Citizen Participation Index 2023: Inaudible voices or deaf institutions
3.59 – State of developing citizen participation in Bulgaria is the assessment according to the Citizen Participation Index 2023, which was conducted in June this year.
The Citizen Participation Index was developed in 2015 by Citizen Participation Forum in partnership with the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law. Since then, the survey has been carried out at least every two years and analyses the state and quality of interaction between government and citizens at local and national levels, formulating possible solutions for its improvement.
The fourth assessment of the National Citizen Participation Index was conducted for the period November 2021 – June 2023. These two years have been marked by a growing socio-political division of society and a series of both domestic and geopolitical crises. Several trends dominate the social environment in which this study was conducted. They have a direct impact on civic activism in this period.
The Index examines three main areas of citizen participation, each of which in turn includes two separate indicators:
- Environment of citizen participation
- 1.1. Legislation
- 1.2. Institutional environment
- Practices/Manifestations of citizen participation
- 2.1. Initiatives of citizen participation on national and local level
- 2.2. Active citizens
- Effect/Changes resulting from citizen participation
- 3.1. Outcomes from citizen initiatives
- 3.2. Changes in the environment
Here are the scores of the index for the different areas:
Citizen Participation Environment – 3.10
This domain examines to what extent regulations and the institutional setting support and facilitate citizen participation.
In the period considered, no legislative changes related to citizens’ participation in the law- making process were introduced in the context of public consultations on draft legislative acts of the executive. There has been a visible increase in political and party campaigning based on demands to restrict citizens’ rights and to give the state exclusive power to monitor and sanction anyone wishing to engage in civic activism, have an opinion, be able to organise and participate in protests, etc.
Тhe caretaker governments in the period under review do not undertake reforms, while the formalism in the operation of the national institutions (the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers) builds up threats for the citizen participation environment as well as risks of non-implementation of the existing framework. The institution of the National Ombudsman carries out a huge number of consultations with citizens, quite often in relation to children’s rights and protection; however, the work environment of local ombudsmen is so confined that citizens are in effect restricted from seeking the institution at the local level.
Citizen Participation Practices / Manifestations – 4.25
This domain examines to what extent regulations and the institutional environment support and facilitate citizen participation.
We are witnessing occurrences of disinformed citizen participation, threatening to undermine democracy. The tools of citizen participation are employed for abuse and disinformation.
A lot of organizations are active, but their activities are ‘lost’ in the public space. Citizens are not aware enough, while institutions are unwilling to recognize the results of advocacy campaigns. Trust of both mechanisms and institutions is declining.
The activism of civil society organizations has been declining, in contrast to that of citizens’ groups and individual citizens self-organizing in moments of crisis (Ukraine, Turkey). Such occurrences trigger spontaneous waves of civic mobilization, which then rapidly subside; good practices are not institutionalized.
Effect of Citizen Participation – 3.45
This domain explores the outcome of initiatives undertaken and whether this has resulted in a change in the legal, social, and institutional environment.
Only 11% of civil society representatives report that they have fully accomplished the objectives of their initiatives, while an overwhelming majority indicate that the objectives have been achieved to a large extent (53.33%) or partially (26.66%). Approximately 9% think that their initiative and participation produced no result. The instruments considered to be most effective include advocacy campaigns (51%) and public discussions/consultations (49%).
More than half of the representatives of institutions state that citizen participation has driven a change in the political, economic and social context in Bulgaria. This is a more than twofold increase compared to the previous study. According to the other group, there is no change (6.67%) or the change is negligible (73.33%).
In summary, the fourth assessment of the Index confirms the trends identified in the previous study: levels of civic activism have not changed significantly; the focus is primarily on supporting situational events and causes, with no sustainability, especially in areas related to protecting the public interest. The series of domestic and international crises further limit practices as well as the willingness of broad sections of society to engage in civic activism.
The citizen participation environment, both legal and institutional, has not improved in the period under review. Even the few instruments created during the 2-year period under review (plans, laws, advisory bodies) do not work in practice.
Some of the recommendations:
- Develop a Strategy to Support Civil Society and a funding mechanism for the civil society sector in Bulgaria;
- Draft the Volunteering Bill, subject it to public consultation and adopt it;
- Introduce new, including digital, tools in the work of municipal administrations, as well as accompanying information and training campaigns promoting their implementation;
- Adopt and implement regulations for effective public consultations at the local level;
- Organize awareness and media campaigns on the benefits of citizen participation, showcasing positive examples and working patterns;
- Encourage civil society activists, groups, and organizations (training, expert assistance, and financial support) to carry out innovative advocacy campaigns in defence of democratic public causes.
There are also plans regarding the development, public consultation, and adoption of amendments to the Law on Direct Civic Participation in State Power and Local Self-Government.
The rest of the recommendations for improving the Citizen Participation Index for national and municipal level institutions as well as CSOs can be found in the full report “Citizen Participation Index 2023: Inaudible voices or deaf institutions?“
You can find the national report, its previous editions, and local reports here: https://index.fgu.bg/en.
The assessment of the 2023 Citizen Participation Index and the preparation of the report have been carried out with the support of the Civitates Fund of the Network of European Foundations. Report prepared by Iva Taralezhkova and Georgi Petrov.