With the integration into the EU, development cooperation, including civil society participation, became obligatory in the post-socialist countries which have undergone radical changes of their societies. The political change implied an abrupt end of the former politically motivated internationalism. Yet, for many years the old concept was not replaced by an alternative one, as the transformation process absorbed capacities and the countries themselves became aid recipients and were considered competitors to developing countries. The situation started to change only by the end of the 1990ties.
The quantity and quality of government activities are so far not very impressing. The efforts of civil society actors leave much to be desired too. There is not only insufficient funding and a lack of experience but also underlying conceptual problems regarding development cooperation. By the governments “development” is predominantly perceived as assistance to poor countries to catch up with “modern” industrialised nations and it is combined with advantages for the domestic industries which means a mixing up of development assistance and export promotion.
Public opinion is mainly driven by a mentality of compassion. People are prepared to donate for concrete projects in favor of clearly defined victims of calamities. In this light, civil society initiatives in the field of disaster relief and development aid were started. This happened even before the new political development programmes came into being, which were mainly initiated due to outside pressure. Development education activities evolved only slowly. The awareness is increasing and undoubtedly there are good intentions and genuine efforts made but up to now the accent is more on “development aid” than on “development cooperation”.
There is another tendency to export the relatively fresh transformation experience to countries with different cultural settings and different socio-economic problems. The role of political vehicles some NGOs have adopted in this context appears to be rather doubtful. On the other hand many organizations do miracles with a minimum of financial means. Lacking means are often compensated by lots of commitment and creativity. There are well conceived and well functioning projects building on the participation of Southern partner organizations and surely their number will increase. The problem of lacking financial capacities might be reduced over time given the access to EU funding – though this holds true for bigger NGOs primarily. For all organisations the integration in national NGDO platforms and through them in the European umbrella organisation CONCORD constitutes a positive and important learning process.
Still insufficient is the awareness that global problems call for global solutions and above all structural changes in rich countries. Even within civil society the structural causes of poverty such as indebtedness, unfair trade relations, militarism and other means to defend the present hegemony are rarely made subject of development education or political action. This points to ideological reservations which trace back both to the experience with the authoritarian regimes before 1989 and to the neoliberal ideological fog afterwards. NGOs in the old EU member states much more address structural issues. This difference in perception often complicates the communication and cooperation between “East” and “West” which are – on top – aggravated by a general insecurity about the effectiveness of development cooperation shared on both sides.
TRIALOG has contributed a lot to enhance the NGO capacities in the new EU member states and has facilitated and strengthened contacts between new and old member states. Following a recommendation from the project evaluation, TRIALOG will now - in cooperation with CONCORD and the Ecumenical Academy in Prague – create space for a Europe-wide debate on sustainable, effective development concepts and the role of civil society actors in their implementation. Two conferences will be organized in Prague, the first to take place on 14-16 May 2008, the second a year after. The fist conference will invite NGO representatives from developing countries to describe their situation, expectations and dreams. This will be the basis for a debate in which NGOs from Europe and the European neighborhood will critically assess and discuss their own and their governments’ policies. The second conference will present the outcome in terms of emerging new ways, approaches and instruments to development.