Social Platform one of many NGO voices at Forum in Riga

On 2-3 March an NGO Forum took place in Riga, bringing together non-governmental and public sector representatives from across Europe to exchange experience for the implementation of  Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty of the EU on ‘civil dialogue’ that states the importance of an open, transparent and regular dialogue between institutions and civil society. A key objective of the Forum was to receive input on a Roadmap for the implementation of Article 11, which has been developed by members of the Liaison Group of the European Economic and Social Committee. Social Platform participated in the event and our Director, Pierre Baussand, was one of the speakers for a workshop exchanging EU level experiences.

During the two day meeting participants discussed the role of and challenges for civil society, including NGOs’ need for funding and resources to build capacity to participate in civil dialogue. Some stressed the vital need for trust-building in order to reach out to people – not just in capital cities, but everywhere – as well as among people that are not part of an organisation. A distinction between civil society dialogue and citizens’ participation were made. Furthermore, the need to make better use of different channels, methods and techniques for participation and dialogue was raised, such as online communication which is ‘changing offline politics’.

Pierre Baussand, Director of Social Platform, emphasised the different voice NGOs bring compared to parliaments and social partners such as trade unions. Our joint purpose should  be impact and  result oriented. We should be involved in all stages of agenda-setting, policy- and decision-making, implementation, evaluation and reformulation; in fact, the civic space should be open to us in the thinking phase before the agenda is set. On the other hand, EU institutions should demonstrate accountability and responsiveness, political will and openness to make a difference, transparency and clarity, equality and inclusiveness, sustainability and structures to involve us in all stages of policy and decision-making. We represent the values enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Oli Henman from CIVICUS reminded participants about the good practices already in place, such as the Council of Europe’s ‘Code of good practices for civil participation in the decision-making process’ (2009), and how we need to follow-up with several commissioners with regards to their responsibility to engage in civil dialogue, in particular with Commissioner Avramopolous who is responsible for Citizenship and Vice-President Timmermans who has the broad mandate to ensure fundamental rights in the EU. Annica Ryngbeck, Policy & Advocacy Adviser at Social Platform, raised the EU Agency for Fundamental Right’s experience based on their civil society Platform, engaging more than 400 NGOs from both national and EU level.

Social Platform has long worked on the issues of the implementation of Article 11 and for an effective civil dialogue. In 2008 we developed our position on ‘How to establish an effective dialogue between the EU and civil society organisation’ that includes seven concrete recommendations for European decision-makers, as well as for pan-European networks of social NGOs.