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SPEECH/ 09/538

Benita Ferrero-Waldner

EU Commissioner for Ext ernal Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

Civil Society Forum strengthens the Eastern Partnership

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Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

Brussels, 17 November 2009

Dear Minister, Dear President

Ladies and gentlemen, Dear Friends

I am thrilled to see so many representatives of civil society gathered here today for this inaugural meeting of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

I thank you for making the effort to come to Brussels to participate and I hope that you have enjoyed the opportunity to work together over the last two days. I am sure that discussions have been productive and look forward to seeing the fruits of your work.

Having met some of you before in Prague in May, I am delighted to see that the community of civil society groups supporting the Eastern Partnership is growing and becoming more diverse. This not only proves the success of our initiative but is a testament to the dynamism and engagement of civil society actors in your countries. It shows too, that the Forum is the right answer to your need for more contact, dialogue and sharing of experience. It is less than a year since the Commission presented its proposals for an Eastern Partnership and only a few months since the EU and 6 partner countries adopted the Prague Declaration. Today the Partnership is entering into a new phase, thanks to you. You are now active partners in a debate which too often in the past has been dominated by governments: the discussion of how to strengthen democracy, good governance, economic reform, and energy security. Your voice will be heard and taken into account. You will influence decision making and contribute to the success of our Partnership, sharing in the responsibility we all have to bring the Eastern Partner countries closer to the EU.

The presence here today of Minister Carl Bildt, President Mario Sepi and myself is more than just symbolic. As representatives of the European institutions we are truly convinced that the Eastern Partnership cooperation cannot be achieved without the representatives of grass roots organizations, trade unions, business and professional associations, NGOs, think-tanks, non-profit foundations, national and international networks – all the diverse actors of Civil Society. The EU is committed to supporting civil society development in our partner countries and I am sure this Forum has provided many valuable ideas, views and recommendations for Ministers to work on.

When we began preparations for this Forum, the Commission received nearly 450 expressions of interest from Civil Society Organisations in the 6 partner countries and the EU Member States, as well as from international networks. The scale of interest was impressive, and I am only sorry that it was not possible to host everybody who applied. For logistical reasons we had to make a selection. Nevertheless, it is important that you carry home the message that there is a role for all interested civil society actors in the work of this Forum. The more diverse the voices, the stronger the Forum will be, and the greater its contribution to reinforcing Civil Society in your countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Eastern Partnership is a project in the making. In order to succeed in this ambitious endeavour we must deliver lasting and visible results for the citizens of our partner countries and the EU.

We know that civil societies in the Eastern Partnership want more: more democracy, greater recognition and closer cooperation with the authorities of your countries; better legislative frameworks, more resources for their activities, easier people to people contacts and travel to the European Union. These are legitimate aspirations. The Civil Society Forum gives you a platform to discuss all these issues and put forward solutions to the problems. Together we can achieve more by promoting open dialogue and inter-cultural exchanges and by proposing projects of common interest.

Many of the ideas emerging from this Forum will find their way into the political decision making process. On 8 December, your representatives will pass your recommendations to the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the EU and the Eastern Partner Countries. Your ideas will later feed into the work of the Eastern Partnership thematic platforms, and we will support you in this. Your job is to be bold, and innovative. We, meanwhile, will welcome your constructive criticism, even if I cannot promise that we will always agree with you!

Let me close by saying how happy I am to see that 20 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, civil societies are developing and getting stronger in the whole of Europe and beyond. There is a growing understanding and support for the values on which the EU and indeed the Eastern Partnership is based. This gives us hope for the future: for more stability, security and prosperity in all our countries. Your Forum plays a vital and valuable role in achieving these goals.

I wish you all the best in your continued efforts and look forward to receiving the recommendations of the Forum.

Thank You.

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