Introductory Note to the Workshop WS24 - 中欧社会论坛 - China Europa Forum

Introductory Note to the Workshop WS24

Civil Society Organisations/NGOs (Brussels, 4th and 5th october)

Authors: Coordination SUD (Solidarité - Urgence - Développement)

Date: 2007

A meeting between the actors involved in the action always follows various objectives: to know each other, to exchange views and to build a co-operation. A meeting between European and Chinese NGOs must follow this course, especially because the mutual knowledge that we have on our organizations, our associations, and the legal, political, social or cultural context in which we work is basic and most often largely influenced by a systematic misinformation.

Our newspapers praise the Chinese model’s performances; other rumours reach us and alarm us on the economical, social and environmental consequences of this model. We scarcely know anything about the Chinese realities in which NGOs traditionally act, whether it deals with the features of economic development in the regions around or with the social conditions of exclusion or insertion of marginalized groups, with the respect of the Human Rights, or with the management of the environment and the common heritage.

We hardly know anything about the treatment towards the rural populations, especially towards farmers which constitute the majority of the population. We do not know the kind of relations that exist between the NGOs and the public or political authorities, or the non-governmental space allowed to the NGOs and more broadly to the associative world. Moreover, we do not meet Chinese NGOs working in Asian or African countries, and we do not know if Chinese NGOs are considering the idea of participating in international actions, by local interventions as well as in the framework of international campaigns, interventions on the governments and on international organizations involved in international negotiations.

Can we, during the first step of our meeting, learn more about the realities of Chinese NGOs, their work and the kind of relations they establish with their private and public partners?

For us, an NGO is based on freedom of association, a constitutional right which is a pillar of our conception of democracy. The use of this right is at the discretion of the citizens who have no need for an authorization to create an association. Only the need to make financial transactions or to have a juridical existence requires the creation of a body corporate and to register to a competent public authority.

The official authorities can refuse the creation of the association only if the declared objective is not in accordance with the law (promotion of sectarian or terrorist activities…). This means that in the international solidarity field, the citizens’ initiative and the creation of NGOs are encouraged. Freedom of association, as it has been established in western Europe at the beginning of the XXe century, is the pillar of what we call participatory democracy, which extends representative democracy, and creates a non-governmental space for initiatives within which citizens can team up and take actions.

Can we agree on notions such as “participatory democracy”, “space of nongovernmental initiatives”?

Today, the family of European NGOs is organized at the national and European level. At the national level, the NGOs have created national platforms which enable to pool services, to create resource centre, but also to interact as a body with public and political authorities in order to represent national NGOs movement at an international scale. At the European level, the national platforms and wide NGOs networks have created some confederations, more or less formal, gathering a large part of the European organizations around federative topics such as social issues (Social Platform), environment (Green 10), Human Rights (Human Right and Democracy network), international solidarity (Concord), gender equality (the European Women’s lobby), culture (European Forum for the Arts and Heritage), or health (European Public Health Alliance). Representatives of these wide confederations meet regularly within the Civil Society Contact Group.

We believe important the constitution of a European NGOs movement, which could participate to the European Union’s life and interact with the Commission. This organized movement must also establish partnerships with NGOs coalitions of other regions in the world. These interregional relations are developing; a seminar will take place on the 12th and 13th of September 2007 between Concord and la Mesa de Articulacion, network of national NGOs platforms of Latin American countries.

Do Chinese NGOs believe it possible to get organized at a national level and to exchange with other national platforms?

NGOs are best defined by the struggles they lead against the manifestations of underdevelopment, the ravaging effects of armed conflicts or natural disaster, against Human Rights denial or against an irresponsible management of the environment. NGOs from the “North” act with partners from the “South” by local interventions. They also try to mobilize citizens and public opinions of our countries to convince them that, on the long run, there is no alternative to international solidarity. Finally, European NGOs feed international public debate and interfere in their governments and international organizations involved in the negotiation process where the rules of international games are decided.

Indeed, it would be most irresponsible to fight local issues without trying to step in their international causes. Those various categories of actions are lead in partnership between NGOs and concerned organizations of actors from the “South”. Our seminar can focus on reciprocal knowledge and exchange. Lastly, we could also discuss the conceivable co-operation in case common prospects should appear, whether by exchanging or taking common actions in China, in Europe, countries from the “South”, or at the occasion of international meetings.

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