ingrid Schulerud, deputy head of the Norwegian Mission to the EU, in her introduction.

Should be included in local and regional decision making

Different civil society organizations are supported by the EEA and Norway Grants, as well as the EUs Structural Funds. The workshops’ aim was to promote civil society’s role in local and regional governance, and highlight EU and the EEA and Norway Grants’ contribution in this field to inspire future policy formulation. 

– The EEA and Norway grants have supported the civil society since 2004. We firmly believe that the society is better off when the civil society is contributing to the political decision making processes, said Henning Stirø, director of the secretariat to the EEA and Norway Grants, Financial Mechanism Office (FMO).

Creating the condition for a vibrant civil society

In the panel discussions, the speakers argued on why it is important to defend civil societies, as you have politicians that should be held responsible by the people.

A civil society demands a good dialogue with the governance, coordinator for Civil Society Europe, Carlotta Besozzi said.

– A survey from last week on the essence of civil space showed that the main worry is the lack of good dialogue and a gap between decision makers and civil society. Promoting civil society and organizations is extremely important, also for cooperation on the EU level, Besozzi said.

She stressed the need for the EEA & Norway Grants to have more designed programs to civil society, which should also be coordinated with the EU structure funds. – Funding rules in the European Commission should be more designed to respond to civil societies concern, Mrs Besozzi said.

In the Q & A session, the question of mainstreaming civil society support frameworks in cohesion policy was discussed.