DECISION-MAKING AUTONOMY IS THE FOUNDATION OF EQUAL DIALOGUE
Open letter of the Initiative for a Strong Civil Society to the Office for Cooperation with NGOs of the Government of the Republic of Croatia and relevant ministries
As civil society organizations, we are addressing you regarding the acts and procedures within last week’s constituent session of the 7th Assembly of the Civil Society Development Council. We express our dissatisfaction with the disrespect of the decision-making autonomy of civil society organizations, because by outvoting our elected representatives you have belittled the right of civil society organizations to make independent decisions about our representatives, thus calling into question the very possibility of equal dialogue and the very purpose of the Council’s work – to create a supportive environment for the development of civil society.
When the Council for the Development of Civil Society was established in 2002 as an advisory body to the Government of the Republic of Croatia, it had the task of developing cooperation and gradually became one of the three pillars of the civil society development system, in which the autonomy of action and decision-making of initiatives and civil society organizations was respected. This model has been proudly presented by the Government of the Republic of Croatia around the world – but in recent years its very characteristics, which have made it a good practice, have been systematically regressed, and now there is a danger that only an empty form that does not fulfill its true purpose may remain of that model.
In recent years, governments have tried to ignore and destroy the Council, by failing to adopt a strategy for creating a stimulating environment for civil society development, which culminated in last week’s constituent session of the 7th Assembly of the Council for the Development of Civil Society, when representatives of state administration bodies decided on a new tactic and took over the Council. Instead of fostering the autonomy of civil society, whose representatives in the Council are elected by the votes of civil society organizations in their areas, the decisions of the appointed representatives of the state administration bodies are now imposed on it.
We are concerned about the non-transparency of the manner of electing Croatian representatives from associations and other CSOs in the EESC, through which the autonomy of associations and other CSOs would be preserved. Namely, there are currently 14 representatives of civil society organizations in the Council, in relation to 17 representatives of state administration bodies and in relation to other members (3 representatives of national associations of local and regional government and 3 representatives of civil society from foundations, trade unions and employers’ associations).
Systematic ignoring of this issue, despite the attempts of Council members to put it on the agenda and organize a transparent manner of election, weakens the confidence of the elected representatives of the Council in the work of the body itself, and at the same time, compliance with the deadlines that Croatia should have already met is jeopardized. Despite appeals from autumn of 2019 to organize a transparent manner of elections, Croatia will not be able to appoint new representatives until June 1, 2020.
We protest because the new Rules of Procedure were adopted by a majority vote of the administration, despite the fact that most civil society organizations voted against the adoption until the comments of members of civil society are discussed. We note that the new Rules of Procedure reduce the standards of visibility, transparency and democracy of the Council’s work established by the previous Rules of Procedure.
We are sorry that the new President of the Council was elected by a majority vote at the session, even though he was NOT nominated by members of the Council elected by civil society organizations. Thus, for the first time since the establishment of the Council in 2002, a person who did NOT have the support of democratically elected representatives was elected.
We ask that you respect the decision-making autonomy of civil society organizations in the forthcoming appointments to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), as well as in all decisions that will be made by the end of this Assembly of the Council.
We believe that our colleagues in the Council will continue to act in good faith, that at least sometimes they will be a corrective against the arbitrariness of the administration, while Croatia becomes/remains one of a number of European countries with a democratic deficit.
Zagreb, May 28, 2020
Initiative for a Strong Civil Society
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