Ekonomický časopis, 65, 2017, č. 8, s. 715 – 736 715
Non-governmental Organizations as Partners:
Obstacles in the EU Cohesion Policy?
– Martin ŠPAČEK
– Jiří REMR
The EU Cohesion Policy requires the interaction of the public, private and
non-profit sectors in policy making. The Czech Republic presents an ideal case
study for identifying the major obstacles to the successful implementation of this
approach since Czech citizens evaluate Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
in their country as having less capacity to influence policies at the lowest level
than NGOs in any other EU member state. The goal of the study is to identify
and explain the determinants of success and failure regarding NGOs’ participa-
tion in designing public programmes. The methodology includes a combination
of in-depth interviews with NGO representatives and public servants, a review of
official documents, a focus group, and a stakeholders’ review of the study’s con-
clusions. The main obstacles to the implementation of the partnership principle
are the following: NGOs’ insufficient capacities and responsibilities; fluctua-
tions in the participation of public servants and NGO representatives; depend-
ence of partnership on personal contacts; NGOs’ late entry and the non-
consultative, informative character of the partnership.
: Cohesion Policy, non-governmental organisations, participation,
partnership principle, The Czech Republic
: H11, L31, D73
Oto POTLUKA, University of Basel, CEPS, Steinengraben 22, 4051 Basel, Switzerland;
Martin ŠPAČEK, SPECTRA Centre of Excellence EU, Slovak University of Technology
in Bratislava, Vazovova 5, 812 43 Bratislava 1, Slovak Republic; Comenius University in Brati-
slava, Faculty of Management, Odbojárov 10, 820 05 Bratislava 25, Slovak Republic; e-mail:
Jiří REMR, Institute for Evaluations and Social Analyses, Heřmanova 1169/22, 170 00
Praha 7, Czech Republic; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The research leading to these results was conducted in the frame of the project Socio-Eco-
nomic and Political Responses to Regional Polarisation in Central and Eastern Europe (RegPol2),
coordinated by the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography, Leipzig/Germany. The project re-
ceived funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union Seventh
Framework Programme FP7/2007 – 2013/under REA grant agreement No. 607022.
The EU commands enormous financial resources in the amount of 453.2 bn
EUR within the EU Cohesion Policy (EC, 2015) and there is a will to support
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from this source (EC, 2014). Imple-
mentation of the EU Cohesion Policy does not only bring NGOs financial
sources, but also a possibility to participate in the process of its own design, im-
plementation, monitoring and evaluation.
The EU Cohesion Policy is implemented through multilevel governance
which demands the interaction and cooperation of stakeholders from different
governmental levels (Marks, 1993; Bache and Flinders, 2004; Hooghe and Marks,
2003). Competences are not only delegated vertically form the European Commis-
sion (EC) towards member states and regional and local administrative levels,
but also horizontally towards NGOs by the partnership principle (Rhodes, 1996;
Kluvánková-Oravská et al., 2009). The aim is to improve the relevance of the
policy and to reach a long-term consensus in policies (OECD, 2001). While the
role of sub-national (local and regional) government actors as partners in EU
policy development is widely accepted, the involvement of non-governmental
organizations, businesses and other socio-economic partners still has significant
limits (Fritsch et al., 2015).
The implementation of the partnership principle was enhanced by the imple-
mentation of the EU Cohesion Policy in Central European countries after their
accession to the EU in May 2004 (Dąbrowski, 2008; Pálné Kovács, 2009). The
EU member states are legally obliged to implement the partnership principle,
whilst the EU provides a framework for its implementation (EC, 2013b). The
variety of partners also includes, among all levels of public administration, the
business sector and civil society. Such arrangement opens opportunities for NGOs
to participate in designing and implementing cohesion policy programmes in the
fields of their primary interest.
In the European context, the EU Cohesion Policy, by involving relevant part-
ners, responds to the public’s perceived needs (OECD, 2001). The Barca Report
(Barca, 2009) supports this fact by pointing out that all EU citizens should have
access to the benefits from the EU Cohesion Policy. It is therefore crucial that
local actors and especially NGOs participate in these cohesion policy pro-
grammes, as their participation not only helps to implement them successfully,
but also enhances the relationship between European citizens and the EU (Lane,
Nevertheless, there is still a lack of evidence about the practical implementa-
tion of the partnership in particular member states within their specific institu-
From this perspective, the paper focuses on experience with attaining the
partnership principle during the implementation of the EU Cohesion Policy in
the Czech Republic. We set the following research questions: a) what are the key
obstacles to the successful implementation of the partnership principle in the
Czech Republic? b) Is the experience with the partnership principle in the EU
Cohesion Policy transferable to other policies?
The main contribution that this study makes to the body of research on the
partnership principle is that, compared to the other member states of the EU,
NGOs in the Czech Republic receive little public-sector support when trying to
influence public policies. Our study is of high relevance for other countries as
well, especially those with a similar history and those with problematic NGO
participation in policy-making (see for example Baun and Marek, 2008; Nałęcz,
Leś and Pieliński, 2015).
