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European Commission

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Address to the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum / Stockholm

29 November 2012

Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Participants and Guests of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum,

It gives me great pleasure to address your fourth annual meeting today in Stockholm, a special place for the Eastern Partnership. I remember someone having compared the Forum few years ago to a nice toddler. I think we can now say that the Forum is not only walking comfortably but already on the verge of adulthood: with its own opinions and keen for its voice to be heard.

This meeting is being held under the motto "Mapping our future". Let me share my views on the short-term future of the Eastern Partnership and the role of the Civil Society Forum.

The Eastern Partnership Roadmap sets out a clear agenda for the next months until the third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013:

  1. advancement, if not finalisation, of negotiations on Association Agreements with a number of partners, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area when appropriate;

  2. progress on mobility through visa facilitation and liberalisation with a visa free regime as a final goal; and

  3. deepening sector cooperation and strengthening the Eastern Partnership multilateral track. 

Through the Eastern Partnership we have offered our assistance to the six Eastern European countries in completing transformation towards democracy.

We support more those who reform more. And you can see results of this approach in action: in 2012 three Eastern European countries which have pressed ahead with reforms – the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia - have been given additional funds under the Eastern Partnership Integration and Coordination programme.

If we maintain the current pace of negotiations of Association Agreements, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with these three countries and the reform process is being accelerated, 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 the 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 our well known and oft repeated concerns.

Concerning Azerbaijan, although we are intensifying our cooperation ever more, there is still much to be done on electoral law, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and the media.

As regards Belarus, in parallel to increased support for civil society, we continue to urge the authorities to stop repression and to free political prisoners. We have launched the European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarusian Society to discuss the vision of a modern Belarus.

Continued progress will depend on two crucial elements:

  1. strong political will and genuine efforts of Eastern European governments to implement reforms, and

  2. the full commitment of civil society to

  • press governments to embark on ambitious reforms,

  • monitor progress of their implementation,

  • mobilise support across society for the transformation agenda and

  • communicate the benefits stemming from political association and economic integration with the European Union.

Central to the success of transformation towards deep democracy are political reforms. The rule of law, an independent judiciary and systemic anti-corruption measures are necessary elements both for long-term political stability and sustainable economic growth. Genuine cooperation between governments and civil society is necessary to introduce systemic anti-corruption measures or establish an independent judiciary system. Similarly, free and fair elections are a central element of participatory democracy. Governments should be accountable, and this is the role not only for other branches of power but also for civil society. Georgian civil society gave a good example of the role which non governmental organisations can play in the pre-election period. Their contribution to the monitoring of the conduct of the election campaign and their efforts to ensure improved access to media and more transparent party financing are worth mentioning.

Underpinning these steps towards deep democracy must be the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms - the shared values that all have committed themselves to in the Eastern Partnership. You can rest assured that the European Union will continue to support all those who fight for democracy and respect for human rights. Allow me to stress very clearly what I have said many times before: there is no place in Europe for political prisoners.

This is why you, representatives of civil society, are so incredibly vital to the success of the Partnership

The Eastern Partnership Roadmap has set out the way ahead for all of us, including civil society. Now we must all play our respective roles in its dynamic implementation. In this context, I welcome the strategy you adopted last year in Poznan and the proposals you put forward at the Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers' Meeting in July 2012.

Over the last few years the European Union has done much to support civil society and provide you with better opportunities to act. We have helped you to establish the Civil Society Forum itself which has quickly become one of the most dynamic elements of our partnership. You are now a permanent participant in all Eastern Partnership Platforms and you have the possibility to take part in many intergovernmental activities.

With the creation of the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility in 2011, we have greatly increased financial support to civil society in the Eastern Partnership region. The EUR 14 million initially allocated to the Facility is currently being implemented through civil society led projects. We are funding your projects across a range of areas including

  1. supporting civil society’s oversight role on public finance;

  2. strengthening civil society’s capacity for election observation;

  3. engagements in food safety reform;

  4. improving the quality of civil society’s policy dialogue with Parliaments; and

  5. promoting public-private partnerships in the context of decentralization.

For the years 2012 – 13 we have allocated a further EUR 23 million and this funding will continue to support civil society involvement in the development and implementation of reforms in partner countries.

The new European Endowment for Democracy has now also been established and soon will be able to give grants to non-state actors striving for democratic causes across the European Union's Neighbourhood.

It was thanks to your determination and passion that the national platforms of the Civil Society Forum have been established in all six partner countries. I am glad to see that work is underway to make platforms more sustainable. This morning I have signed almost EUR 1 million in support to strengthen platforms' capacities.

It was thanks to your maturity that you managed to overcome some internal problems and did not let the platform split. I trust that the platforms in all six countries will remain united, legitimate and inclusive focal points for civil society activities. But one word of caution if you allow me, any attempt to use the platforms to project personal or party political ambitions would defeat the very purpose for which these platforms were created.

We are also very pleased to see the establishment of a permanent secretariat of the Forum's Steering Committee. We decided to support the secretariat financially and expect that it will fulfil its role as coordinator and promoter of the Forum's activities.

The task now is for partner's governments to engage with civil society to help ensure that reform programmes both reflect and have the support of society at large. This is why we have encouraged Eastern Partnership countries to establish a regular structured dialogue with civil society representatives to discuss issues related to the implementation of the Eastern Partnership at a national level. This is also why Civil Society Platforms are being anchored in the institutional architecture of the new Association Agreements which we are negotiating.

I wish to congratulate you, and in particular members of the Steering Committee, for the work done so far but also to invite you to take advantage of these new opportunities and step up your engagement in the practical implementation of the Eastern Partnership.

You have received unprecedented support from the European Union. Although there is more to be done to enhance cooperation with authorities at national level, the involvement of the Forum in the Eastern Partnership's activities is already a unique example of cooperation between representatives of civil society and authorities.

Yet in order to further build on these achievements, the Forum must become more sustainable. You should make maximum use of all the financial support we have offered. You should also actively approach other donors and seek their support for your 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. You can count on our engagement.

Thank you for your attention.

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