We help the Western Balkans countries to get closer to the EU
In spite of a different implementation pace, reforms have undoubtedly moved the Western Balkans closer to the EU. The development of the civil society and the expansion of their individual and organizational competences and expert capacities, as well as their role in the sphere of public policy seem to reflect that trend.
Nevertheless, there is still a long stretch of road ahead. Civil society organizations in most of the beneficiary countries, despite being involved in numerous activities, as well as carrying out research and analysis have limited influence over the real problems of society, including (in some cases) a dysfunctional political system. Although the state institutions have explicitly stated their intention to work with civil society organizations, a well-established coordination mechanism is still far off. Strategies that have been developed and even adopted often remain a dead letter.
We support young analysts and academics
A number of issues affect civil society in the beneficiary countries including; limiting structural and contextual political factors; scant promotion of important civic values in society at large; and the limited capacity of the civil society organizations to influence policymaking. Therefore, the chief objective of our long-term work in the Western Balkans is to utilize the Slovak transition experience and to contribute to the capacity building of the expert public and its engagement with the decision makers in the creation of public policy. Through a grant mechanism - the Slovak Balkan Public Policy Fund – we focus on supporting a young generation of researchers, analysts, civil society members, community activists, academics, journalists and engaged individuals.
The grants offered by the fund enable the young civil society members to prepare analytical papers. Grantees also receive training on topics ranging from how to write analytical papers in the style of policy papers and policy briefs prepared by European think-tanks, to how to set up an advocacy campaign, and create public debate around the issues at stake. The main outcome of the supported projects is usually a series of articles and case studies published online, which are in turn distributed to the important stakeholders and discussed in the public expert fora. The policy papers are guided through a consultation with Slovak experts, which constitutes the important element of sharing the Slovak experience of the transition processes and of EU accession with our partners in the Balkans.
In 2013 the Pontis Foundation included another component in its Western Balkans’ Program. The Young Researchers Program offers the possibility of one-month fellowships in Visegrad 4 countries, based on the expertise of participating V4 organizations and the desired research area of the young analysts. The chosen topics reflect both the needs of the target countries as well as Slovak experience with the EU accession and reform processes, fight against corruption, or inclusion of the civil society in policy making.
The overall objective of the Slovak Balkan Public Policy Fund (SBPPF) is to strengthen the capacities of civil society in the Western Balkans and its involvement in public policy and reform processes, through the transfer of Slovak experience.
By awarding small grants we thereby support organizations and individuals and enable them to prepare analytical policy studies. The studies and subsequent policy briefs are used as a tool for advocacy campaigns and for proposing new laws, suggesting legislative change or highlighting problematic issues of the given sector of public policy.
The grant mechanism has proven successful through years of support provided to a young generation of analysts, academic researchers and civil society activists. Since its first phase (the Slovak Serbian EU Enlargement Fund: 2009 – 2011), the SBPPF has supported 34 projects of public policy analysis and recommendations in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia and achieved specific legislative changes for the benefit of the whole society.
In 2014, building upon the experience of the Slovak Balkan Public Policy Fund, we intensified our cooperation with civil society in the North Kosovo municipalities. To promote the involvement of young people in civic life, good governance and public policy creation, the grant mechanism under the SBPPF, supported 6 small-scale projects and awarded a total of €35,000. Given the very complex political and social context of the North Kosovo region, this time the grants focus on supporting civic participation, community activism, development of civil society networks and dialogue with local administration. Those supported include informal and formal groupings, civil society organizations, students and young community activists and they have the opportunity to cooperate with Slovak mentors - as a source of expertise and drawing on Slovak experience in building an active civil society. The transfer of Slovak experience is further enhanced through tailor- made study visits to Slovakia, focusing on innovative approaches to solving community problems.
The program also offers training sessions for the supported activists to introduce them to effective forms of civic participation in matters of public interest and build their capacity to achieve the desired level of change in the community.
The main objectives of the program are the creation of a functioning network between North Kosovo municipalities, state institutions, donors and civil society, and the sensitization of the donor community to specific civil society issues in the North Kosovo context. The individual projects, their results, follow-up and further opportunities will be introduced in the market of NGOs, which is due to take place in late autumn 2015 in Pristina.
The program has been previously supported by SlovakAid and USAID.
The current phase of the SBPPF project – Building capacities of the Civil Society in North Kosovo is being realized in cooperation with our partner organization headquartered in Mitrovica - NGO Aktiv and is supported by SlovakAid.
