Shhh! Please be quiet, democracy is sleeping...
… And it's time to wake it up! This week we are at the EU Commission's Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights, together with EEA and Norway Grants chairman Niels Engelschiøn, looking at why civil society is crucial in building a vibrant democracy - and the key role public authorities play, all across Europe, in making it a reality. Democracy as we know it clearly needs to be awaken - and what better way than a good old classic democratic debate to bring it (back) to life?
Spanning over two days and bringing together a wide array of high level participants, ranging from Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, Věra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Michael O'Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, EEA and Norway Grants chairman Niels Engelschiøn and Audun Halvorsen, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as national and EU policymakers, international organisations, civil society organisations, press and business and education representatives (just to name a few), the colloquium focuses on the importance and centrality of democracy as a “core European value” and ways in which we can all "renew" democratic engagement in the EU.
"To develop resilient and pluralistic societies, we need to take into consideration civil society's concerns into the governmental processes."
- Niels Engelschiøn
The theme of this year's colloquium is ‘Democracy in the EU’ - which naturally brings the debate to how engaged our civil society is and some of the major challenges public authorities are faced with when engaging with civil society actors.
During a panel debate titled “A free and strong civil society for a vibrant democracy”, the chairman, joined by Inita Paulovica, Deputy Director of Latvia's Public Administration Policy Department and Anna Rurka, President of the Council of Europe Conference of INGOs, agreed that a “true, resilient and pluralistic” democracy can only exist if ALL voices in society are heard and protected, and their interests are fully taken into consideration in governmental processes.
As a matter of fact, and as Engelschiøn put it, a strong civil society serves as a "building block for a vibrant, well-functioning democracy and is essential for safeguarding human rights". Civil society organisations play a central role in keeping citizens engaged and speaking up for those who have no voice. However, the reality for many European countries is slightly less ideal. According to the latest research done by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), many European NGOs are facing legal, financial and sometimes even physical threats.
That reality needs to be faced and changed, today, and it starts with working together, across communities and borders, in bringing democratic values and fundamental rights back where they belong: at the centre of our debates, societies and, most importantly, hearts.
"Through the EEA Grants, more than €200 million are available to support civil society through the Active Citizens Fund, which focuses especially on vulnerable groups that do not receive direct funding from the European Union."
- Niels Engelschiøn
And here's where the EEA and Norway Grants can make a real difference. By offering tangible support through the Active Citizens Funds in no less than 15 EU Member States, the Grants function as a way for Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to promote and strengthen fundamental European values such as democracy, human rights and equality - where it matters.
Through the Active Citizens Fund, the European Civil Society can apply for support to their efforts in strengthening democracy and making it more participatory, inclusive and sustainable, no matter how small, isolated or independent they are.
Protecting our fundamental rights and making sure democracy and civil society are upheld, heard, safe and at the center of attention is at the core of everything we do. To that effect, we work together with the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) to promote human rights in Europe (more info here). The EEA and Norway Grants also have a longstanding partnership with the Council of Europe to enhance democratic principles and promote international standards in the grant schemes. The No Hate Campaign launched in 2017 in cooperation with the Council of Europe exemplifies our support to combat #hatespeech online and promote human rights. Join us in making sure democracy stays strong, awake - and that your voice is heard!
Check out some of our most inspiring projects focusing on Civil Society and fundamental rights here
Watch the live stream of the Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights here