Civil Society in Action – Promoting Sub-Regional Cooperation Between CSOS as a Way Forward?


Eastern Mediterranean states are facing numerous domestic challenges to their democratic institutions. The region is highly heterogeneous in terms of these challenges. But there are also common ones, including empowering civil society organisations (CSOs), legitimising the work of human rights organisations, combating radicalism, ensuring freedom of expression, enhancing tolerance and equality, and strengthening the foundations of democracy. Developments in the Eastern Mediterranean are of critical concern to the European Union (EU) as they have a direct impact on European stability: starting with the Greek government debt crisis in 2007-2008, and more recently with the unfolding of the Syrian refugee crisis since 2011, this sub-region has gradually increased its weight in European domestic politics. Political, security and economic developments in the region have had an impact on the elections in EU member states and contributed to the rise of populist political parties in the European political landscape. There is therefore a huge pressure on the EU to tackle problems emanating from the sub-region. The EU has already established CSOs in the region as partners in addressing these issues: in 2016, the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy recognised the partnership between the EU and CSOs as a key principle. Moreover, Civil Society Forum Neighbourhood South was launched in 2013, and its format has improved to give a more managerial role to CSOs through the inclusion of the South advisory group of Southern CSOs and a team of civil society experts in the organisation of this forum. Against this background, this policy brief has a two-fold objective: first, to study the common challenges to pro-democracy CSOs in the Eastern Mediterranean; and, second, within the context of these challenges, to assess EU support for pro-democracy CSOs within its Euro-Mediterranean institutional and policy agenda. The article’s main conclusion is that EU support to build a sub-regional network of pro-democracy CSOs can help reopen the shrinking space for civil society in the Eastern Mediterranean and enhance democracy.

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