Research into this domain shows how legislation and institutional environment support and facilitate citizen participation. It includes two indicators – the legislation which regulates the different levels of citizen participation (information, consultations and dialogue) on one hand and on the other – the existence of institutions, networks and media that create participation prerequisites.
The legislative framework for the 2016-2017 period has been further strengthened and developed regarding access to information and the conduct of public consultations in the process of drafting. Important amendments have been initiated in the Non-for-Profit Legal Entities Act, Statutory Instruments Act, Regional Development Act, and Access to Public Information Act. The legislation, however, still remains mainly on paper and the amendments are still not routine practices.
Furthermore, volunteering (one of the preferred tools of citizen participation) remains an area that has not been regulated yet regardless of a couple of legislative projects. State aid regime also remains among the unresolved issues the CSOs face under different funding instruments.
The worsening of the media environment has a strong impact on the civil society sector. On one hand, it consolidates CSOs in advocacy coalitions; on the other, it undermines public trust in the CSOs.
The civil society sector is heterogeneous: this is a positive development regarding building capacity and expertise in various public areas. However, a negative trend is at hand displaying weaknesses in organisational capacity, access to financial and human resources and sustainability.
A significant part of the legislative amendments has been initiated by the CSOs themselves. Coalescing CSOs efforts on joint positions to exercise civic pressure is slowly transforming into a sustainable practice in this period. This is also a positive development in the visibility of the CSOs and the effect of its activities.
This index domain aims to explore the level of citizen participation practices and how active citizens themselves are.
The CSOs and informal citizen groups employ all forms of citizen participation on local, regional and national level, albeit with varied frequency. Only 5% of the civil society sector respondents haven’t taken part in any activity in the last two years.
According to the national omnibus survey from 2017, there is an increase of 5% in the participation trend among citizens. 53% (compared to 48% in the previous study) declare that they have taken part in various citizen initiatives, which could be assessed as a moderately positive development. Meanwhile, the omnibus survey records significant structural shifts in the support for different initiatives. The main focus in the last two years has been on charity campaigns, followed by local initiatives.
The aggregation of studies presents a certain paradox related to the CSOs public image and their success in incentivising people to take part in their activities. The CSOs become more professional and focus on advocacy initiatives in policy making whereas citizens do not recognise these as close to their interests. Informal citizen activism, sporadic and spontaneous reactions are more visible and manage to achieve short-term gains. Often, however, such changes are limited, lacking depth and commitment in the long run.
Within this domain, we explored the result of initiatives taken and whether this led to a change in the environment (legal, social, and institutional).
The CSOs respondents in 2016-2017 survey demonstrate a relatively high satisfaction with the outcomes of their activities. Only 5% of them claim that some initiatives have not been conducive to any positive outcome. 56% evaluate that the desired outcome has been partially or completely achieved, whereas ⅓ describe the outcomes as insignificant.
More of the CSOs define the public forums and discussions as most efficient. These are followed by the advocacy campaigns and addressing the media. The assessment is similar when talking about protest, social media groups and sending letters and petitions. Referenda are considered with much lower capacity to initiate change. The situation surrounding the 2016 national referendum certainly influences the overall assessment of this direct democracy instrument - only 13% of the CSOs claim that referenda achieve tangible results. Meanwhile, however, local referenda campaigns in the last year have been positive examples for mobilising support among local communities.
Citizens’ initiatives and CSOs activities do leave an imprint in society. Albeit insufficient for long term and sustainable change, citizen participation does urge institutions to change and does mobilise support among different social groups which shows healthy developments in civil society.
The actions of CSOs and informal citizen groups are visible in achieving change in the legislative framework and in policy making. Albeit partial, the changes instilled in public policies and decision-making mark a positive trend in civil society development in Bulgaria. The desire for change, however, still requires a lot of efforts, in civic education, values, safeguarding the main principles of democracy and rule of law.