Supporting civil society in Hungary
Since 2004, EEA and Norway Grants has been one of the prime funding schemes to the civil society sector in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. In Hungary alone, €21.4 million has been set aside for civil society since 2004.
The funding of civil society through the EEA and Norway Grants is one of the most explicit ways for the donor countries – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – to show their commitment to the promotion of fundamental European values, such as human rights, anti-discrimination and equality. These values cannot be taken for granted; they require constant nurturing, particularly given the current concerns related to rising extremism. This is why Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway have allocated almost €160 million to NGO programmes in all 16 Beneficiary countries for the 2009-2014 mechanism.
The economic crisis has led to cuts in state funding that affect civil society in all beneficiary countries. Many NGOs are suffering from these financial constraints and struggling to develop their capacity, enhance their advocacy role, and improve the provision of much-needed services.
The different NGO funds attract huge interest in all beneficiary countries. As of 1 July, 15 156 project applications have been submitted in all beneficiary countries.
Strengthening civil society and active citizenship
The lack of funding due to the economic crisis has also led to a more challenging environment for many Hungarian NGOs. Just the sheer number of project proposals for the NGO programme in Hungary indicates the need for additional sources of funding; so far, 137 projects out of 1404 project applications have been selected. Under the first calls for proposals in 2013, the over subscription rate was ten times higher than the funding available. As of 1 July 2014, around 28% (€3.8 million) of the funding under the NGO Programme has been disbursed.
Veronika Móra, Director of the Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, lead partner of the consortium forming the Fund Operator for the NGO Programme in Hungary, understands that there are many NGOs feeling disappointed by not being eligible for funding or not being selected, but explains that the projects best able to fulfil the objectives and priorities as defined in the calls for proposals, are prioritised. These objectives and priorities are outlined in programme agreement between Hungarian authorities and the donor countries.
“The interest for the NGO Programme in Hungary is huge, which leads to increased time pressure for us, but the consortium of the Fund Operator shares common goals and approaches to ensure an honest, open and trustworthy process,” Ms Móra explains.
A wide range of different projects are already underway in Hungary. For example, In Ózd, the NGO Blue Star, is using dog therapy (also known as canis therapy) for children with disabilities. Activities for vulnerable children are also taking place in Debrecen and Pécs, where the Smile Foundation offers free-of-charge art and story-telling therapy for children suffering from chronic diseases. In Budapest, the Hungarian Women's Lobby will create a Gender Media Network which will enable their member organisation to address the under-representation women in Hungarian media.
Projects fighting corruption, like the Transparency International Academy teaching youth organisations about corruption and promoting sustainable development, like the Garden of Eden Association seeking to revive sustainable rural way of life based on renewable local row materials, are also supported.
The NGO Programme in Hungary aims to strengthen civil society so that it can contribute to democracy and sustainable development. It also supports a range of initiatives to tackle hate speech and to promote human rights. This includes working with the most vulnerable groups, such as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community and Roma minority. For example, ‘Labrisz Lesbian Association’ receives funding for awareness raising about homosexuality and the ‘AnBlokk Association for Cultural and Social Sciences’ is using participatory theatre and research for the inclusion of Roma.
Payments to Hungary under the EEA and Norway Grants were suspended on 9 May 2014 following a Hungarian breach of the agreements concerning implementation and monitoring of the Grants schemes. The NGO programme in Hungary is not affected by the suspension.
Support to the civil sector was also a priority in the 2004-2009 Grants scheme. In total €7.9 million was allocated to two NGO funds, the NGO Fund and the Environmental NGO Fund, supporting 240 projects.
Different evaluations of the NGO fund in Hungary during the 2004-2009 funding period have generally displayed positive results:
An independent review of the NGO fund conducted by PITIJA in September 2010 showed that 40% of the Hungarian end-beneficiaries (project promoters and people receiving services from NGOs) thought that the NGO fund in Hungary was ‘very successful’ in reaching the objectives. Around 34 % thought it was ‘successful’, while 25% thought it was ‘relatively successful’.
Other evaluations on the NGO fund during the 2004-2009 funding period also revealed positive results. A survey conducted by the Hungarian Fund operator reported that the overall score of the fund was 3.7 on a scale from 1 (worst) to 5 (best).
An audit report from Ernst & Young also gave an overall positive assessment of the NGO programme in Hungary. According to the report, the Fund Operator and the partners had a dedicated team working on the programme; the programme was managed well and in a transparent way. In general, the project selection was transparent and monitoring and reporting was well conducted. In addition, the programme was implemented in line with the programme implementation agreement.
Some issues were raised in connection to the project selection. This was more linked to the fact that the project selection was less regulated under the 2004-2009 funding period and gave space for non-uniform selection procedures. In the current 2009-2014 mechanism and in the NGO Programme in Hungary, the selection processes, including the conflict of interest, roles of the evaluators and the selection committee members as well as independent evaluations, are regulated in detail.
Despite the overall positive results of these evaluations, Ms Móra is putting an emphasis on lessons learned, so that the NGO programme can achieve even better results:
“Improved and more regulated selection procedures have improved transparency,” Ms Móra says.