EU institutions

The EU as a major donor for the Civil Society in the Southern Neighbourhood

Enhancing regular dialogue and consultations with civil society (CS) is one of the principles stated in the Lisbon Treaty, with a view to ensuring consistency and transparency of EU policies, and make civil society participate and contribute to policy making and its implementation.

The EU has a long-standing background of support to the civil society and civil society organisations in the Southern Mediterranean.

A number of instruments have been at their disposal over more than a decade to help them implementing development projects or building their capacities.

Responding to the Arab Spring

In order to respond to the challenges civil society is facing and take full advantage of the opportunities provided by the Arab Spring, the EU has reinforced existing instruments and created new facilities and strategies to help both CSOs and national governments starting this decision making process, opening channels of communication and building an institutional policy dialogue at different levels, from local to regional.

Relations between civil society and governments have improved across much of the region in the wake of the Arab Spring. These changes – as well as events elsewhere in the world - have prompted the European Commission to propose an enhanced and more strategic approach in its engagement with civil society. This Approach is set out in the Communication "The roots of democracy and sustainable development: Europe's engagement with civil society in external relations" (12 September 2012). The Communication received the support of the Council of the European Union in its Conclusions of 15 October 2012.

The objective of the Communication is to facilitate constructive relations between States and civil society organisations. The Communication identifies priority areas for engagement with local CSOs in partner countries relating to:

  • promotion of an enabling environment,
  • participation of civil society in domestic policies, in the EU programming cycle and in international processes,
  • capacity development for CSOs to perform their roles more effectively.

On 18 November 2015, the EU presented the review of the ENP, spelling out the Union's new approach to its eastern and southern neighbours which aims a deeper engagement with civil society and social partners, among other things. In this framework, EU focuses even more on framework conditions for civil society, domestic accountability and capacity development.

Role of EU Institutions

The European Commission and the High Representative of the European Union stressed several times the importance of the role civil society plays as a force for democratisation and inclusiveness in their political statements. In this regard, the Civil Society Facility (CSF) should be seen as the concrete translation of this conviction and as endeavour to build up a real partnership with civil society. Overall, the objective is to help CSOs to move from their traditional role in the region of service providers through the implementation of projects to the more challenging roles of decision and policy makers and governments' watchdogs.

The European Commission has defined its vision of Non-State Actors involvement in development cooperation and the major steps to which they need to take part. This involvement is no longer limited to a participation in service delivery, but aims at strengthening the capacity of Non-State Actors to become key actors of democratic governance processes.

In 2013, a more structured dialogue was established at regional level in the Neighbourhood South Region among civil society, and between civil society and authorities. The idea is to create space, conditions, freedoms, trust and means to dialogue among all partners and the will for the EU to engage more strategically with civil society. The follow-up of this process from the EU side is conducted by the European Commission, European External Action Service, European Economic and Social Committee and Committee of the Regions.


EU support to the region is mainly channelled through the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid. EuropeAid is, moreover, a contact point in Brussels with the many networks, platforms, confederations and other civil society organisations involved in EU decision-making.

Dialogue is continuous between the European Institutions and civil society. In 2010, EuropeAid has played a major role in dealing with civil society with the re-launching of the Structured Dialogue, (previously called Palermo Process).

Different dialogue tools have been set up by EuropeAid to improve collaboration and to share information on implementing development aid with civil society.