Civil society and the European Union: The mutual influence between EU institutions and czech non-Government organisations before and after EU-accession

Essay, 2006

37 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 NGOs in the Czech Republic
2.1 Why do non-government organisations matter?
2.2 Challenges of the non-government sector

3 EU institutions support for NGOs in Czech Republic before and after EU accession
3.1 Pre-accession period
3.1.1 Pre-accession Funds
3.1.2 The EU Agenda assisting NGO projects
3.1.3 Failures of the pre-accession means
3.2 Post-accession period
3.2.1 Post-accession Funding
3.2.2 Problems with EU funding and the transition to new funding sources
3.2.3 Agenda
3.2.4 Agenda Problems

4 Influence of Czech NGOs on EU institutions before and after EU accession
4.1 Pre-accession
4.2 Post-accession
4.2.1 Agenda setting
4.2.2 Lobbying and advocacy organisation on the national level
4.2.3 Problems of Czech NGOs on the EU level

5 Conclusion

6 References

1 Introduction

Since the fall of communism CEE countries are undergoing a revival of civil society, also referred to as the ‘third sector’, which emerged after restrictions imposed under the communist party were abolished. The concept of civil society in its broader sense is the part of a society that exists next to state and market, the London school of Economics Civil Society department refers to it as “the arena of uncoerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values.” This collective action is formed by voluntary civic and social organisations or institutions referred to as non-profit organisations (NPOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This phenomenon is of high interest considering the current European wide dispute over the role civil society should have next to government and business. European institutions have been trying to enhance the development of NGOs in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries through financial as well as institutional help. The EU enlargement was assumed to even further encourage the development of NGOs in CEE countries. Thus, the Czech Republic, one of the first aspirants of the CEE countries entering the EU, is considered to be a prime example to show how the mutual relation between the non-governmental sector in CEE countries and the EU institutions developed. To be able to define the politics and policies for future assistance of the European Union to CEE NGOs, two aspects are of special importance. One, it is necessary to understand the success NGOs in CEE countries have had in terms of succeeding to promote their interests in EU decision-making before and after the accession. Second, it is crucial to determine the role the European Union has played in the achievement of their goals.

This essay is trying to analyse how the influence of Czech NGOs on EU institutions and vice versa developed after enlargement, considering the role various forms of European measures played in it. The focus will be on environmental, development and human rights NGOs, which are fields of European wide interest. However, this essay is not trying to investigate the role NGOs should play in national and European politics, as it would be beyond the scope of this analysis.

The first chapter will give a short introduction into the Czech non-governmental sector, providing a general understanding of its idea and purpose, as well as about its role in the Czech Republic. In the second part, the influence of EU institutions on Czech NGOs is analysed, informing about provided support and related problems. Third, Czech efforts to influence EU policy-making are evaluated. To understand the impact enlargement had on the overall development, the second and third chapter are divided into pre-accession and post-accession parts. Finally, the results and conclusions are summed up, delivering a basis to build on for the future partnership of Czech NGOs and EU institutions in European policy-making.

2 NGOs in the Czech Republic

2.1 Why do non-government organisations matter?

Varying terms are being applied to describe NGOs. They range from ‘non-profit organisation’ over ‘voluntary organisations’ to ‘civil society organisations’. However, the term ‘NPO’ or ‘NGO’ is too general to instantly make clear what kind of organisations it refers to. There is no generally accepted definition of the non-governmental sector, as it is hard to fit all sizes and types of organisations such as small community theatre groups or big global organisations with thousands of members into one definition. Moreover they differ in their scope of activities as well as in their financial and professional background. Nevertheless, there have been pretty accurate attempts to assess the characteristics NGOs generally have in common. Lester Salamon and Helmut Anheiner, two of the leading theorists, list their formal structure, their private non-governmental nature and their voluntary nature. Furthermore, they describe NGOs as not aiming at making profit for their owners and being independent from governments or any institutions, following a policy of self-determination (1992:127). This essay is complying with Salomon and Anheiners definition.

