European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Strong Civil Society Pillar – major objective of the EU Eastern Partnership Policy
4th meeting of the PERC (Pan-European Regional Council) Executive Committee
Brussels, European Economic and Social Committee
8 March 2010
Thank you for the invitation to meet with you today. I am glad to be addressing this distinguished audience of trade unionists today just a few days after the Commission has issued its Europe 2020 strategy. The objective we have proposed is a Europe of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth to create new jobs and a sense of direction to our societies. The strategy also makes clear that to create prosperity at home we need to engage with our neighbours to help create prosperity and stability there as well. Both inside the EU and in our relations with our neighbours we will need a strong dialogue with all of civil society and especially with trade unions and employer organizations.
An active involvement of civil society in the European Neighbourhood Policy has in fact been sought from the outset of this policy– perhaps more than in any other foreign policy area. The European Commission has been in touch with civil society when preparing the European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plans and has liaised with civil society when drafting the country progress reports on their implementation. Regular contacts are also established as part of the Mid-Term Review of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument. The aim is to consult Civil Society Organisations more systematically and seek ways to further involve them in the implementation process.
After five years of cooperation in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy the time has come to deepen and intensify our relations with countries in the Eastern flank of the EU. By launching the Eastern Partnership (the EaP) we seek to support democratic and marked-oriented reforms in partner countries, consolidate their statehood and bring them closer to the EU. We have offered partners political association and gradual integration in the EU economy. We will achieve these goals by forging new contractual relations – Association Agreements, which will embrace also establishing a deep and comprehensive free trade area with each of the partner countries. We support our partners in their reforms by Comprehensive Institution Building Programmes, which aim at improving administrative capacity in all relevant sectors of cooperation. In order to assist the Eastern countries' efforts to approximate to EU standards and to foster exchanges of experience and best practice, we have established multilateral platforms.
In all these activities we need a strong support of civil society. Civil Society Organizations can play a pivotal role in promoting and implementing reforms. Without the full commitment of all actors involved, including civil society, we will not succeed in delivering all ambitious goals of the EaP. That is why we put forward, in the Communication on the Eastern Partnership, a proposal to set up the Civil Society Forum (the CSF). The idea was endorsed by the Prague Summit where the EaP initiative was launched. The main objective of the CSF is to promote civil society involvement within the EaP and strengthen Civil Society Organisations in the partner countries. The Commission made a first step by organising, in cooperation with the European Economic and Social Committee and the Swedish Presidency, the initial meeting of the Forum in November 2009. The meeting revealed great potential for stronger involvement of Civil Society Organisations within the Eastern Partnership. Around 200 Civil Society Organisations took part, of these more than 140 were from the EaP countries. We invited a wide range of various Civil Society Organisations: NGOs, trade unions and employer organisations as well as think tanks. The presence of trade unions and employers organisations within the ranks of the CSF provides an opportunity to include on the agenda issues relating to economic sustainability seen from both perspectives: employees’ and employers’. This is of paramount importance as the EaP is not only about political association; it is also about economic integration. One of the important items to be covered by the economic dimension of the EaP is improved market access and the promotion of free trade areas. To achieve these goals we need robust economies in the Eastern flank of the EU. And robust economies mean economies based on social values and rights of workers. In this context we see a great role for the trade unions, which historical role has been to improve the conditions of work and life of workers and their families. I am glad to see that your voice is heard and recommendations worked out by the participants to the first meeting of the Forum have made it clear that promotion of social dialogue and core labour standards, including right to collective bargaining, should be included on the economic and social agenda of the EaP.
I think that the CSF will enable you to give your input into the further work. The Forum itself has a working group dealing with economic integration and convergence with EU policies corresponding to one of the EaP multilateral platforms. This will allow for closer cooperation between the Forum and the platform in the future. A Steering Committee will now take forward how the Forum can best contribute within the framework of the EaP.
The Commission attaches great importance to the Forum and will continue to facilitate its activities. We would like to see the CSF as a strong partner being able to provide other EaP stakeholders with its recommendations regarding the EaP implementation. It should serve as a cooperation platform for Civil Society Organisations from EU Member States and EaP countries. Civil Society Organisations involved in the Forum’s activities could promote the EaP and the European model of development in their respective countries.
I look forward to working closely with you and further strengthening the civil society pillar within the EaP.