Foundation for Local Government Reform
EEA Fund boosts civil society in Bulgaria
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More than 200 representatives of Bulgarian and Norwegian NGOs attended the official launch of the NGO Fund under the EEA in Bulgaria, 1 July 2008, Sofia. To coordinate the Fund on competitive basis were chosen FLGR – Foundation for Local Government Reform in partnership with BEPF – Bulgarian Environmental Partnership Foundation. 

H.E. Tove Skarstein, Norwegian Ambassador to Bulgaria, Ms. Heidi Sorensen, State Secretary, Ministry of the Environment and International Development of the Kingdom of Norway, and Mr. Sturla J. Stalsett, Secretary General, Church City Mission Oslo and Deputy Minister of Finance Mr. Lyubomir Datzov addressed the participants.

Romania and Bulgaria are set to become the tenth and eleventh country to launch funds for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with support from their European Economic Area (EEA) partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The NGO funds are eagerly anticipated by civil society organisations in these countries, arriving at a time when other donors are pulling out and shifting focus to non-EU members. 

The NGO funds under the EEA and Norway Grants make available funding to civil society organisations within areas such as the environment, human rights and democracy, social services. The overarching aim of the EEA and Norway Grants is reduction of social and economic disparities in the enlarged EU and European Economic Area (EEA) after 2004, and the strengthening and development of the civil sector is seen as a pivotal part of this. 
“This support to NGOs is extremely valuable, timely and noble in a crucial moment, when for many years donors are in the process of withdrawing, the EU funding system is still unstructured and not functioning, and the support of the Bulgarian government limited” , stated Mr. Zdravko Sechkov, Acting Director of the Foundation for Local Government Reform.
Several major international donors have gradually pulled out as countries became members of the EU. Ten new countries joined the EU in 2004, and Romania and Bulgaria became members in 2007. Donors such as USAID, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and Open Society Institute are now looking further east, towards countries who have not yet joined the European Union.
So far, the EEA-EFTA states have approved 18 NGO funds totalling more than €83 million in assistance from the EEA and Norway Grants. An NGO fund is also in the pipeline in Cyprus. Largest of the NGO funds, the €41.5 million Polish fund is expected to support more than 1000 projects that will involve several thousand people through the activities that these grants will generate.
“The NGO funds have sparked strong interest across Europe. It has been the ambition of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway from the very start that the EEA and Norway Grants should contribute to strengthening civil society in the new member states”, Stine Andresen said, Director of the Financial Mechanism Office, which administers the EEA and Norway Grants.
Lubomira Kolcheva, Director of the Bulgarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, said the NGO fund’s accessibility for smaller organisations would be of major importance. “The EEA Grants will make a difference through its flexibility to respond to real needs and to enable not only big organisations, but also small ones to have access to funding. I expect that the EEA Grants will have significant impact on the improvement of the environmental conditions in the country,” she said.
More about the Bulgarian NGO fund:
  • Funded 100% under the EEA Grants
  • €2.06 million 
Focus areas:
  1. Protection of the environment and promotion of sustainable development;
  2. Provision and development of social services, such as health and childcare;
  3. Development of civil society and protection of human rights.
The EEA Grants and the Norway Grants represent the contribution of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway towards European cohesion efforts. Over a five-year period until April 2009, the three EEA EFTA countries are making available €1.307 billion to reduce economic and social disparities in the enlarged EEA.
The EEA Grants and the Norway Grants were established in connection with the enlargement of the European Union in 2004. Ten new member states joined not only the EU, but also the European Economic Area (EEA), which brings together the EU and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in the Internal Market. The accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union led to an additional enlargement of the EEA and of the EEA Grants in 2007.
Over a five-year period until April 2009, the three EEA EFTA countries are making available €1.307 billion to reduce economic and social disparities in the enlarged EEA. The Norway Grants are solely targeted at the new EU member states since 2004, while the EEA Grants also include the EU member states Portugal, Greece and Spain. Norway contributes with around 97 % of the funding.
A wide range of public authorities and institutions, organisations and businesses across Central and Southern Europe can apply for grants to realise projects in the public benefit. Organisations from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway can participate as project partners.
More than €1billion has been made available to applicants in the 15 beneficiary states. Of this amount, over €150 million have been channelled into a plurality of funds that have been established to connect with groups such as non-governmental organisations and students. With more than €80 million earmarked for NGOs through specific funds, Norway - as the largest donor – is turning into one of the primary supporters of civil society in Central Europe.
By 26 June 2008, the EEA EFTA states have approved 580 projects, programmes and funds amounting to close to €680 million in grants. Grants are available for projects within the priority sectors for protection of the environment, sustainable development, conservation of cultural heritage, health and childcare, Schengen and the judiciary, cross border activities and regional development, and academic research.
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