Civil society is a “pivotal agent in the transformation of the EU”, a representative of Cyprus - who has not been named - said in her opening speech at a November debate which took place in Cyprus.
The main theme of this debate, organised by the NGO Support Centre, under the European U-Impact project (From Citizen Involvement to Policy Impact) was “Civil Society and the EU”. The U-Impact project basically gathers citizens’ views on EU policies and explores the relationship and engagement between civil society and EU.
Civil society acts to “bridge the gap between EU institutions and citizens”, and “plays a key role in transparency”, the Cypriot representative said. However, she added that “clearly, we have a long way to go to establish an institutional framework within which civil society and citizens can effectively influence the policies of the EU, at local or EU level”. Geographical distance is one of the explanations for this. “Civil societies also lack the power that lobbies have in Brussels. But “we remain positive”, she added.
“Dialogue is more important than ever”
Georgios Markopouliotis, Head of Representation of the European Commission in Cyprus, who also participated in this event, added: “To achieve political progress in a democratic modern society, it is vital to have the support of active and committed citizens and their organization.” Policy shaping with citizens is “key to the democratic legitimacy of public institution and their work”.
According to him, growing challenges in the EU mean that “dialogue is more important than ever”.
Civil society is a “unique link between citizens and government” and “a major opportunity to represent citizens’ voices and interests in the European debate”, he added.
According to him, “the Commission supports concrete projects in different countries.” For example, the Europe for Citizens programme aims at “improving conditions for civic and democratic participation at the EU level by developing an understanding of policies”, among others approaches. It also aims at funding other projects. Markopouliotis also mentioned the “Success” programme in France, the goal of which is increase awareness of social economy and solidarity.
Through the EU’s work, “citizens are actively developing the European idea”, he said.
He also mentioned the European Citizenship Initiative, which allows citizens to make important requests to the Commission.
“The Commission is committed to working with civil society to address the many challenges”, he concluded.