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Director General of Democracy (DGII), Snezana Samardzić-Marković, opened the plenary session of the Conference of INGOs, highlighting the need for civil society’s voice in Europe today

Strasbourg 6 February 2017
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Director General of Democracy (DGII), Snezana Samardzić-Marković, opened the plenary session of the Conference of INGOs, highlighting the need for civil society’s voice in Europe today

Speaking notes of Snezana Samardzić-Marković, Director General of Democracy for the plenary session of the Conference of INGOs on 27 January 2017:

  • 40 years ago, in 1977, the Liaison Committee of INGOs became the Plenary Conference of INGOs and began to sit regularly as a new, standing structure in the CoE (1977);
  • During these 40 years, the Conference has evolved in both its internal structures and in its relations with the other organs of the CoE – I would particularly like to acknowledge the initiative of the Conference, under the leadership of President Anna Rurka, to improve both the quantity and the quality of exchanges and co-operation with the other CoE institutions, especially the Committee of Ministers;
  • Originally meant to ensure the diversity of citizens’ voices within our Organisation, the Conference now has the opportunity, capacity and vocation to also be an advocate for increased civil participation, strengthened protection of the freedoms of association, assembly and expression and for robust European defense of civic and social activism and of activists;
  • Today there are very great challenges facing civil society in Europe.Populist or authoritarian regimes do not like criticism and there is, sadly, a growing trend in some parts of Europe to stigmatize, demonize and even criminalize the kind of work that NGOs have always done on behalf of society by, for example, promoting accountable governance, documenting abuses of power or violations of rights, assisting and advocating for the most vulnerable and proposing new policies or alternate solutions to society’s problems;
  • Even in more friendly environments, civil society and NGOs have been finding their access to funds, to public media, to public authorities or to public space limited by bureaucratic inefficiency, increased competition for slashed budgets, restrictive or cumbersome legislation, ineffective use of technology and other barriers to full participation;
  • The Directorate General which I lead is taking a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional approach to these challenges – from supporting inclusion and respect for the most vulnerable or underrepresented groups in society – Persons with disabilities, LGBT, children and youth, Roma or and national minorities to promoting healthy democratic institutions through good governance at local level, elections, Intercultural cities as well as environmental, educational and cultural policies – And from monitoring the implementation of Member States obligations under Conventions to hosting broad, open discussions on a global scale with the World Forum for Democracy.
  • Civil Society and NGOs are a vital factor in all of this work.
  • In this challenging time, I see several important challenges for the Conference of INGOs as an institution, in order to further strengthen its profile and its relevance. We need, in particular, to:
    • Continue to enhance the quality, quantity and representativeness of the Conference’s contribution to the work of the CoE with the CM, PACE, Congress, HR Commissioner and the Secretariat;
    • Expand the Conference’s co-operation in all CoE’s areas of action, and particularly with those under my Directorate General, thereby helping to strengthen citizens’ participation in the democratic process and in the political, social and economic governance of our societies;
    • Consolidate the links between the Conference and organised civil society in the Member States, and thereby the Conference’s role and image as a voice for civil society in Europe.
  • I look forward to hearing your opinion on these and other challenges and to working with you to meet them.