The Czech Republic provides a unique opportunity to study the main causes
obstructing NGOs’ attempts to influence particular policies. Although the Czechs
perceive NGOs as a necessary component of society (EC, 2013a), they still have
the least confidence among all other EU member states in NGOs’ capacity to
influence political decision-making (EC, 2012).
The article is structured in the five following sections: after the introduction,
Section 1 outlines the historical development of the partnership principle and its
implementation in the Czech Republic. Section 2 describes the methods used
(especially in data collection and processing procedures). Section 3 presents the
results and discusses recent experience in applying the partnership principle. The
final section concludes with findings concerning the determinants and managerial
consequences explaining the success and failure of NGOs’ participation in de-
signing the EU Cohesion Policy programmes.
1. Background of the Study
1.1. Importance of the Partnership Principle for Cohesion Policy
The importance of the partnership principle is stressed by its long-term pres-
ence in the European legal framework. Partnership has been part of the Cohesion
Policy since the 1994 – 1999 programming period when it began to be used
more extensively within the EU (Piattoni, 2009).
The most recent development not only confirms this approach, but also intro-
duces a new tool for partnership – the European Code of Conduct on Partnership
(EC, 2014) that provides partners with more elaborate information on the part-
nership principle’s implementation.
Opinions about the partnership principle between the public sector and NGOs
differ among scholars. Many see the benefits of the partnership in better targeted
policies, acquiring new knowledge, learning among involved actors, the increased
transparency of decision-making, the potential for increased innovation and
a more efficient use of public resources (Lowndes and Skelcher, 1998; Leonardi,
2006; Bache, 2010). Recently, Chang et al. (2015) point out that policymakers
should consider the different strategic cooperative characteristics of NGOs and
attain an effective management of the partnership. Others see the risks of these
partnerships in terms of influence from strong interest groups, a lack of citizens’
skills, conflicting situations, a destabilization of existing systems, obstructions
or questionable accountability (Peters and Pierre, 2004; Scharpf, 2007; Geissel,
2009). These studies mainly focus on multi-level governance or partnership in
general and the partnership of the public sector and NGOs as a research topic has
The primary motivation of NGOs for being involved is not to influence the
policy, but as a perceived opportunity to facilitate organizational maintenance
(Ljubownikow and Crotty, 2016). Nevertheless, the more public services NGOs
provide, the higher the need to involve them as partners in designing policies.
Moreover, the European Commission, as the main administrative body respon-
sible for EU policies, is providing long-term support for the partnership within
the implementation of the EU Cohesion Policy.
The implementation of the partnership principle differs according to the so-
cial origins of civil society and the current situation of a particular country.
Salamon and Anheier (1998) see the differences in civil societies of distinct
countries based on the scale of the welfare state and the size of the non-profit
sector. Thus, countries with a corporatist culture implement partnership much
easier than those with statist culture, as in the example of Central and Eastern
European countries (CEEC) (Demidov, 2017; Slavíková et al., 2017; Fritsch et al.,
2015). Moreover, the partnership practice changes according to the societal needs
(see the case of the UK in Bowden and Liddle, 2017).
Though there is support, some problematic issues in the partnership imple-
mentation appear. Initial permission to implement the partnership principle in
accordance with national rules and practices has led countries with low participa-
tive cultures and centralized public administration to opt out of initiating a con-
sultative process of participation. This situation is also confirmed by Kendall and
Anheier (1999), who identified the low level of involvement of NGOs in design-
ing and implementing the EU Cohesion Policy. Fritsch et al. (2015) highlight
insufficient instructions or guidelines provided by the European Commission (EC)
as a limit for the wider implementation of the partnership principle. Dąbrowski,
Bachtler and Bafoil (2014) bring the evidence of different outcomes of the part-
nership principle implemented within EU multilevel governance due to different
political cultures, decision making styles and institutional setting in particular
EU member states. Rinaldi (2016) shows that institutional actors’ responses to
the introduced partnership principle by the EU Cohesion Policy differ signifi-
cantly not only across EU countries, but also according to regional and local
institutional arrangements. Based on the analysis of Sicilian local partnerships, he
emphasizes that the development of partnerships is determined by political culture
and social capital rather than by regional administrative capacities and governmen-
tal stability very often mentioned as the main preconditions (see e.g. (Dąbrowski,
2014) for the evidence from Central European countries).
The limitations posed by a centralised approach lacking the knowledge of
local needs is one of the important concerns (EC, 2004; Kelleher, Batterbury and
Stern, 1999). On the contrary, this issue has been evaded owing to anxiety about
rent-seeking behaviour (Milio, 2014) and a democratic deficit as un-elected rep-
resentatives influence policies (Perron, 2014).
