Striving to thrive in turbulent times. Assessing the sustainability of CSOs and the growing impact of external threats

Period: March 2023 – June 2023

CSOs importance for the defending and strengthening European democracy

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are a key pillar in defending and strengthening European democracy, but find themselves working in an increasingly hostile environment. Political pressure, smear campaigns and excessive bureaucratization are affecting CSOs’ capacity to accomplish their objectives and counter malign influences. More and more central governments are trying, directly or through proxies, to hamper CSOs’ activities, control their funding and are even targeting the wider civil society with manipulative and false accusations.

We attempt to identify CSOs’ key needs and challenges in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the brutal war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and, as we see with increasingly regularity in the last few years, attempts by national governments, in both EU and non-EU countries, to control CSOs and limit their independence. CSOs have been a target for years, but what we see nowadays in Azerbaijan or Georgia, in Hungary, or even the attempts of some Romanian political leaders, suggests (more) difficult times ahead. There is an unprecedented need to support CSOs and strengthen their capacity to survive these difficult times, but also to empower them to influence the public agenda and counter what we perceive as Russian-oriented public policies against the sector.

About the project. Assessing CSOs’ needs in the greater Black Sea region

The Romanian Center for European Policies has been conducting a comprehensive and independent assessment of CSOs’ needs, with a focus on the ones operating in the greater Black Sea region, but also including CSOs from other EU member states. This assessment has been requested by the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, a key donor in the region that has been working since 2007 to strengthen regional cooperation, civil society, and democratic foundations.


In order to undergo a capacity assessment exercise and obtain a comprehensive understanding of CSOs needs, our research design combined both quantitative and qualitative methods. Integrating both methodologies allowed us to get a better grasp of the topic, bridging the gap between numbers and anecdotal evidence. Our target group consisted of Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation grantees, part of one of their funding areas.  This sample cannot represent the entire CSO sector, but it does provide common stress points across the group, which may be relevant for a larger number of organizations. These findings are substantiated by both quantitative and qualitative data, using online surveys, in-depth interviews and focus groups as research tools.

The report on CSOs sustainability and the growing impact on external threats is available here.

This project is part of the Situation Room 2.0: Providing support in assessing the capacity of BST grantees to aid and expand their work at the national and regional level, implemented by the Romanian Center for European Policies ( with the support of the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation. Views and opinions expressed are, however, those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the donors. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

Cover picture. Little girl on her father’s shoulders protesting against the proposed “Russian Law” in Georgia.