Strengthening civil society in the Baltic Sea Region
On 16-17 April, the Baltic Sea NGO Forum 2010 was held in Vilnius in Lithuania. Norway`s Ambassador to Lithuania reiterated Norway`s commitment to continued support to the NGO sector in Central and Southern Europe, as well as in the Baltic Sea Region.
In Central and Southern European countries with a recent history of democratic transition, the voluntary and civil society sector is still young and vulnerable. There is a need to make NGOs more visible, raise public awareness and understanding for their work and encourage people to get involved and take an interest in public affairs. The Baltic Sea NGO Forum 2010, organised under the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, sought to address these issue.
Tailored to the needs of NGOs
Through the EEA and Norway Grants, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway provide the NGO sector in 12 countries in Europe with €85 million in support through grant schemes tailored to the needs of NGOs.
Through several workshops, the NGO forum gave the more than 200 participants from the 12 countries of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) a chance to discuss issues such as the strengthening of civil society, active participation in decision-making processes, innovations in the NGO sector and NGO participation in cross-border cooperation in the Baltic Sea region.
"We are all responsible"
In her opening speech, Vice Minister Asta Skaisgirytë Liauškienë of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed the importance of regional cooperation within the field of civil society. "When it comes to the sustainable development of our region we are all responsible", she said.
Norway will take over the presidency of the CBSS this summer. Norway’s Ambassador to Lithuania, Steinar Gil, expressed support for the continued work of the Forum in moving forward the development of the NGO sector in the Baltic Sea region within the context of the European agenda. "The challenges of our time can not be solved by politicians, governments and the market alone. Civil society benefits from a very high level of trust – higher than for public sector and business community", Gil said.
The Ambassador pointed to the fact that financial support from international donors to civil society have shifted further east over the past years. The financial crisis has also had detrimental effects on the NGO sector in the new EU member states. "Against this backdrop, I would like to reiterate the Norwegian government’s commitment to continued support to the NGO sector in Central and Southern Europe, as well as in the Baltic Sea Region", the Ambassador said.
The NGO forums were initiated by the Baltic Sea NGO Platform in 2001 and are held annually by the presiding countries of the Council.
Photo credit: Royal Norwegian Embassy, Lithuania