EU Dialogue - civil society
The EU recognized the role of civil society in the enlargement countries and committed itself to supporting the sector through the Guidelines for EU Support to Civil Society in Enlargement Countries (2014-2020). In addition to increasing transparency, accountability and effectiveness of public institutions, the EU has stressed that involvement of civil society in the pre-accession process can contribute to deepening citizens’ understanding of the reforms a country needs to meet in order to qualify for EU membership.
The Lisbon Treaty introduced a number of new provisions on democratic principles, mainly contained in Title II of the Treaty (Articles 9 and 12), which states that “The EU operation is based on representative democracy through direct and indirect representation in institutions of the EU” and at the same time indicates the Instrument of Civic Initiative. Moreover, it is used to set a number of important principles for participation and obligation for EU institutions to hold an open, transparent and regular dialogue with civil society organizations.
In the case of Kosovo, dialogue between the European Commission and civil society organizations has recognized different stages of development. Among the first co-operation mechanisms was the contribution of CSOs to the Country Report for Kosovo. Since 2005, the EC regularly monitors the progress achieved in Kosovo through its annual progress reports. The country’s report briefly describes relations between Kosovo and the EU, as well as assessing achievements based on 3 Copenhagen criteria, political, economic and European standards. The EU Office in Kosovo invites each year Kosovo CSOs to make their contribution in written form and through direct consultations on various areas covered by the Country Report (formerly known as Progress Report) and thus contributes to presenting the most realistic picture of the country’s progress and challenges.
Moreover, Kosovo CSOs are consulted by the EU Office in Kosovo on programming and prioritizing financial assistance as well as other key documents aimed at supporting civil society within the EU Enlargement Agenda.
In year 2010, following the proposals of civil society, the European Commission Liaison Office to Kosovo (ECLO) extended the regular dialogue on the Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) to civil society. While in 2010 this form of inclusion was only implemented through an annual plenary meeting, since 2011 SAPD with civil society has been extended to sectoral meetings. For several years, this form of dialogue was highly qualitative, prepared in advance and accompanied by follow-up activities after each sectoral or plenary meeting.
With the entry into force of the SAA in 2016 a number of institutional structures have been established between the EU and Kosovo. While the Guidebook for consultation with CSOs and other interested parties within the EU-Kosovo Stabilization and Association Structure of the Ministry of European Integration will regulate the involvement of civil society in these structures, the European Commission has not yet adapted the dialogue with civil society with the new phase of Kosovo-EU relations. Rather, the current dialogue is ad-hoc and unstructured. Despite the numerous parallel developments within the EU Agenda for Kosovo, there is no proper development for dialogue with CSOs. There has been little effort to explain and / or raise awareness of changing processes from the EC side, while CSOs have little information on what to expect in the next stages, including their EU dialogue or the implementation of the SAA and the new EU enlargement approach.
With the 2014 Enlargement Package, the EC adopted a new approach to the priorities and the enlargement strategy. Three pillars were identified as fundamental: public administration reform, economic governance and competitiveness, rule of law and fundamental rights. This includes not only shifting towards more structured and focused work in these key areas, but also introducing new instruments such as the Economic Reform Program and the European Reform Agenda (ERA). In addition, in 2015, the European Commission presented a new methodology for reporting and monitoring the progress of each country. It is now even more difficult for CSOs to contribute effectively, because of the more technical approach adopted. In addition, with EU being more focused on its core criteria, dialogue will need to be restructured and adapted to these three broad themes and SAA. In February 2018, the EC has launched a new Enlargement Strategy for Western Balkan countries. The lack of a proactive approach by the EU for the upcoming enlargement phases has increased skepticism for the future involvement of CSOs in the process.
At this stage of developments in the field of European integration in Kosovo, on the part of CSOs, in order to make their contribution more useful and substantial, they will need to increase their effectiveness and impact by strengthening their capacity for analysis, monitoring and advocacy; as well as networking, partnership, coalition building and active involvement. However, much of the work to ensure practical dialogue belongs to the EU.
KCSF remains dedicated to contribute to the establishment of a structured dialogue mechanism between CSOs in Kosovo and EU institutions, demanding transparent, structured and regular, predictable and comprehensive dialogue.