Recent changes in government in several European countries led to a revision of their official aid policies around civil society. This led to an INTRAC review of the new policies in these countries and others, focusing on the implications of the bilateral donors’ approaches to civil society. This review has found that at one level the same positive statements about the nature, role and developmental value of civil society are still being made. At another level, however, there has been a greater emphasis on the frameworks and procedures that structure the relationships between donors, governments and civil society organisations (CSOs). An insistence on the details of funding implementation may lead to unintended negative consequences, such as an erosion of civil society autonomy and a reduction in the diversity of initiatives funded by bilateral donors. Having said this, those donors who focus closely on the roles of civil society in processes of democratisation emphasise the importance of civil society autonomy more than others. But overall there remains a need for bilateral donors to consider more seriously the nature of civil society, and how that may be in tension with the funding frameworks that currently dominate the implementation of policies. This briefing paper starts with an overview of the trends across the papers, then details our review of the official aid policies of Denmark, Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands; and concludes with a more detailed analysis of what implications emerge from the changes in policy.



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