Civil society, advocacy and participation in policy-making: a case study of child-welfare NGOs in Bulgaria and Serbia
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 02:39 authored by Denitsa Filipova
The democratic transitions in Central Eastern European countries in the early 1990s revitalized scholarly interest in civil society and in the role of its organizations in the democratization process. Twenty-five years on, however, the ability of such organizations to perform one of their main functions, namely, to act as transmission belts between state and society, creating additional channels for interest articulation, remains largely under-examined. This thesis explores the participation of child-welfare non-governmental organizations in the policy-making process in Bulgaria and Serbia. It analyzes the role of these NGOs in the policy process, focusing on the mechanisms for interaction between the state and such civil society organizations, the channels for their inclusion in policy deliberations, and their actual involvement in consultations on draft legislation and policies. The thesis begins by examining the legal and institutional frameworks regulating the activities and policy involvement of NGOs in Bulgaria and Serbia. It discusses the relevance of European Union requirements and recommendations for the development of consultation practices in these two new democracies, and analyzes existing legislation regarding public participation in policy processes and the strategies being used to make it more open and inclusive. The main forums for consultation with child-welfare NGOs in policy-making in Bulgaria and Serbia are found to be the working groups convened by different institutions as part of the legislative process. The second part of the dissertation analyzes the role of the NGOs and the interaction between them and their governments in these working groups, based on interviews with NGO representatives and state officials. This analysis indicates that consultation processes in both countries are controlled by government and that existing legislation and practices provide child-welfare NGOs with a restricted role in decision-making. Further research is suggested to establish whether these restrictions exist in other sectors and other CEE countries, but if they do, the implications are that understandings of working groups as a form of high level participation need to change.