Second Citizen Participation Biennale: Volatile Activism and a Vision for Actions on EU Level
The Second Biennale of Citizen Participation took part on 22nd Jan 2018 in the Aula Magna of Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. The event was jointly organised by the Citizen Participation Forum and the Bulgarian Center for Non-profit Law in partnership with the European Council for Foreign Relations and BlueLink Foundation.
In the first days of the new 2018, marking the beginning of the first rotating presidency for our country, civil society representatives gathered together to discuss the state of civil society and citizen participation in Bulgaria and within the EU.
The highlight of the event was the current edition of the Citizen Participation Index 2017 focusing on recommendations for improvement of the preconditions for citizens’ involvement in policy and decision-making.
The Sofia University rector prof. Anastas Gerdzhikov officially opened the Biennale focusing on the positive role of civil society in Bulgaria.
Mr Hristo Hristov, Deputy Head of the European Commission Representation in Bulgaria outlined the accomplishments of civil society on the road to EU integration and for the development of the EU. Mr Daniel Stefanov, representing the European Council for Foreign Relations in Sofia focused on the civic sector place within Bulgaria’s presidency of the Council of the EU.
BlueLink foundation representative, Pavel Antonov, PhD, drew the audience attention to the shrinking civic space within EU and the possible scenarios to counteract.
Special guest to the event was Mr Marten Lauri from the National Foundation of civil society in Estonia. His presentation outlined the main features of the Estonian model of citizen involvement.
Estonia was the former Council of EU president. Mr Lauri shared some lessons in terms of public partnership, but also passed the conclusions from the Talinn Forum on Civil Society in a “message in a bottle” to Ms Iva Taralezhkova comprising a vision with specific tasks how to involve civil society in improving the state of the EU.
The second Citizen Participation Index was presented by Ms Desislava Hristova from Citizen Participation Forum. It assesses three interconnected aspects of citizen involvement – environment, practices and effect. The overall score is 3.53 (on a scale from 1 to 6), marking a state of developing participation.
The conclusions and the recommendations were discussed on an expert panel by Mr Luben Panov from BCNL, Ms Boryana Dimitrova from Alpha Research and prof. Nelly Ognyanova, media law expert at the Sofia University.
The Index records improvement in the legislative measures – in the areas of access to information, public consultations, impact assessment, the registration regime for non-profit entities, structured public partnership on national level – as a result of specific and purposeful efforts on behalf of CSOs in the last years. Meanwhile, challenges remain before putting these amendments to practice; the quality of the legislative process and rule of law. The media environment has worsened considerably thus limiting further activism and trust.
The civil sector has become more professional while human resources, funding and organisational sustainability still remain inadequate. Communication among CSOs is active, but inconsistent. The networks and coalitions have an important role to play in this regard. The intensive dialogue between the public administration and the citizens and CSOs still cannot bring sustainable and palpable change in the environment and to create sustainable partnership.
Citizen participation is still a daunting task, demanding time and resources. The low level of citizen involvement coupled with low trust and unfavourable conditions are conducive to demotivation and activism fatigue.