By Natalia Yerashevich, Director of the Steering Committee of the EaP Civil Society Forum
The fourth assembly of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum was held in Stockholm, Sweden on 29-30 November 2012. The event gathered over 200 civil society activists from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine as well as representatives of EU-based NGOs active in the region. The Forum opened with an address by European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle, followed by a discussion with the audience.
|Commissioner Füle addressing the 4th Annual Assembly of the EaP Civil Society Forum, author: EaP Civil Society Forum, source: Facebook|
In his opening remarks at the Forum, Commissioner Füle outlined the political agenda of the Eastern Partnership until the next Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013: “If the reform process is accelerated and we maintain the current pace of negotiations of Association Agreements, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia, then the prospects of finalising these negotiations by the time of the Vilnius Summit in November 2013 are good. I also believe that the Vilnius Summit could see the signature of Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, with Ukraine. But to make it happen, the European Union’s firm commitment to pursue political association and economic integration with Ukraine needs to be mirrored by determined actions of the Ukrainian government and the new Parliament to address well know and oft repeated concerns.“ He added that the process of political association and economic integration of partner countries with the EU requires strong involvement and support from civil society. Therefore, the EU has encouraged partner countries' governments to establish a regular structured dialogue with representatives of civil society.
At the same time he informed the Forum of the smooth implementation of the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility which offers increased financial opportunities for CSOs and the establishment of the European Endowment for Democracy which will also provide additional support for those who fight for democratic causes in neighbouring countries.
Demonstrating the European Commission´s support to the civil society of the region, Commissioner Füle has led the signing of an agreement in the amount of almost EUR 1 million to strengthen capacities of Forum’s national platforms, which have been established in all six partner countries, and announced the decision to financially support the newly established permanent secretariat which will support the work of the Forum.
Speaking of the EU support available for the civil society, Commissioner Füle reiterated that
|Signing of the agreement to strengthen national platforms, author: EaP Civil Society Forum, source: Facebook|
Forum must become more sustainable. Aside from using the support that the EU has offered it, Commissioner Füle recommended that the Forum seek support of other donors to fund “concrete actions on the ground which would contribute to the implementation of Eastern Partnership's goals, step up people's support for necessary reforms and help your governments to design and put them into place.”
The Co-Chairs of the outgoing Steering Committee, Jeff Lovitt and Ihor Kogut, shared with the participants the results of the Forum’s work in the previous year, the major of which were: the permanent participant status of the Forum in thematic platform meetings (right of attendance and participation for the whole of the intergovernmental meetings); registration of the Secretariat; successful fund-raising efforts of the Steering Committee; establishment of a fifth Working Group on social dialogue, and commitments made in preparation for the next Forum.
For the first time in its history, the next Civil Society Forum will be organised in one of the partner countries – the Republic of Moldova. When addressing the Forum, Natalia Gherman, Moldova’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, shared the achievements of Moldova in the European integration process and said that her Government would be honoured to host the next assembly of the Forum.
During the Forum, the participants were also addressed by such honorary speakers as Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, Under Secretary of State, Poland; Birgitta Ohlsson, Minister for EU Affairs, Sweden; Stefan Eriksson, Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden; Christian Strohal, Vice Chair UN Council on Human Rights; Lennart Nordfors, Chairman of the board of the Swedish International Liberal Center (SILC); Lise Bergh, Secretary General, Amnesty International, Sweden; Richard Tibbels, European External Action Service; and Philip Mikos, the European Commission.
After lunch, Forum’s participants were offered to join one of the three parallel thematic panel sessions. The panel Choosing the Leaders, Elections in the EaP Countries had the largest number of participants indicating a big interest of the Forum’s participants to this topic. The other two panels were dedicated to the topics Media in a Free and Democratic Society and Combating Corruption reflecting two other priority areas of the work of the Forum. A number of civil society development workshops were also offered to the participants for the participation.
The essential component of the Forum, the election of six Country Facilitators, ten Working Groups’ Coordinators, and three EU Coordinators, who will act as members of the Steering Committee of the Forum for a year, was carried out in a transparent manner. The new Committee will lead the Forum in the year to come and will work to achieve the goals identified at the Forum, one of the most important of which is stepping up the civil society engagement in the practical implementation of the Eastern Partnership.