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Frontpage News 2008 EEA partners boost civil society in Bulgaria

EEA partners boost civil society in Bulgaria

On 1 July, Bulgaria became the eleventh country to launch a fund for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with support from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

The NGO funds under the EEA and Norway Grants make available funding to civil society organisations within areas such as the environment, human rights and democracy, social services and capacity building. The overarching aim of the EEA and Norway Grants is reduction of social and economic disparities in the enlarged EU and European Economic Area (EEA) after 2004, and the strengthening and development of the civil sector is seen as a pivotal part of this.

The €2 million Bulgarian NGO fund will support NGO activities within the fields of environment and sustainable development, provision and development of social services, and development of civil society and protection of human rights. The fund will be managed by the Foundation for Local Government Reform in Bulgaria, in partnership with the Bulgarian Environmental Partnership Foundation.

"This support to NGOs is extremely valuable, timely and noble in a crucial moment, when for many years donors are in the process of withdrawing, the EU funding system is still unstructured and not functioning, and the support of the Bulgarian government limited" , stated Mr. Zdravko Sechkov, Acting Director of the Foundation for Local Government Reform.

Ten new countries joined the EU in 2004, and Romania and Bulgaria became members in 2007. Several major international donors have gradually pulled out as countries became members of the EU. This makes the contribution from the EEA and Norway Grants even more valuable to NGOs in these countries.

Lubomira Kolcheva, Director of the Bulgarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, said the Bulgarian NGO fund's accessibility for smaller organisations would be of major importance. "The EEA Grants will make a difference through its flexibility to respond to real needs and to enable not only big organisations, but also small ones to have access to funding. I expect that the EEA Grants will have significant impact on the improvement of the environmental conditions in the country," she said.

So far, the EEA-EFTA states have approved 18 NGO funds in 11 countries totaling more than €83 million in assistance from the EEA and Norway Grants. An NGO fund is also in the pipeline in Cyprus. With more than €80 million earmarked for NGOs, Norway - as the largest donor - is turning into one of the primary supporters of civil society in Central Europe.

The open call under the Bulgarian NGO fund will open on 21 July 2008, and applications can be submitted until 15 October 2008.

For further information on the Bulgarian NGO fund, see ngofund.flgr.bg.