Report on the State of Civil Society in the EU and Russia 2016
Dear colleagues, friends and supporters
of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum,
we are happy and proud to present the frst issue of a new series of annual Reports on the State of Civil Society in the EU and Russia. This was initated by members of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum who wished to acquire more systematc informaton and assessment on NGOs and civil society development elsewhere, especially in the EU member states.
We can often perceive each other’s challenges and strategies as being too dissimilar or even unique. These gaps in the perception of real and potential partners hinder cooperation. With this series of annual reports we hope to strengthen understanding and provide new chances for cooperation and exchange opportunities. We try not only to understand conditions and challenges in different countries but also to fnd interesting solutions, which can be used.
Our strategy was to combine academic and practical approaches to civil society studies, in order to capture the main characteristics and trends of civil society development in a particular year, to show the perspectives and concerns of the civil society organisations in different countries, both of the CSF members and all other organisations, who wished to express their opinions.
In 2016, our researchers made an overview of existing indices measuring the state of civil society in various countries, with the presentation of results from all EU member states and Russia. The indices that measure sustainability of civil society organisations (CSOs) confrm a pattern of geographical divisions in Europe, with the “old” member states demonstrating stability in terms of the strength of NGOs and the Southern and Eastern European members lagging behind or, in some cases, rolling back. Other groups of indices largely confrm the same pattern of geographical divisions yet do not illustrate any alarming trends. The case of Russia is more worrying, showing a clear regression in terms of the legal environment for CSOs.
With these general conclusions in mind, we conducted our own empirical research on how the situations are perceived by civil society organisations. To develop the methodology for such a research, in cooperation with the Centre for German and European Studies (St. Petersburg State University – Bielefeld University), we organised a research workshop in St. Petersburg in April 2016, where the research team met with invited experts on civil society studies from both research institutions and CSOs from different countries. We are very grateful to all the participants of the workshop for their input, support and inspiration to use a combination of both quantitative online study and qualitative interviews on the perception of current situations among CSOs.
As a result of the common discussion, our research methodology was based on an online survey and in-depth interviews conducted in Russia and four EU countries: Germany and Spain as old EU member states, and Poland and Hungary as new EU members. All the case studies were conducted by the researchers working in their countries using the same methodology. They analysed the data by placing them into the broader political, social and economic development of the respective country in 2016 and some trends leading to the year 2016 in the previous years. Every case study was also reviewed by at least two anonymous independent experts on these countries, who also contributed a lot for the better understanding of the cases.
We are very grateful to all the experts and advisors as well as to all the listeners of our frst preliminary report presentations for their contributions, comments and critical points, which help us to improve our current and future reports. In subsequent years, we will present the situations in other countries and focus on further aspects and trends of civil society development. Already in 2017, the annual report will include results of the research on such cases as the Netherlands, Italy, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Russia. We hope it will be of interest not only to civil society representatives but also for the broader public, donors and policy-makers both in the EU and Russia and elsewhere.
State of Civil Society Report project team