This call for coalitions is the first launched by the newly established fund, Civitates. Civitates was set up by a consortium of 16 Foundations committed to upholding democratic values in Europe. It is hosted by the Network of European Foundations (NEF), based in Brussels.
This call is focused on encouraging civil society organisations from EU member states and EFTA countries to come together and create national coalitions to address issues related to the shrinking space for civil society in their country.
Civitates aims to strengthen civil society by empowering its actors to respond collectively and more effectively to challenges related to the shrinking space in their country.
Through the creation or reinforcement of existing national coalitions, this call is targeted at strengthening their operational capacities and ultimately their ability to advocate for an enabling environment.
The call will be in two phases. The first phase will provide resources to the initial partners to reach out to potential new partners from different sectors and geographies within one country to reinforce their coalition. The second phase will be dedicated to implementing actions to address the shrinking space for civil society.
Apply by 15 June 2018.
While this has been a phenomenon witnessed outside of the EU for many years, the shrinking space for civil society has now become a reality in several European Member States. In 2018, CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks civic space issues globally, identified 11 European members’ states where civic space has become ‘narrowed’ or ‘obstructed’. While civic space challenges vary according to particular national contexts, appearing more acute in countries such as Hungary, Poland or Romania, Civitates considers these challenges to be shared concerns for Europe as a whole.
Strongly embedded in the democratic system, an active and well-developed civil society at member-state and EU levels constitutes an essential protection against the erosion of values such as the respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.
According to the Fundamental Rights Agency, civil society in Europe faces 5 main challenges:
? Right to participate and exist: CSOs are currently facing many hurdles in exercising this right at member-state and EU levels, including a lack of access to policy-makers and consultation mechanisms.
? Safe space for civil society: CSOs are currently facing smear campaigns and are being given a negative image in the public discourse.
? Regulatory environment: CSOs are confronted with regulatory hurdles imposed by Member States which infringe on their freedom of association, freedom of opinion, expression and information and their freedom to peaceful assemble.
? Finance and Funding: CSOs face several legal and practical hurdles in accessing funding which is crucial to their work (restrictions on “foreign” funding).
? Space for exchange and dialogue: CSOs lack possibilities and mechanisms to exchange best practices, and exchange in open, transparent and regular dialogue.
The shrinking space of civil society prevents its actors from voicing the concerns of different communities and in accessing governments and other democratic institutions to perform their watchdog role effectively.
During the late 2017, Civitates conducted consultations with national civil society experts to analyse how to foster the work of civil society groups within this context. Internal factors also challenge the work of civil society organisations. If exchanges and collaboration exist, they are often limited. Few examples of crosssectoral actions exist where civil society organisations joined forces, even for a limited time, to collectively address issues with which they are confronted. Additionally, to be more effective, CSOs also need to build constituencies, diversify income sources, and improve strategic communications capacities.
Objectives and Approach
Through the sub-fund on ‘shrinking space’, Civitates aims to strengthen civil society by empowering its actors to respond to challenges related to the shrinking space collectively and more effectively.
Civitates will thus reinforce the capacity of CSOs to conduct collective cross-sectoral local and national actions by strengthening their operational capacities and advocating for their enabling environment.
Civitates will provide grants following a two-phase approach. The rationale behind this staged approach is to provide an initial space for organisations to come together so as to ultimately build strong national coalitions of actors in countries that will be active in ‘fighting back’ where the space for civil society is threatened.
The Coalitions should have the following characteristics:
? a minimum of three partners
? be composed mainly of non-profit, civil society organisations but can also include other actors with a common goal (e.g. trade-unions, law firms, social enterprises, media)
? a national remit and involve organisations throughout the eligible country
? have (or aim to have) a cross-sectoral dimension: meaning that the members should be working in different fields (e.g. human rights, environmental, social services etc.)
Each coalition is represented by a lead applicant that completes and submits the proposal, and remains the main point of contact throughout the selection, contracting and implementation process.
The lead applicant must be a charity or a non-profit organisation registered in a country within the EU or EFTA. Existing networks or umbrella organisations cannot be the lead applicant but can be part of the Coalition.