Nevertheless, the promotion of civil society and the empowerment of NGOs
as civil society’s agents became an EU policy objective (EC, 2014b). Citizens’
participation can help to redress perceived democratic deficits of EU institutions
(Lane, 2010). However, such support is imposed through a top-down method of
implementation instead of a bottom-up approach which is more sustainable in
the long term. In a similar vein, Lane (2010) emphasizes the role of an economy
in providing a necessary foundation to support long-term democratic develop-
ment in Western European countries, which was missing in the CEEC. On the
other hand, the size and the role of civil society vary also among Western Euro-
pean societies (Sissenich, 2010; Salamon and Anheier, 1998).
Partnership, however, has also been identified as a prerequisite for improved
effectiveness of EU Cohesion Policy (Mairate, 2006). In this context, Dąbrowski
(2014) refers to the political importance of promoting that EU Funds are proper-
1.2. Czech Non-Governmental Organizations as Partners
The Czech legislation is using the narrow definition of NGOs in the form of
an explicit list of legal forms covered by the term. According to the current legis-
lation, legal forms of NGOs are societies (former civic associations) (82,597
registered units + 24,739 branches of societies), public benefit corporations
(2,710), institutes (established for the public benefit purpose; 142 units), founda-
tions (490), endowment funds (1,331) and registered legal entities (established
by religion organizations; 4,117 units) (Czech Statistical Office, 2017). Such
a definition is also authoritative for public administration in relation to the non-
-profit sector. In the same vein, the term NGO is used in the following text.
We do not include political parties, public schools and universities, trade unions,
and professional organizations among them.
The Development of Civil Society in the Post-socialist Period as a Partner for
the Public Sector
Path dependency is obvious when implementation of the partnership principle
is still developing. In the first half of the 1990s, NGOs blossomed in the Czech
Republic. The growth of a number of newly established NGOs was rapid
(Mansfeldová et al., 2004). According to the social origins theory of civil society
(Salamon and Anheier, 1998; Anheier, 2014), the Czech Republic has a statist
non-profit sector model with less importance attributed to civic engagement, low
level of volunteer input and a smaller civil society labour force. Such a situation
was also caused by the EC when new member states had no option to negotiate
the scope of implemented policies before their accession (Grosse, 2010; Kutter
and Trappmann, 2010).
The accession of the Czech Republic to the EU in 2004 offered Czech NGOs
an opportunity to deploy their political resources under the implementation of
the partnership principle. Expectations were mainly linked to the EU Cohesion
Policy (Sudbery, 2010; Demidov, 2015). However, such expectations were fol-
lowed by disappointment (Harvey, 2004) when insufficient means together with
the inability of NGOs’ to shape priorities according to the new programmes
hampered the adoption and implementation of the partnership principle. After
the accession in 2004, the capacities of NGOs were oriented towards projects
whose objectives were determined by the EU and ministries responsible for par-
ticular operational programmes (OP). Thus, NGOs became providers of parts of
public-policy programmes rather than pursuing their own objectives.
Empirical surveys provide evidence that Czech NGOs are aware of the main
requirements for successful participation in the political decision-making process
(Černá and Marek, 2003). However, they do not have sufficient economic and
socio-political capacity to improve their position (Rose-Ackerman, 2007; Frič,
2004; Polverari and Michie, 2009). Thus, path dependency is present in the im-
plementation of the partnership principle throughout the two periods 2007 – 2013
and 2014 – 2020 within all stakeholder groups.
Barriers to the Partnership Principle in the Czech Republic
In the Czech Republic, one of the most important barriers to the partnership
principle is the NGOs’ lack of sufficient funding. This is reflected in the NGOs’
poor strategic planning (USAID, 2006) and has led NGOs to focus on achieving
short-term operational goals. According to Novotný and Lukeš (2008), less than
ten percent of Czech NGOs formulate written strategies that extend beyond three
years. The importance of sufficient resources and its impact on partnership effec-
tiveness is demonstrated by Klüver (2012) who points out that subjects that are
well-equipped with resources have a higher chance of influencing the content of
Another barrier to effectively implement the partnership principle is the low
level of long-term employment within NGOs. In 1995, this was 1.7% of the
Czech labour force (Mansfeldová et al., 2004). It increased to 2.04% in 2012
(Czech Statistical Office, 2015), but it is still three times lower than that in
Western European countries. NGOs do not have the capacity to change political
issues in a political arena or to frame policies (Sudbery, 2010).
A specific barrier is a fragmentation of the Czech NGOs, their high level of
heterogeneity and a lack of support from umbrella associations. As a result of
such a fragmentation, public administration had to face the heterogeneous groups
of NGOs (Černá and Marek, 2003). Moreover, managing authorities often did
not know who is representing the Czech NGOs. Thus, the selection process used
to determine which NGO representatives would enter into partnerships was ex-
posed to criticism from both the NGOs and the public administration and it was
perceived as being insufficiently transparent. However, such lack of trust is not
only a concern of NGOs because the managing authorities might also perform
better in setting the framework for partnership involvement. Markovic (2017)
shows how important it is to combine the formalization and trust governing the
interaction in public networks.
