Opening address, Erik Frimannslund Brede, Deputy Head of Royal Norwegian Embassy in Croatia
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to this Launching Event of the EEA and Norway Grant NGO Fund, organised in cooperation between the Norwegian Embassy, The National Foundation for Civil Society Development and the Financial Mechanisms Office in Brussels.
Croatia became a member of the EU on 1 July 2013, and though not a member of the EU, Norway pursues an active European policy through the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement and the Schengen cooperation.
Through the European Economic Area Agreement, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are partners in the internal market with the EU member states. The agreement which makes Croatia a part of the European Economic Area (EEC) was signed, and entered in to force on 12 April 2014. This agreement opens up for new opportunities for closer co-operation between Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein and Croatia. One of these opportunities for cooperation is the EEA and Norway Grants.
Ever since the establishment of the Area in 1994, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway have provided funding to reduce social and economic disparities in 16 EU countries in Central and Southern Europe. And let me emphasise, since I represent the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Croatia, that strengthening bilateral relations is also a primary objective of the EEA and Norway Grants.
The NGO fund we are launching in Croatia today is one of many similar NGO Funds financed by the EEA grants in 15 other EU member states.
Through the EEA and Norway Grants, the three donor states, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are now one of the biggest funders of NGOs in Europe.
So why do we put such emphasis on civil society?
Non-governmental organisations play a key role in:
- Mobilising citizens and bringing issues on the public agenda
- Empower people to take part in policy debates
- Tackling key concerns in society, both as advocates/Watch-dogs and as providers of services.
A dynamic civil society is a cornerstone in a healthy and stable democracy.
The NGO programme here in Croatia is a result of a clear commitment by the Government of Croatia and the donor states towards strengthening the critical role of NGOs in contributing to a fairer and just society, particularly against the current social and economic outlook in Europe.
Through the Grants’ unrelenting commitment to encouraging active citizenship and promoting the development of a strong civil society we can help things move. And in some cases, as we know, we can simply contribute to keeping these issues on the agenda with courage and determination.
I am greatly inspired by the variety and creativity that has been generated through the over 1100 projects we are already supporting. Whether it is setting up advocacy campaigns on migrants’ rights, fighting intolerance in sports, coaching minority groups in engaging in local politics, promoting female entrepreneurship or combating hate-driven stereotypes and promoting tolerance and diversity, each effort, large or small contributes to support and promote the values the Grants stand for.
Let me thank the staff at The National Foundation for Civil Society Development for their hard work over the past months in finalising this programme and getting the implementation of the programme on the road. We also welcome the good cooperation with the Financial Mechanisms Office in Brussels, which serves at the Secretariat of the donor countries, and of course the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds, who are responsible for our Grants to Croatia.