This 12 month-long project aims at enhancing regional cooperation and integration in the Balkans through the support of young researchers from this region. Programme partners from Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic offer one-month fellowships for selected participants from Macedonia and Kosovo. Fellows are given a chance to get first-hand experience with successful stories of the transformation process and involvement of the civil society in policy making. Young researchers sharing their experience with their colleagues in their home countries will contribute to strengthening cooperation in the region.
Six fellows altogether would be selected, two for each Visegrad participating country, depending on their research topics as defined in the proposals. During the fellowship period additional complementary activities will be carried out, such as meetings between the fellows and the representatives of the relevant department of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and public event in the form of expert breakfast will also take place, bringing together representatives of the civil society, government, academic institutions and media and providing them with the opportunity to share their views on the research topic pursued by fellows. Moreover, the fellows will deliver a series of lectures at the universities in the respective Visegrad countries, delivering a presentation about the issues they are tackling in their home countries. At the end of the fellowships all fellows will produce comparative studies. They will be primarily based on the research they carried out supported by their recipient institutions, and will contain an action plan for the future with measurable indicators. After their return back home, the fellows are expected to hold a public presentation of the achieved results.
This project is running from May 2013 to April 2014 and its realization is possible thanks to financial support provided by the International Visegrad Fund.
The Slovak Balkan Public Policy Fund is focusing on supporting CSOs, think tanks and individual young researchers in the development of concrete policy products which analyze a range of important topics of public interest and strengthening their advocacy capacities and engagement with the public policy actors. In the second term of its operation, the Fund has supported 21 policy papers through a call for proposals. The common denominator of the otherwise diverse themes and one of the main driving forces of the reform agenda in the Western Balkans is the EU approximation process.
21 grantees have prepared quality policy outputs, revolving around two priority themes (i) democracy and the rule of law and (ii) non-majority communities. The policy recommendations have been disseminated through a series of public presentations and advocacy activities which demonstrated tangible results in the field policy interventions.
The Slovak Balkan Public Policy Fund is run by the Pontis Foundation and the Balkan Civil Society Network. The programme is supported by the Slovak Aid, the USAID and the European Commission
European integration has become an essential aspect on countries’ agendas in the Western Balkans. Individual countries are currently at various stages of negotiation with the European Union. Due to significant differences in levels of reform progress, the EU approaches the subject on an individual basis with each country. As a country with a recent memory of transition to democracy and EU integration, Slovakia is committed to sharing its experience in these processes with others. As a non-governmental organisation with an active interest in democracy and development in the Balkans, the Pontis Foundation established the Slovak Balkan Policy Fund in 2012. This built on the initial work of the pilot project, Slovak Serbian EU Enlargement Fund which began in 2009. It aims to contribute to public and expert discussion about countries’ functioning within the EU atmosphere and reflects the need to foster the capacity of civil society to be a natural partner to government in discussing European integration and public awareness of EU membership issues.
The Fund’s working methods include practical transfer of the Slovak experience of EU accession (study trips, mentorships) and most projects combine desk and field research. Grantees receive training in analytical writing and advocacy, as well as regular methodological advice.
Slovak Balkan Policy Fund: Collection of selected policy papers presents a selection of papers written as part of the Fund. They raise important topics about the integration debate and should be of interest to anyone interested in the current situation of the Western Balkans regarding EU accession.
Today Serbia is closer than ever to EU membership. In 2009 the Pontis Foundation established the Slovak-Serbian Enlargement Fund to support young, independent researchers and journalists in their work on topics of the EU agenda in Serbia and their interaction with Slovak counterparts. The involvement of non-state actors in wider discussion about Serbia’s European future is crucial so that citizens of Serbia are aware not just of the advantages, but also the responsibilities connected with EU membership. Slovakia is engaged in sharing its experience of a successful, if initially sluggish, journey to EU membership. The Slovak Serbian EU Enlargement Fund served as a fore-runner to the Slovak Balkan Public Policy Fund, which engaged in similar activities but at a larger scale, covering the Western Balkans.
As well as research and travel grants, the fund offered seminars on public policy, policy paper writing, dissemination, public outreach and communication with stakeholders. Thirteen young Serbian experts, researchers and journalists took part in the project to present findings and examinations of the benefits of EU membership for Serbia. Slovak Serbian EU Enlargement Fund: Collection of Selected Policy Papers presents some of the results from the project. The arguments put forward are still pertinent today and raise important questions for Serbia, Europe, and other countries in transition.