The degree of development of democracy depends on the progress of the ways of consultation of policies with civil society, said the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Interaction with NGOs and Citizens’ Complaints Boyka Marinska at the opening of the round table “Advisory councils – opportunities for change.”
The event took place on May 26th in Sofia and was organized by the Bulgarian School of Politics “Dimitry Panitza” within the project “Models and good practices for legitimate civil representation” financed by the NGO Program under the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism 2009-2014.
“We decided to name today’s discussion ‘Advisory councils – opportunities for change’ for two reasons” – said the Executive Director of the BSoP Irina Alexieva. “The first is that the consultation mechanisms in our country must become more active and effective. The second reason is our conviction that active civil participation in the elaboration of public policies and in the process of decision-making is a real opportunity to change our country for better”.
During the forum were presented the results of two analyzes produced by the team of the BSoP – the existing advisory councils to the executive power in the country and best practices for civil society participation in the decision-making process in 10 European countries. Three models of public consultations, which are based on the experience of Austria, the Netherlands, the UK and Estonia, and can be applied in Bulgaria were discussed – a broad public consultation, advisory board and an online consultation.
The analysis shows that at the end of September last year in Bulgaria there are 62 advisory council to the executive power. In 55% of them there are representatives of civil society organizations. According to in-depth interviews with board members about a third of them actually do not work because they have not had meetings for over a year and 37.5% of the decisions made have not been applied. Among the common problems are lack of transparent selection of representatives of NGOs, lack of publicity, use of the advisory bodies to confirm the legitimacy of already constructed policies. To overcome these problems the team of the BSoP proposes the adoption of common rules for the establishment and operation of advisory councils, clear criteria for selection of representatives of civil society in them, precise and binding deadlines for feedback and maximum transparency during the entire process.
“Public consultations are the basis for finding a compromise, for the opening of new good solutions, for the integration of the whole society in the process of doing politics. This is a way for people to express their views and problems”, said Patrick Trees, Secretary General of the Parliament of the Canton of Bern in Switzerland. He presented practices for public consultations in Germany, France and Switzerland.
The forum was attended by representatives of legislative and executive authorities, NGOs, political and civic leaders, alumni of the School and media. NGO representatives were invited to submit proposals for drafting the amendments to the act, which should regulate public consultations.