2. Data and Methodology
The current research is based on a mixed methodology combining secondary
analysis of already available data (derived from official documents) and primary
research based on in-depth interviews and focus groups. Moreover, representa-
tives of both sectors provided two rounds of peer reviews (October and Novem-
ber 2014). This research design allows information to be collected from both the
public administration and the NGOs involved in the partnership for the pro-
gramming periods 2007 – 2013 and 2014 – 2020. It also enabled matching
the information from interviews with data from the official documents such as
monitoring committees (MCs) minutes, and different types of programming
documents. These documents have been used to check the activity of particular
members representing NGOs, and the environment in which they negotiated the
implementation of the particular OPs.
The in-depth interviews were conducted with two groups of participants who
represent the major stakeholders. The first group consisted of representatives and
managers from NGOs who were members of MCs in the programming period
2007 – 2013 or who are members of working groups for the programming period
2014 – 2020. The second group is composed of civil servants. Such an approach
enables obtaining a comprehensive picture of partnership implementation from
the perspective of both NGOs and the public sector.
The set of questions was prepared according to the form of the partnership
implementation approach defined by recent studies. These principles frame our
analysis as all of them help to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the
partnership. It concerns transparency, clarity of goals and sharing values in
a partnership which leads to shared added value (Potluka and Liddle, 2014;
Gazley, 2010; Demidov, 2015). Also, a requirement of a long-term status of
a cooperation to increase its effectiveness (Milio, 2014; Gazley, 2010) and the
equality of partners in policy-making and political decision-making are important
issues (Adshead, 2013; Demidov, 2015). From this perspective, the process,
communication among partners, variability of opinions, and timing of a partner-
ship are important factors influencing the outputs of partnerships which need to
The interviews consisted of 46 questions in three blocks: (1) general ques-
tions related to the partnership principle; (2) questions concerning previous ex-
perience with the partnership principle; and (3) recent participation in the EU
Cohesion Policy programming period 2014 – 2020. Specific questions focused
on the application of the partnership principle and on opportunities to suggest
ideas and voice opinions during the preparation, implementation, monitoring and
evaluation of operational programmes. Further questions investigated expecta-
tions of participants and the extent to which these expectations had been ful-
filled. The interviews were led face-to-face, by telephone, or by Skype. The length
usually varied from 50 – 70 minutes.
Interviews with Representatives of NGOs
All NGOs that participated in the partnership principle of the EU Cohesion
Policy in the programming periods 2007 – 2013 and 2014 – 2020 were contact-
ed. The contacts to these 94 NGOs have been compiled in cooperation with the
Committee for EU of the Government Council for Non-Governmental Non-Profit
Organisations (CEU GCNGO), an advisory body of the Czech government in the
field of NGOs. In July, August, and September 2014, we performed 48 inter-
views among the 94 NGOs. A response rate exceeding 50% is extraordinary for
this type of research and the collected data provided adequate coverage of the
relevant NGOs. Usually, representatives of small NGOs refused to take part in
the interviews as they had been busy with their own activities.
Among the whole population of NGOs in the Czech Republic (around
115,000), a majority of NGOs are inactive, and only a minority applied for EU
funding. For example, only 16% of public benefit corporations have got some
amount of EU funding since 2006 (Potluka, Spacek and von Schnurbein, 2017).
Only those 94 NGOs actively participating in implementation of EU pro-
grammes since 2007 had been invited to the interviews.
To follow the categorisation introduced by Li and Zhang (2017), NGOs’ par-
ticipation within the partnership principle represent a formal participation which
can be characterised by a moderate degree of institutionalization, mixed between
individualised and group-based acting, a difficulty to act and medium political
influence. Thus, the sample is structured as follows: 15 interviews were conduct-
ed with representatives of national umbrella associations (representing approxi-
mately 1,489 NGOs); another 10 interviews were conducted with representatives
of regional associations (representing approximately 609 NGOs). Then, six in-
terviews with managers of large NGOs (acting nationwide) and 17 participants
from smaller NGOs were performed. These smaller NGOs represent a group of
NGOs with influential experts. Altogether these interviewees represent around
2,188 Czech NGOs which is sufficient for the representativeness of the sample.
Interviews with Civil Servants
The second group of participants consisted of civil servants from eight man-
aging authorities which are responsible for the main OPs. The sample was drawn
from the list of eight thematic and nine regional OPs in the programming period
2007 – 2013 and nine thematic OPs and one integrated regional OP in the pro-
gramming period 2014 – 2020 (i.e. 27 subjects; however, some managing autho-
rities overlap between the programming periods). Five participants represent
thematic programmes and another three participants represent regional OPs
(South-East; North-West and South-West). Moreover, we also interviewed two
members of the Committee for the EU of the GCNGO.
