Issue 71

Declaration of the Civil Society Participants of the Eastern Partnership Conference “Towards a European Community of Democracy, Prosperity and a Stronger Civil Society“
Warsaw, 29th September 2011 

  1. The civil society participants of the Eastern Partnership Conference express their continuing concern about the ongoing human rights violations and the existence of political prisoners in some of the EaP countries. Of main concern are the recent arrest of the Belarusian human rights defender Ales Bialiacki and the danger of live and health of other political prisoners in Belarus.
  2. The participants of the Conference call for more consistency of the EU policy towards the political developments in all countries of the Eastern Partnership. We call for unanimous condemnation of any restrictions of basic civil rights as the right for free elections, the right to assembly and the freedom of expression in all six countries of the Eastern partnership through EU institutions.
  3. The participants of the Conference call for an increased assistance for the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum – including the installation of a permanent secretariat – and for the Civil Society Forum representatives to participate and comment on the relevant platforms of the Eastern Partnership including the summit meetings. We call for better opportunities to execute independent monitoring of the function of the EaP flagship projects and other intergovernmental initiatives of the EaP.

POSITION PAPER OF THE CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM

TO THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP SUMMIT

(Prepared by the Steering Committee)
Warsaw, September 29, 2011

Perspectives and Recommendations

1. Strengthen democratic societies

1.1. The EaP Civil Society Forum encourages the European Commission and the governments of the partner countries to accelerate the dialogue, cooperation and integration processes within the EaP following the principles and models proposed by the Copenhagen Criteria. The Civil Society Forum confirms its role and capacity in strengthening and enhancing the monitoring of the commitments undertaken by the partner country governments.

1.2 In order to substantially improve participatory and effective decision-making, Civil Society expertise must be taken into consideration at any time in the future steps of the EaP.

1.3. The Civil Society Forum supports the launch of the Civil Society Facility, which will allow CSOs to play a more active and efficient role in the EaP. The Forum confirms the need to engage the National Platforms in each EaP country in planning the priorities of this instrument and how it will operate.

1.4. The Civil Society Forum is in favour of diplomatic solutions allowing democratic CSOs from non-recognized political entities in the EaP countries to be part of the Forum, ensuring its participatory, inclusive and cooperative nature. The CSF proposes to emphasise the importance of the local dimension represented by NGOs and local authorities of the EaP countries in order to reach the general objectives of the Partnership.

1.5 The CSF welcomes the approach of the European Commission and the EU member states to consider the civil society in Belarus as a partner despite de-facto suspension of cooperation with the Belarusian government and highly appreciates Belarusian CSOs as an inseparable part of the Forum. The CSF also follows the development of the situation with democratic freedoms and human rights in Azerbaijan after the protests and following arrests in April 2011. It calls upon the Azerbaijani authorities for the swift release of all prisoners arrested before and during the democracy rallies.

2. Associate via sectorial integration

2.1 The convergence with EU policies in such fields as migration, trade, energy, transport, environment, SME and innovations, education, etc. creates the appropriate conditions for a gradual sectorial integration of partner countries with the EU. A proper space should also be given to non institutional networks promoting exchanges of youth, volunteers and culture. Visa liberalisation agreements, DCFTA, ACCA agreements and other relevant institutional frameworks should serve as a legal mechanism for deepening such rapprochement. The Civil Society Forum in particular calls for taking steps towards full visa liberalization as soon as individual EaP countries meet the agreed conditions.

2.2 Greater regional cooperation among EaP partner countries at all possible levels would secure more sustainability and synergies between various initiatives deepening European integration.

3. Anchor the EaP Civil Society Forum in the family of European institutions

3.1. Given the growing potential capacity of the CSF, the technical difficulties restricting its role are becoming more evident. The establishment of a permanent Secretariat of the CSF would allow the Forum to operate much more efficiently. The participation of civil society from the EU must be secured in order to allow a full partnership from both the EU and EaP countries.

