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Benita Ferrero-Waldner

European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership

International conference “Eastern Partnership: towards Civil Society Forum”
Prague, 6 May 2009

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to address you.

This event makes an enormous contribution to the Eastern Partnership. In fact in many ways your work, both today and indeed every day, is what it is all about.

Tomorrow is the Eastern Partnership’s official launch, when we open a new chapter in our cooperation. We will substantially deepen the political and economic ties and daily contact between ordinary people of the EU’s 27 members and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

As you know, the purpose of the Eastern Partnership is to promote democratic and market-oriented reforms, based on shared values like democracy, human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy, sustainable development, and good governance.

That will not be possible without the contribution of organisations like yours. We know the crucial role that civil society and NGOs play in holding governments to account and as “agents for change” in promoting reforms. And we know how pivotal they have been in many emerging democracies; giving people a taste of the power their vote should carry, and pushing societies slowly but surely towards a more democratic future.

That is why when we first put forward our proposals for an Eastern Partnership in December last year we included greater civil society involvement as a core element.

We want to see stronger civil society participation in the public sphere, in particular to enhance oversight of public services and strengthen confidence in them.

So we have specifically committed ourselves to supporting civil society development, and a core part of that will be achieved through the Civil Society Forum.

The Forum will give us an open channel for the permanent inclusion of civil society expertise and views in the Eastern Partnership process, enriching the governmental track with alternative views and recommendations. We want to promote contacts between organisations, share experiences between countries, strengthen civil societies and facilitate their dialogue with public authorities.

We’re currently in the process of discussing with CSOs and NGOs how to structure and organise the Forum, who should participate, and what role the European Commission should play. Our plan then is to launch the Forum this Autumn.

Many of you, through your activities and research, have already been involved in shaping our thinking on the Eastern Partnership. So I am sure your recommendations today will also be extremely helpful in guiding our work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Eastern Partnership launch is a historic event. But it is just a beginning: now we must make history happen. We know we must deliver lasting and visible results for the people of our partner countries and the EU, and make an effective contribution to solving the challenges they face, particularly in these tough economic times.

The European Commission is wholeheartedly engaged in this process and determined to do everything in our power to make the Eastern Partnership a success.

Some of you may feel that we are not going far enough to make a real and tangible difference in democratic and economic reforms. On the other hand, people are concerned that without sustained and unstinting effort on the part of everyone involved, the proposals we have made are overly ambitious.

Let me frank: without the full commitment of all actors involved - Member States, partner countries, EU institutions, international financial institutions, civil society and so on -, the full scope of the Easter Partnership will be very hard to deliver.

That is another reason why I am so encouraged by today’s event, and by the commitment the Czech Presidency has shown to making the launch a success.

Next month the first meetings of the Eastern Partnership platforms will take place, focusing on democracy, political cooperation and good governance; energy security; people to people contacts; economic integration; and convergence with EU policies.

Through this practical focus on cooperation we aim to erase the remaining lines of partition on our continent. For that reason we are also open to involving other countries in areas where it makes sense. Our common aim must be a more prosperous, stable and secure Eastern Europe and South Caucasus.

The Eastern Partnership imposes no demands on any of its participants. Yet in the spirit of openness and transparency which characterises our approach we make clear that those who are willing and able to go further or faster in making reforms will get more support – political, technical and financial. And will have more options open to them, whether it be political association or economic integration with the EU.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me close by thanking all the organisers of today’s event for their hard work in bringing it together and in so doing making such a valuable contribution to the official launch of the Eastern Partnership tomorrow.

More broadly I would like to thank everyone present for your contribution – past, present and future – to making the Eastern Partnership the success it deserves to be.

I look forward to seeing many of you again as our Civil Society Forum develops.

For now let me reiterate that your commitment to building a more stable, secure and prosperous future for this region does not go unrecognised. I am convinced that thanks to your efforts we have a brighter future ahead.

Thank you.

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