In total, 10 in-depth interviews with representatives of the Czech public au-
thorities were performed. Those interviews were conducted in September and
The focus group was used to triangulate the results from the interviews. Three
attendees from the public sector and nine from the civil society sector took part
in a focus group in October 2014. The public sector, were represented by the
National Coordination Unit which is responsible for the overall management of
EU funding. Moreover, two representatives from the CEU GCNGO were pre-
sent. Nine NGOs’ representatives had been invited according to their experience
and knowledge of the EU Cohesion Policy. These attendees were selected from
the list of 94 NGOs participating in the partnership principle of the EU Cohesion
Policy since 2007. We have sorted them according to their knowledge of the EU
funding and invited the most skilled experts to the nine places in the focus group
available for the NGOs’ experts.
3. Results and Discussion
An unprecedented number of NGOs engaged in the partnership process in the
programming period 2014 – 2020 in the Czech Republic. This initiative involves
people who have previous experience with the partnership principle and know-
ledge about the EU Cohesion Policy as well as those who do not.
The investigation identifies the main barriers to the partnership principle, but
also shows that the capacities to cooperate are developing in both the civil and
the public sectors.
Transparency of the Selection Process
The NGOs’ representatives were selected differently in the programming
period 2014 – 2020 than in the previous periods. During this period, they were
selected via the NGO Working Group called the Partnership Platform 2014+.
This group was mostly composed of representatives from regional and sectorial
associations as well as major NGOs. This platform took the initiative to conduct
the nomination process as it had the capacity to organize this within a few weeks
in late 2012 and early 2013. The Association of NGOs in the Czech Republic
(ANNO) led the process. NGOs managed to organize the nomination process
within the non-profit sector as a basis for selecting suitable NGO representatives
to particular OPs. From NGOs, 120 representatives were nominated for the OPs
and working groups. Of the total number selected, 54 nominees actually partici-
pated in the partnership.
The vast majority of interviewees considered this system of selecting repre-
sentatives to the programming structures to be sufficiently transparent. Thus,
these selection results were considered more legitimate than those of previous
programming periods. The stakeholders also emphasized the bottom-up principle
as the candidates were nominated and selected by NGOs. Likewise, this method
of selection covered all OPs. Similar development has also been seen in other
CEEC countries (Demidov, 2017).
The Added Value for Partners
The majority of the implemented partnerships are still rather formal. This
applies in particular to MCs that have very formal processes. This is not only the
case in the Czech Republic (for Slovakia and Hungary, see Cartwright and
Batory, 2012; and for Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary, see Demidov,
2015). The NGOs’ representatives perceive the added value of partnership as
being low, although improvements in public-sector openness are revising atti-
tudes in the programming period 2014 – 2020. Almost two thirds (61.5%) of the
interviewed NGO representatives who held opinions on the issue reported that
the Czech public administration implemented the partnership principle in con-
formity with the requirements of the EC. The interviewees indicated that success
in implementing a partnership depends on the personal approach adopted by the
managing authorities’ personnel and the NGOs’ representatives. It confirms ex-
perience from other countries (Nałęcz, Leś and Pieliński, 2015) and importance
of social capital for successful implementation of partnership (Jordana, Mota and
Table 1 provides opinions of the NGOs’ representatives regarding the appli-
cation of the main principles of the partnership principle. The interviewees re-
sponded, ‘no decision’ when they were unable to decide on the issue or did not
have a strong opinion on it.
T a b l e 1
Implementation of Partnership Principles
Is the following statement valid according to your
(N) Interviewees with
an opinion (%)
No Yes Undecided No Yes
Partners cooperate over the long term 18 18 12 50.0 50.0
Partnership is beneficial for all partners 12 24 12 33.3 66.7
The goals are clear and are shared by all of them 21 11 16 65.6 34.4
There is acceptance of a form of cooperation by all
The added value of each partner is clear 16 17 15 48.5 51.5
The sum of effects is higher in partnership than
Consensus decisions are made by all partners 29 8 11 78.4 21.6
Source: In-depth interviews with NGOs’ representatives, N = 48.
The answers indicate that the main problems associated with implementing
the partnership principles relate to differentials in the added values of the stake-
holders, in the effects of partnership, and in decision-making within the partner-
ship. A detailed inspection of the responses shows that NGO representatives
initially expected to obtain an opportunity to influence the objectives of the newly
formed OPs, but that they were unable to do so as their role in the process was
limited to commenting on the documents.
Politics vs. Policy
The NGOs’ representatives expected the process to be highly open. In total,
50% of the interviewed NGO representatives considered that public servants had
no motivation for implementing the partnership. Moreover, 60.4% of all inter-
viewed NGO representatives did not witness another NGO participation in deci-
sion-making. These results point out a locked situation in the decision-making
process as the politicians and governmental/administrative authorities are
the dominant decision-makers. Furthermore, 47.9% of all interviewed NGOs
observe the Czech public administration’s resistance to involving other partners
Politics prevails over policy in the implementation of the working groups’
outputs. The outputs of the working groups are problem-oriented. Thus, it is
possible to find a solution to a particular problem and programme orientation.
