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European Commission

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Civil Society at the Heart of Eastern Partnership

5th Meeting of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum/ Chisinau, Moldova

4 October 2013

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

I am delighted that the Forum is taking place for the first time in a partner country. I applaud the cooperation that has taken place between the Forum's Steering Committee, the National Platform and the Moldovan authorities in organising this event. This complements the motto under which this meeting is taking place "Together for a European future". There is no doubt in my mind that for all 6 partners, the future is European.

At this juncture, a few months before the Eastern Partnership Summit, much is at stake. Work still remains to be done if Vilnius is to become a stepping stone in the history of the partnership. Both the partners and the European Union know what they have to respectively do to create the conditions to make Vilnius a Summit of delivery.

We hope that in Vilnius we will be able to celebrate:

  1. signing of an AA/DCFTA with Ukraine,

  2. initialling of AAs/DCFTAs respectively with Moldova and Georgia;

  3. good progress on the mobility agendas including conclusion of Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements with Armenia and Azerbaijan; and

  4. tangible results of cooperation across key sectors, notably in the transport and education fields.

I take this opportunity to stress once more: The European Union remains firmly committed to carrying forward the agenda that has been agreed, as far and as fast as we are able. However, it is imperative that this commitment is supported on the one hand by strong political will and genuine efforts by Eastern European partners' governments to implement reforms, and on the other by civil society's undeniably multifaceted role.

Political reforms are central to the successful transformation towards deep democracy. Genuine cooperation between governments and civil society is necessary to establish independent judicial systems or introduce systemic anti-corruption measures, both of which are necessary elements for long-term political development and sustainable economic growth. Similarly, free and fair elections are a central element of participatory democracy. We will be monitoring closely the upcoming presidential elections in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Governments should be held to account, and this is the role not only for other branches of power but also for civil society. The task now is for partner's governments to:

  1. strengthen engagement with society as a whole;

  2. raise awareness of the benefits and opportunities that this process offers, especially regarding approximation to European Union standards; and

  3. ensure that reform programmes both reflect and have the support of society at large.

The involvement of all actors is indispensable if we wish to succeed in achieving our shared goals. No government can succeed in such an endeavour without broad support of the people.

This is why Eastern Partnership countries have been strongly encouraged 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 and to promote it amongst society at large. I'm happy to see that this is taking place in a number of partner countries (Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine) and I would urge all partners to follow suit.

The Civil Society Forum has become a permanent feature of the work of the Eastern Partnership at the multilateral level. This is an important achievement and one that must be constantly pursued.

I am pleased by the determination with which civil society organisations and especially the National Platforms have embraced their role. It is important that your activities:

  1. complement the governmental track of the Eastern Partnership; and

  2. provide specific input and recommendations to help us evaluate and promote the implementation and impact of the Partnership.

A good example is your report of last June on the work of the National Platforms which has helped us to better understand the specific problems that they face.

However, I want to insist on the fact that the Eastern Partnership is a partnership that requires all its parts to be connected forming a unified whole. Not only must civil society work within its own National Platform but the Platforms must come together with greater strength and determination to work as a united force under the umbrella of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

Rest assured that where European Union assistance is required, this will be provided as efficiently and effectively as possible. The technical assistance project that was signed at the end of 2012 to help National Platforms overcome capacity building issues will be important in identifying and analysing specific needs and boosting capacities.

In addition, the European Commission will continue to make significant funding opportunities available to support civil society's efforts in the Eastern Partnership countries to participate in the implementation of national reforms and democratic development. Our intention is to launch, towards the end of 2013 or early 2014, a new regional Call for Proposals under the Neighbourhood East Civil Society Facility.

The Call, with a budget of around € 3.85 million, will mostly contribute to strengthening the capacities of civil society organisations from partner countries by allowing them to benefit from the experience of European Union civil society organisations. It will also contribute to supporting public authorities in engaging with civil society in a more efficient manner.

Having said this, it is important for the Forum to become more financially sustainable. I was happy to learn that you are actively approaching other donors and seeking their support for projects to be implemented on the ground in partner countries. This will help you to mobilise support across society for the transformation agenda and further communicate the benefits stemming from political association and economic integration with the European Union.

Civil Society is at the heart of the Eastern Partnership. The European Union and the Partnership are values based; this includes first and foremost human rights. Equality and non-discrimination as well as freedom of expression and assembly are core rights. The struggle for these rights is not an easy one.

Unfortunately, in the last year we have once again witnessed attacks on civil society activists and in some cases, even their unlawful detention or imprisonment. The European Union will not accept the use of violence or intimidation against those who express their views peacefully.

Strengthening the capacity of civil society has been one of the most important and positive results of our cooperation with the Eastern Partnership. We have given Civil Society in Eastern European countries unprecedented support in both political and financial terms.

And we intend to continue.

Thank you for your attention.

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