The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has just published its study ’The impact of the crisis on civil society organisations in the EU – risks and opportunities.’ The paper analyses how a wide range of civil society organisations (CSOs) have been hit by the crisis, presents examples of how they have dealt with its consequences, and suggest ways to better civil society’s outcome.
The EESC’s report states that at a time of fundamental crisis in the EU, Brussels has a window of opportunity to revitalise civil society and enable it to take up different, and potentially, more productive and co-operative roles in decision-making processes.
In terms of funding, CSOs are under constant threat as a consequence of austerity measures - especially the smaller organisations engaged at local level. Yet, the crisis has resulted in an increased need for CSOs to work hand-in-hand with governments to solve pressing problems. According to the report, some areas in which civil society still has room for improvement are in better communicating, enhancing management skills, and being more flexible to dealing with this period of uncertainty and risk.
One of the risks for civil society, stated in the survey, is that small, local-level CSOs are finding it very difficult to shift from models of financing that are heavily reliant upon public authorities to ones that can obtain funding from elsewhere. Additionally, the relationship between individuals and civil society has shifted, as society goes through a complex set of changes where engagement is not easily codified. The main risk is that civil society organisations have to start to ‘compete’ for individuals’ attention, as if they were ‘selling’ social awareness.
The paper identified a number of opportunities for civil society to enhance its performance, for example, by encouraging shared ownership and allocating a level of enhanced responsibility to CSOs in the EU, with due attention made to accountability. CSOs currently have a unique opportunity to strengthen their message, and show that they can function more coherently to help solve some of European problems. The present situation offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to debate on how civil society as a whole relates to policy-makers.
Recommendation for CSOs
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