3.2 The CSF suggests that civil society organizations should be regarded as partners of the EU, the EU Member States and of the EaP states when it comes to planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating programmes of the Eastern Partnership. The highest possible level of active interaction and access to information in these processes should be ensured.

Civil Society Forum and the challenges of today

The EaP Civil Society Forum is a non-state actor involved in a policy shaping body. This is innovative and should be supported to the maximum extent. The Forum demonstrates a possibility for a paradigm change of huge significance. With the new developments, the EU should institutionalize that role, providing civil society with real decision-making power and legitimacy to influence the process. By raising the Civil Society to an unprecedented level of influence, it proves the European model and practice to be both innovative and progressive. 

The situation and democratic processes in the EaP region still proves to be volatile and unstable: the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, the events during the presidential election in Belarus in December 2010 and the public unrest in Azerbaijan in April 2011 all emphasized the need to further streng then Europe’s ties with the countries of the region. Therefore the CSF considers crucial to react when violation of democratic principles and human rights endangers stability. However, the role of the CSF should not be limited to expression of opinions, concrete mechanisms of cooperation between official structures and civil society on securing stability are needed. 

Over the last two years, the EaP CSF was one of the most dynamic components of the Eastern Partnership initiative in its multilateral track. Its achievements are especially important as an example of self-organization of civil society, through its ability and actual capacity to support the goals of the Eastern Partnership. The contribution of the Forum in the future could be more significant, because the ability of civil society is still limited by an underestimation of its potential in the EaP process. Democratic shortcomings among NGOs in some EaP states also pose a challenge to the overall development of the CSF and its contribution to closer relations among the EU, its member states and the EaP states. The huge potential of the CSF — where delegates representing all six partner countries and the EU participate and cooperate successfully together — is insufficiently used. The ability of the delegates in the Forum to define common values, interests and goals is not transferred to the interstate level efficiently and convincingly enough. 

However, it is a historical lesson, including most recent developments in Arab world, that in non-perfect or far-from democracies, politics determine the economic relations to a very high degree; the rules of the game are bent to suit the people holding power. Subordination of development of real democratic institutions to economic reform, approximation to formal EU standards, and a lack of proper conditionality both weakens the consistency of efforts to support democratization and diminishes the role of civil society.

 

 PUBLIC ADDRESS OF THE BELARUSIAN NATIONAL PLATFORM OF THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM

TO THE PARTICIPANTS OF THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP SUMMIT

 September 28, 2011

The Eastern Partnership initiative was proposed by the European Union with the aim of supporting reforms in six countries of the Eastern dimension and strengthening their relations with the EU on the basis of common values — with democratic development and the rule of law being at the core of those. Along with the promotion of economic and social reforms in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, the EU remains committed to the further advancement of democratic norms and values in the six partner states.

The second Eastern Partnership Summit that will take place on 29-30 September 2011 in Warsaw is an opportunity to review at the highest level the progress of its implementation and to discuss priorities for the future. The final Declaration of the Summit will reflect the current level of interaction, offering an outlook for the development of relations in the future.

The Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership remains concerned with the human rights situation in Belarus, one of the Eastern Partnership states. We welcome the efforts of the European Union to raise these concerns at the Warsaw Summit and the firm position of the EU on the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners as a condition for political dialogue with Belarus. Existence of political prisoners and torture experienced by some of them while in jail, persecution for civil and political activities, serious shortages on the freedom of assembly, freedom of association and the freedom of media need to be addressed.

We regret to learn that the draft of the Summit Declaration does not include support for the EU approach by the remaining five EaP countries. We call on the Heads of States and Governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to synergize their position towards Belarus with that of the EU. Countries of the Eastern Partnerships, along with the 27 Member States of the Union, in our view, could send a strong signal to the Belarusian authorities calling for the immediate release and rehabilitation of political prisoners and the beginning of a dialogue with political opposition and civil society in the country.

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