Civil Society

Cooperation between the European Union (EU) and civil society organisations working in partner countries goes back to the 1970's, when the EU started establishing relationships with third countries. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have become an integral part of applying a more people-centred approach to EU development policy. The EU works with CSOs in three main ways: (1) by enhancing their policy dialogue role, through involvement in its development cooperation; (2) by funding development programmes and projects implemented by CSOs; and (3) by supporting capacity building and development.

By strengthening the role of civil society organisations, the EU increases beneficiaries’ ownership of development strategies. It assists CSOs' to improve the quality of their work to help their beneficiaries. Encouraging dialogue, the EU facilitates the establishment of joint development strategies between civil society organisations, governmental authorities at all levels (national, regional and local) and private partners. More specifically, the partnership between the EU and CSOs helps to better reach people living in poverty, and enhance respect and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

European Union and Syria: Cooperation on civil society

1. EU-Syria Cooperation Projects

There has been limited involvement of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in bilateral EU-Syria cooperation. The Municipal Administration Modernisation   Programme is an exception with its grants, specifically aimed at NGOs. Through MAM, the EU has financed eight Syrian NGOs to help rehabilitate the historical Old City of Damascus.

2. Specific programmes for Civil Society

Since 2007 the EU thematic programme Non-state Actors (NSA) and Local Authorities in Development helps to support civil society and EU-Syrian NGO partnerships. The EU has co-financed two projects in the first two years: 1) a one-year project to foster social and economic empowerment among women in the Hajar Al Aswad area of the Palestinian refugee camp, 2) a regional project together with Jordan, to strengthen the capacities of two village business incubators (VBIs).

In March 2009, the EU Delegation to Syria launched the Call for Proposals for Non-state actors in Development . Out of the 7 applications, the EU is co-financing two projects which enhance the participation of Syrian NGOs 1) to support to women’s participation in the socio-economic development and capacity building of NGOs in the rural areas of the Governorate of Idleb; 2) to build and develop capacities and to support young people's participation in the touristic sector in the area of Maalula.

Through the Investing in People thematic programme, the EU co-financed a project on gender equality, CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) from Theory to Practice . The 2008 project is implemented by an Italian and a Lebanese NGO in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

3. Culture as a means to promote Civil Society

The local cultural activities programme also fosters dialogue between civil society actors. By engaging communities in small scale cultural activities, it promotes their participation in cultural life. Since 2004, the EU Delegation to Syria has supported 23 European and Syrian civil society organisations in their cultural cooperation.

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