In the Czech Republic the non-government sector and the concept of civil society today is understood as “a positive association of people independent of the state, contributing to the development of civil values and social capital, and taking a generally constructive stance towards democracy as a social order” (Vajdová, 2005:23) amongst the public and experts in the Czech Republic. Before the decline of communism in 1989 the non-government sector was non-existent. During communism the authoritarian regime scotched any form of non-governmental movement contradicting the communist ideology. Volunteerism and charity, as we know it today, were practically forbidden (Spritzer, 2003). The few organisations with some kind of civic society elements were the church and sports or cultural associations such as arts and theatre groups. After 1989, when the communist regime fell, NGOs have been virtually springing up like mushrooms, increasing from non-existing up to a number of 53,777 NGOs registered in 2003 (Kundrata, 2004:31).

The role that NGOs play in society is still a topic of discussion amongst scientists as well as in politics. While economists regard NGOs as service organisations, providing services not offered or not sufficiently provided by the state, in the sociologist’s opinion NGOs are playing a larger and more active role. They consider NGOs to be advocacy organisations defending interests of certain collective associations (Frič, 2004:1). The latter is the definition this essay complies with. The fact of a booming non-profit sector increasingly made its way into high-level political spheres raising the question about the role of NGOs in the Czech Republic amongst Czech politicians. The opinion is divided. The former Czech prime minister and now Czech president Václav Klaus’ opinion is contradictive to the generally accepted definition of NGOs. While “the idea gained ground that civil society [and therefore also NGOs] is some kind of a generator of political culture among the population, a culture that shall be the guarantee of a truly democratic and peaceful development of civil society” (Frič; Deverová; Pajas; Ŝilhánova, 1997:14), Klaus finds that activities of NGOs are “endangering and undermining freedom” (Laemmli, 2006:25), going as far as comparing “NGOism” (Laemmli, 2006:25) to Communism. He considers the performance of “collectivist ideology” (Frič; Goulli; Vyskočilová, 2004:602) in society as a threat to democracy instead of its guarantor. In Klaus opinion, NGOs and other civic associations “are trying to surreptitiously seize political power without a legitimate democratic mandate” (Laemmli, 2006:25). In contrast, Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, conceives NGOs as being a vital part of the political culture providing the counterweight to the state with its bureaucracy and centralism (Frič; Goulli; Vyskočilová, 200?:601). He is supported by the vast majority of NGOs, who called for an apology by president Klaus as they felt his expressions being a “direct attack on the fundamental principles of democracy” such as “the right to speak, to gather and to express [ones] political opinion guaranteed by the constitution” (Laemmli, 2006:25). According to Petra Francová, “most journalists and politicians support [Czech] NGOs” (Laemmli, 2006:25). Even though their opinion is not reflected in the government agenda, where the non-profit sector is not of a priority, the government attitude is slowly changing (Frič; Goulli; Vyskočilová, 200?:602; Lebeda, 2006).

2.2 Challenges of the non-government sector

As promising as the growth of the non-governmental sector in the Czech Republic over the past 15 years might appear, there are still serious problems the sector is facing when compared to settled democracies of the West. Miroslav Kundrata, chairman of the Czech Donors forum and the EU committee of the Governmental Council for NGOs is describing three main challenges. First of all, the political culture is comparatively undeveloped and institutions are unstable. NGOs therefore still need to participate in a general reform of the society. Second, the capacity of the non-governmental sector to influence policy is too little. Independent think tanks are far too weak and universities have not developed to become an influential player in this field yet. Aggravating this fact is that a reform of the education system was put on hold after Czech universities lost their only competitor when the Central European University moved away from Prague to Budapest. Research in the Czech Republic is dependent on the state. Even the progressive researchers fear that the government could not give them any more contracts if they publish opinions which do not comply with the government interest or they are afraid that they could come into conflict with powerful lobbying interests. The third challenge NGOs are facing in the Czech Republic is that there is no real culture of giving and is volunteering more common in culture and sports assiciations rather than in politically active organisations. Private Philanthropy, in particular locally, is almost non-existent in CEE (Lebeda, 2006). It may have improved significantly, but only for NGOs or projects active in emotive areas such as childcare, health and animal rights. The rest is PR-ridden sponsoring, mostly in culture and sport events. But areas like human rights, gender, minorities, environment, advocacy and NGO policy research are missing out when it comes to funding. This attitude towards donating might derive from the widespread feeling amongst Czech people that they do not possess enough money to support NGOs. There is a common feeling amongst Czechs that the Republic still is in arrears due to the communist past and many people want their own local or national problems to be solved before they would want to help anybody else. The disproportion in the funding of different issues is evident as well in government spending. Out of EUR 140 million which the Czech public sector scheduled for NGO activities in 2002, 44 per cent were provided for sports clubs, 26 per cent were directed to NGOs in social services, 10 per cent to those in health services and 7 per cent to culture and monuments. Only less than 2 per cent were budgeted to NGOs active in human rights and advocacy. Many suspect this is also for the reasons that first of all such associations as sports clubs existed and were promoted even before 1989. But the main reason appears to be the concerns of the government to loose administrative freedom in decision-making if such NGOs would have more power. However, the fear of loosing administrative liberty is not a question of a particular political party but of politicians in general, effecting especially NGOs in advocacy and policy research severely (Kundrata, 2004:31).