However, the transition of the working groups’ output into the political decision
process reveals that there are no or very few incentives for implementing the
results of working groups in real policies. It confirms that the NGO’s role should
be that of agenda setting and not of political decision-making (Kohler-Koch,
2009). Moreover, it underlines the importance of a relationship between poli-
ticians and NGOs (Fyall and McGuire, 2015) which was omitted by NGOs in
The Partnership Process
The interviewees stated that the partnership process is impersonal. A number
of issues may be discussed and explained, but this requires time and intense dis-
cussion. Moreover, many NGO representatives receive no information about
how their comments are being dealt with.
The interviewees reported that less important comments were usually accepted.
Some working groups succeeded in persuading managing authorities to extend
the pool of potential beneficiaries to include NGOs (INT 1, 10, 40 and 42 and
the managing authorities’ representatives). On the other hand, pleas to reallocate
funding according to the priorities of the NGOs’ objectives were rejected by the
The fact that NGOs entered the partnership process after the programming
documents had already been created was identified as another hindrance to NGO
participation in the partnership process. Thus, when new NGO representatives
entered the process, they did not have sufficient time to gain an in-depth under-
standing of the upcoming programmes and influence them.
These impediments to NGO participation are partially the result of the frag-
mentation of the civil society sector. Representatives of the Czech National Co-
ordination Body contacted bona fide representatives of ANNO which was
thought to be the representative of the non-profit sector.
However, the information that ANNO provided was not shared with other
NGOs. This omission caused delays in the partnership process lasting several
The fragmentation of the civil society sector is evident in the NGO represent-
atives’ perception of openness and communication within the public sector.
Some of the interviewees assessed the public sector’s approach favourably (INT
15, 17, 19, 27, 28 and 41), while others criticized the form and content of the
communication (INT 25, 26, 32 and 40).
These problems obstructed long-term planning and also prevented NGOs
from organizing their participation. As a result, many of the new NGO repre-
sentatives who participate in working groups have no idea how their contribution
Fragmented NGOs in the Czech Republic
The fact that NGOs’ interests are fragmented is reflected in their inability to
form a consensus. The Czech Republic’s public administrations as well as the
population are not informed about NGOs’ issues. NGOs are able to reach con-
sensus within their fields of specialization, but not as a sector. We can identify
a variety of objectives as there are four main groups of employers among NGOs
(see Table 2) active in recreation and culture, education, social protection, and
other services. Thus, their political objectives and needs relating to the EU fund-
ing also differ.
T a b l e 2
Number of Employees of NGOs by Purpose in the Czech Republic for the Year
Purpose of NGOs Employment
Housing 356 0.6
Health 4,346 7.8
Recreation and culture 13,452 24.1
Education 8,996 16.1
Social protection 9,696 17.3
Religion 4,768 8.5
Political parties, labour and professional organizations 4,043 7.2
Environmental protection 463 0.8
Services not elsewhere classified 9,800 17.5
Total 55,920 100.0
Source: Czech Statistical Office (2017), Employment in nonfinancial and financial institutions and non-profit
institutions serving households (S.11 + S.12 + S.15) according to classification CZ-COPNI.
A lack of mutual communication and common interest awareness within the
civil society are among the main issues (INT 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 20, 26, 36, 39
and 41). Other interviewees (INT 1, 2, 14, 20 and 25) stated that communication
amongst NGOs operated well. On the other hand, since the NGO representatives
did not share the workloads among themselves, they were overwhelmed by the
amount of information that they received from the managing authorities. This situ-
ation occurred in both surveyed programming periods (Polverari and Michie, 2009).
Both the public administration and the NGOs interviewees considered that
fragmentation among NGOs is an important barrier to implementing the partner-
ship principle. Specific competing interests within the civil society sector pose
a problem according to three quarters of the interviewees. In this respect, the
Czech situation is very similar to that of Hungary, Poland and Romania; here,
Börzel and Buzogány (2010) identify instability in the relations among stake-
holders as being responsible for the non-alignment of interests.
We have identified four interest groups among the NGOs in an EU Cohesion
Policy partnership. These groups are usually gathered around strong NGOs or
official platforms: NGOs around ANNO (representing around 1.487 NGOs),
CEU GCNGO (being supported by a group of approximately 230 NGOs), Nation-
al Network of Local Action Groups (representing 179 Local Action Groups), and
other strong NGOs. Strong NGOs are usually working nationwide with dozens
of local branches and organisational units, but having different interests. We
have identified networks within the latter group of around 412 NGOs.
In order to achieve their goals, all the groups create coalitions. They rarely
collaborate to create a unified national coalition. This is a situation similar to
Spain as competition between NGOs over control and other interests appears
(Jordana, Mota and Noferini, 2012). If the NGOs unify, then it is usually only
for a short-term period as it happened during the preparations for the program-
ming period 2014 – 2020 in the Partnership Platform 2014+. Thus, the situation
is closer to creation of short-term political coalitions than to long-term networks
(Fyall and McGuire, 2015).
