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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

EU-Azerbaijan: Civil society has crucial role in our partnership

Meeting with Azerbaijani Civil Society Organisations

Baku, 8 September 2014

I am glad to be in Baku and I am pleased to meet you again; you know what importance the EU attaches to the Civil Society:

1) Partnership with civil society is an indispensable element of the Eastern Partnership

2) You are a very important partner for us in the European Union.

3) You have a vital role in promoting democracy, the rule of law and defending fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan.

You might remember what I stressed when I was here last year in May speaking at the Diplomatic Academy: "Human rights and fundamental freedoms are core values of the EU. They are also guarantee of sustainable and durable development, built upon public support, public trust and accountability." And as president Barroso said here this June: "Long-term stability and prosperity of a country can only be achieved in a context of multiparty democracy and free civil society."

The EU admires your dedication despite the restrictions you are facing. We are watching closely the situation of the human rights activists and the whole Civil Society. We have repeatedly expressed our concerns at the changes to NGO legislation, as well as the arrests and sentencing of so many prominent members of civil society.

Public debate and divergent opinions are indispensable in a stable democracy. They should not be seen as threats. That is why we have been and will be supporting you, that is why we have been and will be engaging in the dialogue with the Civil Society in Azerbaijan.

I am pleased that in this context the European Commission just adopted a new programme to promote activities of civil society organisations working on democracy,human rights and promoting fundamental freedoms in amount of 3 million euros.

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