3 EU institutions support for NGOs in Czech Republic before and after EU accession

EU institutions have had a far-reaching influence on prospective and current EU member countries in political, economical and legal terms. After 1989/90 the EU decided to offer the prospect of membership to Central and Eastern European countries to overcome the division within Europe. The Czech Republic applied for membership in January 1996, prepared to undertake enormous reforms required to meet the Copenhagen criteria. These criteria are conditions for the promise of EU membership formulated by the Copenhagen European Council in June 1993, including the need to have „stable institutions to guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities“ (Copenhagen criteria, 1993). Furthermore, prospective countries are required to have “a functioning market economy [and] the ability to take on all the obligations of membership, such as the entire body of EU law and adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union” (Copenhagen criteria, 1993). To fulfil the Copenhagen criteria, the EU has been providing technical and financial assistance since 1989. The enlargement of the European Union is not only increasing the size of the market economy or the geographical size of the EU but also increasing the gap between the least wealthy and the wealthiest countries within the EU. Especially the New Member States overall economic and social level is lower than the average of the EU 15 and varies substantially amongst the different regions. According to the European regional policy, such differences cannot be solved if just left to self-regulation within the free-market. Instead, state subvention is supposed to achieve an equal development in the regions because of different demands and opportunities. In fact, European solidarity is mentioned already in the preface of the Treaty on the European Union. A first pillar policy agreed upon in the treaty of Nice, which came into force in February 2003 is the ‘Policy of Economic and Social Cohesion’, which is considered to be necessary to facilitate enlargement of the EU into Central Europe. To enable the ability to enforce European regional policy on a national level the EU has been co-financing the New Member States through EU Funds, Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund.

3.1 Pre-accession period

3.1.1 Pre-accession Funds

Even though the main source of finance for the non-governmental sector is public money from national governments, regional and local authorities, and quasi-governmental organisations, NGOs receive a substantial part of their financial resources from the European Commission. In 2002 the sum received by NGOs in Europe and worldwide was over 1000 million EUR, representing over 1 per cent of the total EU budget (The Commission’s discussion paper, 2002).

The three EU funds, which were available for Central and Eastern Europe in the pre-accession period from 2000 until 2003 are called ISPA, SAPARD and PHARE 2000. The ISPA programme, like the PHARE programme has the aim of enhancing economic and social cohesion. Yet its focus is on financing major environmental and transport infrastructure projects, avoiding over-lapping of responsibilities in this area. The SAPARD programme only finances agricultural and rural development measures (Phare programme).