The Role of Communication among NGOs
The fragmentation of the civil society sector is partly the result of inadequate
communication among NGOs. A communication system was created for NGOs
within the Partnership Platform 2014+ (INT 2 and 25). The main purpose of this
system was to facilitate the transfer of information concerning the preparation
process for the operational programmes as well as updated documentation to
NGOs. There were coordinators in each group who were responsible for the
transmission of all documents to the platform’s secretary who would then for-
ward the information to other interested NGOs.
This system was only operative at the beginning of the partnership implemen-
tation in 2013. According to 58.3% of the NGOs managers interviewed, negotia-
tions concerning the priorities in the EU Cohesion Policy were often badly coor-
dinated, and NGOs in particular promoted their own interests without attempting
to reach a consensus with other NGOs. The greatest problem that NGOs encoun-
tered was the insufficient exchange of information concerning recent develop-
ments across the thematic areas, as well as a lack of coordination within the non-
-profit sector. Moreover, sometimes even representatives of NGOs within the
same working group did not communicate with each other at all (INT 41).
In other instances, the NGO representatives attempted to establish and ma-
nage their own websites so that they could share information and documents
internally as well as with other NGOs.
Disillusionment and Fluctuation
NGOs stated that their primary interest was to participate in creating new
priorities. At this stage of the programme development process, they have opti-
mal access to information about the operational programmes’ focus and can pre-
pare proposals for new development projects. Their interest in the participation
was shown to gradually decline the longer they were involved in contributing to
the working groups and MCs as volunteers. The fact that the work-related costs
of NGOs’ representatives have to be carried either by the NGOs or by the repre-
sentatives themselves is not sustainable in the long term. This funding disparity
between NGOs and public servants was mentioned by fifteen of the interviewees
(INT 2, 4, 7, 10, 13, 20, 21, 24, 26, 27, 29, 34, 39, 40 and 44).
These problems gradually obliterate the initial enthusiasm that exists. More
than a quarter (26.7%) of the NGOs’ representatives felt that that they had lost
their initial drive. As a result, there is strong fluctuation in participation rates
among NGO representatives. Moreover, the formal application of the partnership
principle by public officials led to an exodus of NGO representatives, similar to
other CEECs (Demidov, 2015). Experience-related disinterest is also reflected in
the finding that only 5 of the 32 members of the MCs in the period 2007 – 2013
decided to participate in the Platform 2014+ and that only 2 of them stood for
a seat as a MC in the programming period 2014 – 2020.
Timing of the Partnership Principle Implementation
The NGOs had no opportunity to intervene in the preparation of the pro-
gramming documents, but only had a chance to voice their opinions once the
first drafts of the operational programmes had already been prepared. In addition
to this, only about one half of the NGOs’ representatives were aware of how
time-consuming it would be to find consensus among partners since they had
only joined the partnership structures in the most recent programming period.
The interview responses also showed that, apart from insufficient information
about the actual needs of target groups, the delayed timing of the intervention
obstructed the preparation of the programming documents in the partnership.
Due to delays, there was insufficient time to comment on the documents. This
could have been solved either by engaging more personnel, or by lowering the
quality of the output of the partnership process. In response to these alternative
propositions, 75.0% of all responding NGO representatives considered that the
only option was to reduce the quality of the partnership process. In total, 58.3%
of the interviewees attributed this problem to the insufficient time capacities of
NGOs, and 12 of them specifically identified the time that is necessary to read
and comment on documents as being the main problem.
The NGOs’ low level of expertise in partnership participation was identified
as a general problem (Kohler-Koch, 2009), but the perception of Czech NGOs’
lack of capacity is striking.
To sum up, Table 3 displays the successes and failures of Czech NGOs in
implementing the partnership process and Figure 1 shows the causal chains of
the main problems of partnership between NGOs and the public sector in the
implementation of the EU Cohesion Policy.
T a b l e 3
Summary of Successes and Failures of NGOs in Partnership Process
• Great effort of NGOs
• Transparent process for selecting NGOs’
• Partnership process is more open than before
• Low persuasive capacity of NGOs
• Fluctuation and loss of skilled people in NGOs
• Fragmented civil society sector
• Low coordination and communication among
• Low NGO capacities (personnel, financial, time)
Source: Own elaboration.
Our analysis confirms the acquiring knowledge of NGOs and the increasing
transparency of decision-making in accordance with Lowndes and Skelcher
(1998), Leonardi (2006), Bache (2010). On the other hand, though there are all
the problems with partnership implementation mentioned above, we have not
proved the effects of NGOs as strong interest groups and thus the risks of rent-
-seeking (Milio, 2014) and a destabilization of existing systems, contrary to
several studies on partnership (Peters and Pierre, 2004; Scharpf, 2007; Geissel,
2009). Still, the partnership principle implementation is not in its optimal form
(Gazley, 2010; Potluka and Liddle, 2014; Milio, 2014; Adshead, 2013), but it is
moving towards it. The main issues, causes and effects are visualised in the
problem tree which is presented in Figure 1.
