Environment and Climate Forum is incorporated into ECRAN as a part of the horizontal component. Access to environmental information, public participation, and access to justice are key elements in the approximation process. Civil society is a key player. Initiatives from inside civil society in the region for strengthened democratic practices have emerged over the past 15 years. The role and work of NGOs is gradually accepted (often due to legal obligations) but there are many discrepancies in this process and NGOs proposals and inputs are often only formally recognized, without being seriously taken into account. In order to further develop democratic principles and practices in the Western Balkans, the ECRAN will through its EF component support capacity development of the NGO sector and their active involvement in the approximation process.

The ECF builds on a very active role of the selected NGOs in the approximation process, promotion of transparency and collaborative environment among the European Commission, NGOs, governments and other stakeholders. The ECF is not an “exclusive” club of selected NGOs, but rather network of organizations leading the public debate at the national level and working as coordinators and information hub, actively involving other NGOs and stakeholders in the approximation process.

The NGOs involved in the ECF have the opportunity to discuss the enlargement process directly with the European Commission, are actively involved into sharing best practice and raise concerns about potential problems. They possess access to planned ECRAN activities related to the EU – West Balkan countries and Turkey. In addition, the participants benefit from the tailor made capacity building activities to be developed and implemented with, and for the NGOs in the region.

The ECF NGOs have to show the capacity to act as “hubs” for information sharing at the national level. They actively promote public debate on the EU policies and accession process, consult and coordinate agenda with other NGOs and actively involve into the process other stakeholders.

The NGOs working at the ECF are not be considered representative of the civil society de facto simply because they have been selected. Selected environmental NGOs earn this role through proven record of activities and declared leadership role in their countries. In this sense, membership in the ECF should not develop brand new agenda for the selected NGOs, but rather enable selected NGOs to qualitatively enhance their work, reach stronger impacts and provide them with new tools and opportunities for work.