Out of the three pre-accession tools, the PHARE programme (Programme for Harmonised Air Traffic Management Research in Eurocontrol) is the one important for NGOs. Each new member state has to address certain priorities according to the established Road Maps and the Accession Partnerships, which the PHARE programme is focussing on. The particular PHARE programmes and their financing are determined in ‘Financing Memoranda’ as mutual agreements of the European Commission and the authorities of the individual candidate countries or specific organisations. The detailed projects of the PHARE programme are listed on so-called ‘Project Fiches’ (Phare programme/a). In the Czech Republic, the Czech NROS foundation ‘Nadace rozvoje občanské společnosti’ is concerned with the preparation of the overall pre-accession priorities as well as the provision of resources required to do so. NROS is supported by resources from the Czech Republic and abroad, but mainly by EU resources. It was founded in 1993 as a Czech legal entity with the objective to reinforce the development of the non-profit sector, philanthropy and voluntary work. Supported are NGOs that are providing help for disadvantaged and threatened groups and that are active in the protection of human rights and democratic values, raising the citizen’s awareness towards regional development and public life. 1993, the EU Commission gave NROS the task to implement pre-accession funds for NGOs, including activities as the “initiation and management of public tenders and grant schemes, contracting, monitoring, continuous and final reports, on-the-spot monitoring, approving and executing payments, reporting and evaluation of the programme” (CSDF, 2004:1). The PHARE programme has three objectives that are (1) to reassure the effective functioning of public administrations and institutions inside the EU by strengthening them, (2) to speed up the transition period by promoting the convergence with the EU’s complex legislation and (3) to promote the Economic and Social Cohesion (EU enlargement). Basically, the idea is to prepare the future member states for their accession to the EU and strengthen institutions in order that after EU accession the national and regional institutions are prepared to take over the legislation of European Communities and participate in the EU programmes. For the non-governmental sector this means developing civil society and laying the foundations for the post-accession management of Structural Funds, as well as for the communication mechanisms. Within the frame of the main EU PHARE programme, each country is preparing and administering its own specific PHARE programmes. PHARE programmes are implemented on different levels, however, in the Czech Republic PHARE was mainly implemented on the national level; just few parts of it were designed for regions, especially border regions (Stulík, 2006).

One of the PHARE programmes in the Czech Republic is the Civil Society Development Programme, aiming at the strengthening of democracy and civil society. It supports special projects of Civil Society Organisations in the Czech Republic, hence, is targeting NGO projects. Any NGO registered in the Czech Republic could apply for a grant of maximum 100.000 EUR and minimum 10.000 EUR throughout 2002. The co-financing rate has to be at least 20 per cent of the total project costs. Projects eligible within the scope of the Civil Society Development Foundation must be in the Czech Republic and have to be related to issues such as information activities and services for the development of the non-government sector including training for its staff and volunteers, social or health related projects, furthermore environmental, human rights and minority protection as well as projects enhancing the development of the regional and local social, cultural and community life (NROS). Projects that are being funded within the budget of the Civil Society Development Programme are primarily those, which are aiming at the development of civil society and the non-profit sector as well as the protection of human rights and the integration of the Roma community into the Czech society. The NROS evaluates applications for EU funds granting especially those projects that are of a long-term character. From 1993 until 2003 the NROS gave financial support amounting to 700 million CZK to 2700 projects out of 7300 evaluated applications in total (NROS). Funding during the pre-accession period functioned via a Decentralized Implementation System called DIS. The European Commission established a delegation in the Czech Republic, which is working in close contact with the NROS foundation (Stulík, 2006).

An example of a PHARE – Civil Society Development Programme is the project called “Preparation of non-profit sector for the involvement in the activities financed from the EU structural funds”. Its implementation was planned from October 2002 to June 2003 and was carried out by EUROPEUM, a non-profit, non-partisan and independent Institute for European Policy. The idea was to “create a fundraising scheme on the basis of associated membership” by creation an internet portal, which informed about Structural Funds for NGOs, publishing a manual about the NGO involvement in projects financed by the Structural Funds and organizing information seminars to promote the projects outputs as well as enhancing communication and cooperation between institutions (EUROPEUM).

Another programme supporting human rights, democratisation and conflict prevention activities carried out primarily in partnership with NGOs and international organisations is the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights EIDHR. This EU programme aims to support political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights in countries outside the EU. Projects in the Czech Republic were granted a maximum of 50.000 EUR and a minimum of 10.000 EUR with a co-finance rate of at least 10per cent of the total project costs during 2002 (EIDHR).


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Civil society and the European Union: The mutual influence between EU institutions and czech non-Government organisations before and after EU-accession
Charles University in Prague  (Social Sciences)
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Civil, European, Union, EU-accession, civil society, NGO, non-government organisation, enlargement
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Diplom-Kauffrau, MA Contemporary European Studies Vanessa Buth (Author), 2006, Civil society and the European Union: The mutual influence between EU institutions and czech non-Government organisations before and after EU-accession , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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