This domain examines to what extent regulations and the institutional setting support and facilitate citizen participation.
In the period under review, no legislative changes related to citizens’ participation in the law-making process were adopted. Amendments to the rules on the organisation and operation of the National Assembly have restricted the ability of citizens to monitor the Parliament’s affairs. The requirement to record the outcome of votes in meetings by parliamentary group has been removed, and there is no obligation to keep verbatim reports and audio-visual records of each committee meeting. Political and party campaigning to curb citizens’ rights has been increasing. A Bill on the Registration of Foreign Agents was tabled, which is yet another example of the anti-democratic drift and contradicts the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, the European Convention on Human Rights, and EU law.
At the same time, the 4th National Plan on the Open Government Partnership initiative was adopted, which included measures to establish an Open Government Conceptual Framework, propose amendments to the Act on Direct Citizen Participation in Central and Local Government, improve volunteering arrangements, etc., and the Civil Society Development Council was recognised also by the European Commission as good practice.
It should be noted that trust in almost all major government and non-government institutions has eroded in 2023, and is critically low for some of them.
This domain of the Index aims to explore the extent of existing citizen participation practices and how active citizens are.
Overall civic activism over the past year amounts to approximately 50%, confirming the trend observed in the past 5 or 6 years. Despite the wide range of participation forms applied in the past two years, a decline is visible in the current assessment. According to civil society organisations (CSOs), the most common forms include forums and discussions, advocacy campaigns and submission of opinions to institutions, while the latter state that citizens most often submit requests to access public information and are active in social media groups.
A major observation that stands out is the sporadic mobilization for citizen participation based on specific events and actions. Consolidated, sustained and systematic civic activism is still missing in a number of areas related to both interacting with and controlling institutions and political actors.
The differentiation between smaller groups of a higher socioeconomic and educational background, which are more inclined to civic activism, and lower-status groups, which continue to shun civic participation, is a persisting trend.
This domain explores the outcome of initiatives undertaken and whether this has resulted in a change in the legal, social and institutional environment.
Only 11% of civil society representatives report that they have fully accomplished the objectives of their initiatives, while 53.33% indicate that the objectives have been achieved to a large extent. The instruments considered to be most effective include advocacy campaigns (51%) and public discussions/consultations (49%). Institutions, for their part, rate public consultations as the most effective tool (over 70%). The forms of direct democracy, such as general assemblies of the population and referenda, are ranked lowest by both groups, and that is the only point on which they concur.
55% of respondents state that citizen participation is most effective at the local level. The arguments in support of this are that the closer institutions are to citizens, the better they can see their problems.
A key disincentive for CSOs to participate more actively in citizens’ activities and initiatives, as identified by more than 70% of them, is the shortage of human resources due to the scarcity of sources of funding.
The largest shift observed by civil society organisations is towards gaining experience (53.33%) and an increased level of commitment (51.11%). More than half of the representatives of institutions agree that citizen participation has changed the political, economic and social context in Bulgaria. This is a more than double increase as compared to the previous study.