On 10th of September, a Consultation and Validation Meeting on the EU Civil Society Guidelines 2020 Assessment Report (EUCSG) for Albania was held with 45 participants representing local CSOs, public institutions and international and local organizations.
The event was opened by Lenka Vitkova, the Head of Rule of Law and Good Governance of the EU Delegation to Albania, who noted the importance of the assessment as a part of a bigger endeavor started in 2014. The regional idea of the Guidelines (EUCSG) was to provide EU support in the region, and it is considered valuable and essential for programming for the sector. Most importantly, the Country Report is drafted based on the same structure as the Guidelines, as most recommendations come from this tool. Additionally, the Guidelines provide a common language for the assistance and a basis for streamlining the CSO cooperation with the Government and formulation of objectives. The upcoming Guidelines 2021-2027 are on the way and are improved in certain aspects.
Tanja Hafner Ademi, Team Leader of EU TACSO 3, provided the EU TACSO 3 Project’s goals and objectives, following up with thorough overview of the assessment, focusing on the regional and country-level findings. The purpose of the assessment was to: a) assess the state of enabling environment and capacities of CSOs against the EUCSG (2014-2020), b) trace the effect of COVID-19 on Guidelines and on civil society and c) inform the preparation of EC country reports and civil society support. The main areas of the EUCSG were presented to enable the audience to understand the structure of the research. The areas are: a) conducive Environment (Legal, policy, and financial), b) the relationship between CSOs and Public Institutions, and c) the state of CSO Capacities.
During the presentation, key challenges noted in the areas of the assessment were related to restrictions on basic rights and fundamental freedoms under the pretext of COVID-19. There was a noted further decrease in public trust in public funding and public consultations due to the continued emergence of new CSOs initiated by representatives of Governments, political parties and individuals related to them (GONGOs and PONGOs). In terms of restrictions, pressures were imposed on CSOs through restrictive anti-money laundering and combating terrorist financing regulations. Additionally, tax frameworks were not tailored to the specific nature of the CSOs. There was also a decrease in public funding for CSOs and non-transparent public funding distribution. Finally, a lack of (publicly accessible) official data on CSOs, hindering the visibility and recognition of the economic impact and value of the sector, was noted.
In terms of the effects of COVID-19, freedom of assembly and expression were notably restricted due to the COVID-19 related measures. The decrease in funding was noted due to delays. There was a significant inability to organize fundraising or other activities due to restrictions. CSOs were generally not included in the state support packages for the fight against COVID-19, with some exceptions, such as Kosovo. CSOs had to adjust their services to vulnerable groups and increase advocacy efforts. Amongst challenges, CSOs responded to the pandemic promptly.
Kostandina Keruti, a Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) National Researcher presented the local level findings. The assessment was conducted by BCSDN through various forms of research such as desk research, surveys, interviews and focus groups. In the area of a conducive environment for the legal and policy aspect, the biggest change was the approval of the Draft Law on Registration of NPOs, which was done in absence of a climate that guarantees inclusiveness, transparency, effective consultation and discussion in good faith. In Albania there were 399 organized assemblies in 2020, out of which 112 organizers/participants were detained by the police. It was almost impossible to obtain independent information and identify reliable sources of information, regarding the detentions, which are limiting the freedom of expression.
Furthermore, in the area of a conducive legal environment, it was noticed that the Law on Voluntarism presents a lack of clarity and uncertainty and it needs revision. Also, there are no accurate data on volunteers and the work done by them. The financial environment for CSOs presents several difficulties to cope with. Therefore, CSOs with total assets or income over 30 million ALL should prepare the Performance Report Template issued in 2020. CSOs are a matter of financing rules and obligations from the Anti Money Laundering/CFT package. This package was passed swiftly, without a proper consultation process. As a result, there is confusion among CSOs and underlying challenges in the implementation process.
Public funding allocated to CSOs by public institutions decreased by almost 40% and as such hardly met the needs of CSOs to address COVID-19 issues. Moreover, the public funding distribution continues to be non-transparent. During 2020, a regression in effective consultations on draft laws and policies was observed, as well as poor performance and limited effective cooperation of the National Council for Civil Society among its members and other CSOs. Most of the measures of the Road Map, envisaged for implementation within 2020, were not implemented. However, a positive development in 2020 was the preparation of the Code of Standards for CSOs that will increase the accountability and transparency of CSOs.
During the discussion session, participants had the opportunity to provide their views and opinions over the assessment findings, which will be taken under consideration in the Report. The full Report is expected to be published soon, on the EU TACSO 3 website and social media. The event was a part of a larger program held in six Western Balkans countries and Turkey.