Not just fruit and funding: CSO's, Compacts, and EU democracy - by Amber Alferoff

fruits-6v6k_small.jpgHello, I am the Islington Compact officer and also work for Compact Voice. Recently I represented Compact Voice at a discussion in Brussels titled: ‘The Lisbon Treaty and perspectives for more effective participation of CSO’s in EU decision making.’ 

In a nutshell:  the EU believes it has a ‘democratic deficit,’ and needs to listen to its citizens more. It wants to be a more participatory democracy and increase civil dialogue.  The Lisbon Treaty supports this - especially  article 11 –   as does the aim to have an EU Compact, a ‘European Charter for civil dialogue.’ The main message was that Civil Society Organisations are key to influencing implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, and engaging people in EU decision-making structures.
Our Compact is much admired internationally, and it's good to have something to be proud of beyond red phone boxes, the Beatles and Shakespeare. (See Ingela’s blog about the Swedish agreement and this article about other national Compacts). Other countries also admire the well-organised structure of CSOs in the UK. (After the meeting I spent some time appreciating Belgian chocolate and beer).
Interestingly former eastern bloc countries seem more likely to associate CSO’s with civil unrest and revolution, such as the Orange revolution in Ukraine, than the ‘charity and advocacy’ perception of many in the UK. This was especially interesting to me - My surname is Ukrainian.
We shared a lot of knowledge – people talked fast and at a high level - a great workout for my brain. We acknowledged the economic situation, the need for trust in each other and the value of CSO’s. Themes included: transnational dialogue between CSOs; the European year of Volunteering 2011; funding for social innovation; and CSO’s being in touch with their MEPs. Given that Hungary is next in line for the 6 month rotating EU presidency, this may be truly important – the EU is a big place in the middle of a financial crisis. The voices of CSOs need to be respected and supported if we are to help forge a deeper relationship between the EU decision makers and EU Citizens. 
The point that I made most strongly was that good working partnerships are established through the process of developing a Compact, be it local, national or across the EU.  Working together to develop, revise or action-plan a Compact has inherent long lasting value.


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