Civil society

Civil society

Civil society


An empowered civil society is a crucial component of any democratic system and is an asset in itself. It represents and fosters pluralism and can contribute to more effective policies, equitable and sustainable development and inclusive growth. It is an important player in fostering peace and in conflict resolution. By articulating citizens' concerns, civil society organisations (CSOs) are active in the public arena, engaging in initiatives to further participatory democracy and governance.

The EU considers Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to include all non-State, not-for-profit structures, non-partisan and non-violent, through which people organise to pursue shared objectives and ideals, whether political, cultural, social or economic. Operating from the local to the national, regional and international levels, they comprise urban and rural, formal and informal organisations.



The European Commission Communication Increasing the impact of EU Development Policy: an Agenda for Change (COM 2011) 637 provides the policy direction for EU development cooperation by proposing a concentration of development cooperation around two main pillars:

  1. Human rights, democracy and good governance;
  2. Inclusive and sustainable growth for human development.

The Communication calls for strengthened "links with civil society organisations, social partners and local authorities, through regular dialogue and use of best practices", in particular to “support the emergence of a local civil society which can effectively contribute to dialogue with public authorities and to oversee public authorities' work".

Recognising the importance of constructive relations between states and CSOs, the policy orientations propose an enhanced and more strategic EU engagement with CSOs in developing, enlargement and neighbourhood countries, with a particular focus on local civil society organisations.

In its Communication 'The roots of democracy and sustainable development: Europe's engagement with Civil Society in external relations', the European Commission puts forward three priorities for the EU:

  1. Enhance efforts to promote a conducive environment for CSOs in partner countries.
  2. Promote meaningful and structured participation in programming and policy processes to build stronger governance and accountability at all levels.
  3. Increase local CSOs' capacity to perform their roles as independent development actors more effectively.

Under these premises, the EU sets a new approach to support CSOs with regards to the promotion of inclusive and sustainable growth as well as in service delivery.

In order to strengthen CSOs at local level, the Roadmaps for engagement with civil society in partner countries have been created.  These Roadmaps aim to develop a more strategic and structured dialogue with civil society at country level, on the one hand, and with EU Member States on the other to strengthen coherence, homogeneity and impact of EU actions.

The European Commission provides financial support for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working in development.

The EU’s support for CSOs is financed through several instruments which are articulated around development priorities defined for a specific country or region - these form the core of the EU cooperation. These instruments encompass the European Development Fund (in the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries), the Development Cooperation Instrument (in Latin America, Asia and South Africa), the European Neighbourhood & Partnership Instrument (in the neighbouring regions) and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.

Within the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) the thematic programme 'Civil society organisations and local authorities' (CSO-LA) constitutes one of the EU’s main sources of funding for civil society organisations. As it is indicated in the title of the programme, it is open also to the local authorities (LAs).

The “Civil Society Organisations and Local Authorities Programme” (2014-2020) is the successor to the thematic programme “Non State Actors and Local Authorities in Development" (2007-2013).  The legal basis of the new programme is Regulation (EU) No 233/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2014 establishing a financing instrument for development cooperation for the period 2014-2020.


The programming document of the CSO-LA programme is the Thematic Strategy 2014-2020 and Multiannual Indicative Programme (MIP) for the period 2014-2017, adopted on 15.07.2014 (C(2014) 4865 final).


The main objective of the programme is to strengthen civil society organisations and local authorities in EU partner

countries as a precondition for a more equitable, open and democratic society through support to their

own initiatives.

Total budget for the period 2014-2020: 1.9 billion EUR.

Calls for proposals

Grants are awarded based on the outcomes of calls for proposals, a mechanism whereby a selection process is launched to choose projects on a competitive (non-discriminatory) basis. Calls for proposals provide a full description of the topic and detail the relevant eligibility, selection and award criteria. Calls for the CSO-LA programme are based on the Annual Action Programme (hyperlink). Depending on remaining available funds, there can be additional calls for proposals. Most calls are implemented in two stages. In the first phase, concept notes are submitted for evaluation and pre-selection (restricted call for proposals). Full applications are required for projects that go through to the second stage.


Prospective applicants will find information on the procedures in the Practical Guide to Contract Procedures for EU External Actions (PRAG), and in particular its section on grants. They are invited to enter their information into the Potential Applicant Data On-Line Registration (PADOR) database and encouraged to check regularly for Calls for Proposals in their particular areas of interest.


Selected results achieved with EU support through projects and programmes completed between mid-2014 and mid-2015

The CSO-LA programme entails three axis:

  1. support to civil society organisations (CSOs),
  2. support local authorities (LAs), and
  3. support to development education and awareness raising (DEAR) actions in the EU.

With more than 700 new operations a year and an ongoing portfolio of 1 700 ongoing operations supporting civil society in all continents, the EU is the first world donor to local CSOs in developing countries (72% of world ODA to developing country based CSOs).

On local authorities, over the period June 2014-June 2015, 72 projects successfully ended for a total amount of € 20 323 723 million. Out of this global support, 75% went to support LAs at the national level, 15% were dedicated to supporting LAs at the regional and global levels, and the final 10% were dedicated to DEAR activities conducted by LAs

Civil Society

The European Commission established 23 Framework Partnership Agreements (FPAs) with major networks of civil society: NGOs, private sector organisations, trade unions, farmers' organisations, cooperatives, community or faith based organisations. These FPAs create long term common strategic objectives supporting CSOs not only as providers of aid but also as pivotal actors of governance for the successful implementation of the SDG. They cover a wide-array of fields of intervention: anti-corruption, gender, accountability, human rights, political and social inclusion, economic empowerment, in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and Europe

  • 4 800 journalism/media students in the EU (3 400 female and 1 400 male) in the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Belgium, Bulgaria, and Portugal trained on mainstreaming development awareness, reached through workshops and events and student performance reports, to enable students to cover development issues for European audiences.
  • 69% of adolescents aged 14-19 years from Avila/Spain, Nova Gorica/Slovenia, Teramo/Italy, Strovolos/Cyprus are aware of environmental threats (up from 9% in 2011) by introducing relevant information in the school curricula.
  • About 1.5 million people have been reached by the public events on the "Right for Food" in Italy, Czech Republic, France, Germany and Ireland.
  • 4 400 young activists have engaged in the awareness activities about the "Right for Food".

Local authorities (national/regional levels)

  • 24 national and international associations which represent more than 600 local authorities (i.e. network coordinators) have been reached out to in order to increase their influential capacity. Associations and local authorities were from Côte d'Ivoire, DRC, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo, Zimbabwe, Chad, Mozambique, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Israel, Lebanon, Moldova, Armenia, Ukraine, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras.
  • 3 active alliances of national platforms with political actors aiming at empowering civil society and local authorities have been established in Brazil, Chile and Guatemala.
  • In 78 non-EU countries, the 2013 EC communication “Empowering Local Authorities in partner countries for enhanced governance and more effective development outcomes" was explained to representatives of Local Authorities.

News & Events