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European Commission

Andris Piebalgs

EU Commissioner for Development

Civil Society Organisations, a key role to play in Africa-EU relation

Closing Session of the Civil Society Organisation Forum of the EU-Africa Partnership / Brussels

24 October 2013

Co-chairs, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We can all agree that, given the freedom to operate, civil society organisations form a vital part of any truly democratic system. As defenders of and watchdogs for pluralism, inclusive policy-making, people’s concerns and participatory democracy, they have a crucial role to play.

Events around the world in the past few years have clearly shown that this role is more relevant and important than ever. That’s why I’m delighted to be addressing your opening session today, as you prepare to tackle some of the key issues facing civil society organisations and Africa-EU relations at the present time.

CSOs as central actors

The so-called “Arab spring” has seen people in North Africa and beyond mobilise around the desire to determine their own future. In turn, it has triggered the birth of citizen’s movements like “Enough is Enough” in Senegal and “Citizens’ Broom” in Burkina Faso.

We live in a fast-changing interconnected world. The civil society often finds itself right at the origin of these changes and is the most able to respond in an appropriate way. This has confirmed our view of civil society as a main stakeholder in any drive for more accountable and legitimate government, for more social cohesion and democracy and for more inclusive and effective policy-making.

Of course, civil society organisations have a well-earned reputation as effective and trusted partners in getting the job done on the ground. That’s why, since 2007, the European Union has channelled more than 5 billion euro of its development aid through CSOs. But the changes I have just mentioned reveal another fact: there is scope for CSOs to be more closely involved further upstream in how decisions and policies are shaped.

The European Union has recognised this in its blueprint for a higher-impact development policy. Through our Agenda for Change we are seeking stronger links and regular dialogue with CSOs, social partners and local authorities. We support the emergence of an organised local civil society that can act as a watchdog and partner in dialogue with national governments.

Communication "The roots of democracy and sustainable development: Europe's engagement with Civil Society in external relations

To carry this commitment forward, last year we launched a broad consultation on how EU development cooperation policy should support CSOs in partner countries.

With CSOs being such champions of participation and involvement, we were expecting a healthy and constructive response to our consultation. That’s exactly the response we got. It provided a valuable basis for the policy paper we issued on “The roots of democracy and sustainable development: Europe’s engagement with Civil Society in external relations”. This document sets out ideas for boosting relations between the EU and civil society, supporting its work at national level and promoting CSOs in regional and global settings.

It also identifies three main priorities. First, we will do more to promote an environment conducive for CSOs in partner countries. Second, we will promote meaningful and structured involvement for CSOs in partner countries’ policy-making, in the EU programming cycle and in international processes. And third, we will increase local CSOs’ capacity to perform their roles as independent development actors more effectively.

The Communication on CS gives particular attention to CSOs dialogue with European Institutions. It is within this frame that a consultative multi-stakeholder group - the Policy Forum on Development– was set up. African CSOs (NGOs, trade unions, cooperatives) as well as local authorities (LAs) are consistently represented in this multi-stakeholders space for dialogue on development issues.

The Policy forum Development, which is held twice per year, aims at:

(i) Facilitating dialogue on cross-cutting issues directly related to the role of CSOs and LAs as relevant development actors;

(ii) Promoting policy debate, consultation and exchange of information and experiences on EU main policies and initiatives in the development field;

(iii) Providing a room for regular update and peer review by all actors.

So now, with a sound new policy on civil society in place, it’s time for us to grasp the opportunities it offers. On one level, this will involve us working together to make the “roots of democracy and sustainable development” thrive at all levels, to make the Policy Forum on Development a success, and to take the strategic partnership between European and African CSOs forward.

At the same time, on a broader level, we see civil society able to fulfil its stated wishes of playing a more central role in the debate to be held at the EU-Africa summit next April and, alongside that, in the debate on a post-2015 development framework.

EU-Africa summit and the JAES

Let me start with the EU-Africa summit. As you know, our discussions in April will centre on three main topics: peace and security, economic issues and the priorities for our cooperation under the Joint Africa-EU Strategy.

From the very outset our Joint Strategy has counted on the active participation of the civil society, in particular via the eight thematic partnerships that have emerged from it. Even if not all expectations have been fulfilled, I think it is fair to say that the CSOs have delivered in this respect and have shown considerable commitment to making the strategy work.

I’m convinced that the proactive engagement of civil society –at the policy and operational levels alike – is vital to the strategy’s success in the coming years. I therefore look forward to studying in detail the recommendations you issued yesterday, ahead of the summit, on the Joint Strategy and on the future of EU-Africa relations in general. They will no doubt be as constructive as ever and have our partnership’s best interests at heart.

Whatever its future priorities and shape, we can confidently state that the Joint Strategy has brought many welcome improvements – starting with the shift that has taken Africa-EU relations to a new level. This is true in particular of the emphasis on a people-centred approach, in which the great added value that CSOs from both continents can bring is plain to see.

People-centred development; post-2015 issues;

Those of you who have heard me speak in the past will know that, for me, placing human beings at the centre of development is fundamental. It may seem obvious to say that any development cooperation worth its salt must be really and truly people-centred. But it’s an obvious truth that is too often ignored.

People-centred development was very much at the heart of our discussions at the annual European Development Days in Brussels last year. At the end of November we will again meet in Brussels for this year’s Development Days, with the main theme focusing on issues around the post-2015 framework. I’m glad to see that the subjects you have chosen to address at this forum are directly linked to the ongoing post-2015 discussion. I hope to see many of you at the European Development Days, which I’m sure will give rise to many other ideas to feed into that discussion.

With the policy paper on A Decent Life for All that we published early this year, we have laid out an EU vision on how to bring together the strands of poverty and sustainable development, building on five key elements: basic living standards to empower people; inclusive and sustainable growth to benefit all; sustainable resource management to preserve the environment; justice and equity to ensure fundamental human rights; and peace and stability. We all recognise the fundamental link between global environmental sustainability and poverty eradication. It follows, therefore, that action to end poverty must go hand in hand with action on sustainability. This is of interest to all the world’s citizens, rich and poor.

Interwoven with these five key elements are three basic principles: universality, partnership and mutual accountability. A global framework must be exactly that: one that applies to every country and every citizen. And it should be underpinned by a renewed global partnership, with mutual accountability at its core.

But there’s one basic, underlying point on which we must insist. For the first time, the world has the technology and resources to eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime, by 2030. There is no excuse for us failing to do so and that must be our stated commitment and promise.

To realise this vision we will need one overarching and universal post-2015 framework, proposing a single set of goals which would be applicable to all countries, while taking into account national specificities.

It is of utmost importance that the process of shaping this ambitious agenda is inclusive and transparent, bringing together all stakeholders from all countries. It’s especially important that civil society as a whole and African civil society in particular, is able to have its voice heard during this crucial global conversation. For our common future is at stake.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conversations are as much about listening as they are about speaking. And this forum is a great opportunity for joint reflection and for dealing with issues that African and European CSOs alike would like to raise. That’s why I look forward to hearing more about the outcome of your discussions. They are discussions that promise to be of great relevance to our work, and which will no doubt influence the work of the heads of state and government when they meet at the EU-Africa summit next year.

This is as it should be, if you are to fulfil your potential as vital partners in making policy and shaping decisions, rather than merely implementing them.

The European Union will continue to help civil society have its voice heard. I wish you every success in your deliberations today.

Thank you.

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