Balkan NGOs want their voices heard

19/11/2012

NGOs seek greater involvement in ongoing reforms.

By Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje and Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade for Southeast European Times -- 19/11/12

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Macedonians voice ideas on improving urban living via an initiative of the local NGO, Coalition for Sustainable Development. [Aleksandar Pavlevski/SETimes]

Civil society participation in policy-making is necessary to produce quality laws, but NGOs must be more assertive to advance this goal, according to organisation representatives.

"Many countries in the region have started to set up an institutional framework for co-operation between the NGOs and public institutions," Karin Shultz, director of development consulting at the Swedish Institute for Public Administration, an organisation that specialises in capacity building and institutional development in coun-tries in transition, told SETimes.

"What they now need is to implement and truly utilise these frameworks," Shultz said.

Promoting civil sector participation in policy-making is required under the EU accession process, including in sensitive issues such as defence policy.

In Macedonia, the government designated a special department to serve as a bridge between state institutions and the 7,000 NGOs that operate there.

Civil sector-government co-operation is generally positive, according to Emina Nuredinovska, department chief at the NGO Center for International Co-operation in Skopje.

"Our ideas are not always fully implemented and turned into legal provisions, but the consultative process is improving," Nuredinovska told SETimes. Nuredinovska said NGOs should be more proactive and more readily come up with initiatives.

"The organisations working under government protection can achieve much more than others working independently," Zorica Dimovska of the Women Organisation in Skopje's Centre municipality told SETimes.

Dimovska's NGO is part of the civil initiative Aman!, which is protesting high energy prices. Aman! said it wanted to start a civil initiative to collect 10,000 signatures to amend the Energy Law, but has been waiting for a month for the required go-ahead from parliament.

Civil society can give valuable analysis and recommendations, but government ultimately executes policies, according to Jelena Milic, director of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) in Belgrade.

CEAS conducted a poll on how government officials and civil society activists perceive which policies and main actors can facilitate and advance reforms.

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"Most respondents have a positive attitude towards Serbia's EU integration as well as the possibility of that process to contribute to the reform in the security sector," Milic told SETimes.

Based on its findings, the CEAS will recommend the Serbian government adopt a coherent foreign policy strategy whose priorities will be EU integration, co-operation with NATO and regional co-operation.

Goran Petrovic, the first democratically nominated chief of security in Serbia and current official in Serbia's Social-Democratic Party, also supports active NGO participation in security reform.

"The civil sector role is highly important in this field ... [since] political parties usually propose reforms only while they are in the opposition," Petrovic told SETimes.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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