New Directions for EU Civil Society Support: Lessons From Turkey, the Western Balkans, and Eastern Europe

Richard Youngs
Content Type
Working Paper
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
As the European Union (EU) debates its new post-2020 funding instruments, EU civil society support faces a pivotal moment. The union has been fine-tuning this support in recent years and is now contemplating further reforms. Civil society around the world is undergoing far-reaching changes as new types of informal activism emerge, governments try to constrict civic activity, and digital technology has major political implications. Against this backdrop, this analysis proposes ten practical ideas for how EU civil society assistance needs to evolve. It focuses on the countries that fall under the EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA)—Turkey and the countries of the Western Balkans—and the six states of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. This research examines how EU funding mechanisms need to change and assesses whether current financing proposals are likely to be beneficial or damaging. It suggests how the EU can overcome the main challenges of supporting newer forms of activism. And it explores how the EU can best help civil society to resist the heightened repression it faces in most IPA and EaP states. To improve its civil society assistance, the EU should: 1. tie critical measures to civil society support; 2. set minimum thresholds for mainstreaming; 3. engage with unfamiliar civil society partners; 4. define clearer rules on government-organized nongovernmental organizations (GONGOs); 5. focus on systemic resilience; 6. help local fund raising; 7. widen support networks; 8. better connect civil society to politics; 9. assess the civil society impacts of other EU policies; and 10. link civil society to foreign policy. This publication does not attempt to give a comprehensive or detailed account of all aspects of EU civil society support—something Carnegie has covered elsewhere.1 Rather, it offers a snapshot of the current state of play in this area of policy at a moment when the EU is debating significant changes and is set to make decisions that will affect the future course of its civil society support.
Civil Society, Social Movement, Political Activism
Political Geography
Turkey, Eastern Europe, Balkans, European Union