F i g u r e 1
Causes and Effects of Problems in Partnerships under the EU Cohesion Policy in the Czech Republic
Source: In-depth interviews, own elaboration.
Low knowledge of ESIF
Partnership is not the standard
approach used by public
Weak communication system among NGOs
Fluctuation in NGO
Low activity of NGOs
Lack of time
Fragmentation of the civil
society sector Partnership is only
used for comments,
not for creating
Low capacities of NGOs
(Financial, professional profile)
Civil society sector sets no
Formal shape of a partnership without functional background
Late start of the
Lower quality or no inputs
Civil society sector exhibits
Our study provides an analysis of the opinions of NGO managers with regard
to the implementation and development of partnership principle within the
Czech Republic during the EU Cohesion Policy periods 2007 – 2013 and 2014 –
2020. We provide reliable data based on in-depth interviews with 48 leaders
of the relevant NGOs in the Czech Republic, with eight managers of the EU
programmes, and with two representatives of the Governmental Committee
for NGOs. Moreover, we analysed the official documents of the particular MCs
and working groups. The findings of this research can be applied to improving
the implementation of the programmes’ specific policies on both NGO and the
The implementation of the partnership principle is, in the long-run, a positive
trend and is evaluated as satisfactory by both managing authorities and NGOs.
However, there are still major barriers causing the suboptimal interactions be-
tween NGOs and the public sector. The main obstacles to a successful imple-
mentation of the partnership principle in the Czech Republic are the four follow-
The first and the most crucial problem is the widespread fragmentation of
the civil society sector in the Czech Republic. This dysfunctionality impedes
the need to collaboratively determine the priorities and joint actions of the sec-
tor. Thus, many partners are unable to profit from the added value that ought to
be gained from efficient cooperation. If the NGOs were able to introduce
a means of coordination (i.e., if they developed communication systems or in-
stated effective leaders), they would achieve better results in the policy negotia-
The second important issue concerns the low level of competence that NGO
representatives receive in the partnership process; i.e., they work at their own
expense, they work in their free time. Thus, if their efforts are not fruitful, they
simply leave the partnership or stop being active. In turn, the partnership stag-
nates. NGOs should therefore draw on the funding support that is offered by the
Cohesion Policy (EC, 2014), as this would help them to extend their personnel
and time capacities and finance full-time experts.
The third issue is the fluctuation in representatives from the NGOs which
prevents the establishment of a functional partnership. Although rotation in
policy making is a principle of democracy, this can nevertheless have a disrup-
tive effect on the decision-making process when members of an administrative
staff change too often. Fluctuations result in a loss of previously established
personal contacts and the partnership not only becomes unsustainable, but may
also need to be rebuilt. This problem deprives the working groups’ long-term
memory and means that partners have to share information. The situation does
not meet the requirement of a long-term relationship. Efforts aimed at building
the capacities of NGO representatives in MCs and working groups would de-
crease such fluctuations and consequently increase the NGOs’ ability to partici-
The fourth and the final issue is the timing of the partnership. NGO repre-
sentatives which join the partnership at a late stage in programming have insuffi-
cient time to consult priorities, which leads to low-quality outputs. A timely im-
plementation of the partnership principle is necessary to satisfy the triple con-
straints of the programme’s project management: costs, time and quality. It is
simply not possible to achieve a high standard of quality in the partnership if
NGOs lack time and financial resources. From this perspective, it is up to the
managing authorities to initiate proceedings by holding discussions about the
forthcoming policies with reliable partners three years prior to submitting the
programme proposal to the EC. Furthermore, it is crucially important to improve
cooperation among NGOs and strengthen their motivation. Our study found that
the creation of a working group for NGOs to deal with issues of the EU Cohe-
sion Policy resulted in their increased activity and interest.
This paper found that enabling NGOs to achieve their specific goals was
a key contributing factor in promoting greater involvement of NGO repre-
sentatives in the preparation of programmes in the current programming period
2014 – 2020.
Great effort and involvement of high numbers of NGO representatives, together
with transparent processes for selecting NGO representatives are the current
successes of the partnership principle implementation in the Czech Republic. It
caused that partnership process to be more open than in the past.
As for the involvement of NGOs in the preparation of other policies than the
EU Cohesion Policy, it is still not common in the Czech Republic hence the im-
portance of a top-down imposition of requirement for the implementation of the
partnership principle by the EC is seen as crucial.
Our study has shown that the intensity and quality of future partnerships
within the EU Cohesion Policy in countries with statist society will depend on
the degree of support that the European Commission and managing authorities
can offer to NGOs to participate. The experience gained with the implementation
of the partnership principle within the EU Cohesion Policy is transferable only if
the partnership principle is an official requirement. Otherwise, there would be
strong resistance among politicians (although less among civil servants) to adopt
the partnership principle in policies in the Czech Republic. Thus, the possible
transfer of experience, knowledge, and skills is limited to other policies.
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