A strong civil society is a fundamental building block in a vibrant, well-functioning democracy. Non-governmental organisations play a vital role in promoting democratic values and human rights, as well as fostering civic participation. They keep citizens engaged and often give voice to groups that would otherwise not have been heard in political decision-making processes. Civil society is a partner for governments as well as a watchdog.
However, in a number of European countries, civil society organisations are facing legal, financial and sometimes even physical threats. In some countries, legislation and negative rhetoric are being used systematically to target civil society and thus restrict freedom of opinion. Shrinking civic space in Europe in the past years makes it even more important to strengthen civil society’s capacity to address issues such as:
Active citizen participation in decision making is a fundamental part of democratic societies. Engaging the public through awareness raising, advocacy and social innovation is essential for addressing a broad range of issues, such as the environment and climate change.
Discrimination, racism and harassment remains a challenge in Europe. In a recent EU wide survey, one in four respondents reported feeling discriminated against because of their ethnic or immigrant background. Fighting any discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, age or sexual orientation is crucial for making our societies equal for all.
Minority groups often face obstacles in daily life; one in three Roma in Europe are unemployed and 90% live below national poverty lines. Empowering disadvantaged people and minority groups, and making sure their voices are heard is vital for improving the situation. Support for young people is particularly important.
Despite progress in the last decades, gender equality has still not been reached in Europe. Women continue to be paid less than men and one in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence. Countering gender inequality means standing up for human rights and ensuring that society reaches its full potential, both economically and socially.
We aim to strengthen civil society and active citizenship, and to empower vulnerable groups.
According to an agreement between Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway and the EU, 10% of the EEA Grants are allocated to civil society through the Active Citizens Fund. In each country, the Fund is managed by operators which are independent of local, regional and central government, political parties and religious institution.
Common values of respect of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the respect for human rights are at the core of all activities supported through the Fund. This includes initiatives such as:
- Increase citizen participation in civic activities
- Support consultation between public institutions and civil society organisations in decision making processes
- Raise citizens awareness of human rights, including gender equality
- Empower vulnerable groups
- Create more effective, accountable and sustainable civil society organisations
- Strengthen regional cooperation within civil society
Contracted Fund Operators
Bulgaria: Open Society Institute – Sofia in consortium with the Trust for Social Achievement Foundation and the Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation
Croatia: Community Foundation Slagalica (CFS) in consortium with Solidarna – Foundation for Human Rights and Solidarity, Association for Civil Society Development (SMART) and the Centre for Information Service, Co-operation and Development of NGOs (CNVOS)
Czech Republic: Open Society Fund – Prague in consortium with the Committee of Good Will – Olga Havel Foundation and the Czech Scouting Institute
Estonia: Open Estonia Foundation in consortium with the Network of Estonian Non-Profit Organisations (NENO)
Greece: Bodossaki Foundation in consortium with Solidarity Now
Latvia: Civic Alliance Latvia in consortium with Dienvidlatgale NGO Support Centre, Kurzeme NGO Support Centre, Latvian Rural Forum, Valmiera Region Community Foundation and Zemgale NGO Support Centre
Lithuania: Open Lithuania Foundation in consortium with OSFL Projektai and Geri Norai LT
Malta: Solidarity Overseas Service Malta
Poland (National): Stefan Batory Foundation in consortium with Shipyard and FAOO
Active Citizens Fund in Poland (National): Facebook page
Poland (Regional): Foundation in Support of Local Democracy (FSLD) in consortium with the Information Society Development Foundation (ISDF) and the Education for Democracy Foundation (EDF)
Portugal: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in consortium with Bissaya Barreto Foundation
Romania: Civil Society Development Foundation in consortium with the PACT Foundation, the Environmental Partnership Foundation, the Resource Centre for Roma Communities and Frivillighet Norge
Slovakia: Ekopolis Foundation in consortium with Carpathian Foundation and Open Society Foundation
Slovenia: Centre for Information Service, Cooperation and Development of NGOs (CNVOS) in consortium with the Legal and Information Centre Maribor (Institute PIP) and the Society for the Advancement of Voluntary Work Novo Mesto (DRPD)
Partnerships between civil society organisations in the beneficiary countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are strongly encouraged. Organisations in Norway and Iceland which wish to participate in projects can contact the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Icelandic Human Rights Centre for assistance.