November 18, 2010

Integrating Civil Society - The Case Civil Society Forum and Eastern Partnership

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) play crucial role in the society and respectively in their involvement into the every day policy desiscion-making. They provide political input and are active actors in promoting democracy and market-orientated reforms in the national economy, in promoting the rule of law and the respect for human rights. Involving the CSOs into the desicion-making process on European level remains the top priority of the European Commission for a sustainable success of the Eastern Partnership that covers the post-soviet countries Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Aserbaidshan. In doing so the European Commission proposed in its Communication of December 2008
  • "to support the further development of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and 
  • to establish an EaP Civil Society Forum to promote contacts among CSOs and facilitate their dialogue with public authorities".
Lessons learned

Due to the fact that the drawing, formulation and implementation of the action plans (differentiated action plans based on the country reports drawn up by the European Commission) have a strong intergovernmental character, the general public and the Sivil Society Organizations have remained outside the decision-making process.
The Action Plans will draw on a common set of principles but will be differentiated, reflecting the existing state of relations with each country, its needs and capacities, as well as common interests. The level of ambition of the EU’s relationships with its neighbours will take into account the extent to which these values (mutual commitment to common values principally within the fields of the rule of law, good governance, the respect for human rights, including minority rights, the promotion of good neighbourly relations, and the principles of market economy and sustainable development) are effectively shared.” (European Neighbourhood Policy Strategy Paper)
The main outcome of the actions plans, namely respect for common values and standards, remains purely rhetoric. The European Economic and Social Committee in its Information Report of the Section for External Relations (16 September 2005) "The role of consultative bodies and socio-occupational organisations in implementing the Association Agreements and in the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy" proposes to "indicate the scope, conditions and possible procedures for participation of the social partners and the other civil society organisations in bringing about partnership in the new framework of the ENP".

The promotion of efficient participation of the civil society is at the heart of the European Commission's support in the partner countries. Efficient participation is also a regulatory policy at different levels of governance: European, national, and regional. In a multi-level system of European governance different stakeholders assume political responsibilities and tasks.

On the whole, the national governments reform measures to involve Civil Society Organizations in social and political life are only minimally reliable quite apart from the fact that CSOs generally lack the assertiveness to carry out effective legislative consultation. The further improvement in the involvement of CSOs in the national decision-making process is recommended by the European Commission in its annual progress reports on implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy, 12 May 2010 (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaidshan).

In Azerbaidshan and Belarus for example civil society inclusion is more difficult than in other neighbouring countries. A report by the Azerbaidshan National Committee for European Integration and the Open Society Institute regrets the negative development of civil society involvement:
"(C)ivil society rarely takes advantage of this provision to participate in the negotiation process on the development of ENPI priorities or in monitoring ENPI implementation and funding. The development of programming documents represents a fairly closed process of one-track negotiations between the Government of Azerbaijan and EC representatives. While the EC representatives during their visits meet with civil society representatives such as the media, NGOs, and independent experts, these are not included in the discussion of priorities, sub-priorities or specific projects."
The problem with Azerbaidshan is that national politicians put the initiative at a disadvantage. Araz Azimov, deputy foreign minister of Azerbaidshan, considers the Eastern Partnership as not adequate for his country: "The Eastern Partnership, speaking frankly, is not adequate." According to Azimov, one of the weaknesses of the Eastern Partnership is that the six countries concerned cannot be treated with a "one-size-fits-all" approach. (EurActiv.com)

In Belarus the problem remians of state controlled civil societies. In a Statement by representatives of civil society groups in Belarus the situation becomes real:
"The Belarusian civil society today is operating under unfavorable conditions which do not allow the former to represent an equal party in a dialogue with the government. Existence of criminal punishment for activities on behalf of unregistered initiatives, unjustified denials to register public associations and other types of non-profit organisations, ignorant approach towards already existing platforms for dialogue by the government demonstrate its top-down approach towards civil society in Belarus. This situation cannot be seen as complying with European norms and principles that govern relations between the civil society and the state; it certainly requires changes that would allow enhanced capacity for a constructive dialogue on equal terms."
"The initiation of the Civil Society Forum displays the EU’s acknowledgement for the need to shift and speed up the long-protracted reforms in the Eastern dimension from the bottom-up approach rather than only from a top-down agenda. The Civil Society Forum comes also to commence the multilateral framework of the Eastern Partnership and to bring the six countries closer together instead of only working on an EU bilateral facet with each of them." (European Neighbourhood Journalism Network)

Establishing a Sivil Society Forum

To ensure the transparency of the process leading to the establishment of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (CSF), all interested parties were invited to provide their opinion via links on the web sites of EC/External Relations and of the EC delegations in partner countries. Some 40 contributions (here and here) were received, mainly from civil society organisations based in the Eastern Partner countries but also from several EU-based organisations. (Results of the consultations with CSOs and NGOs on the creation of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum) As a result, the European Commission proposed a Concept paper for the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

EU-Ministerial Meeting with Eastern Partnership countries. Foto: Photographic service of the Council of the EU © European Communities
Civil Society Forum: Structure and interaction with Eastern Partnership multilateral structure

When the European Union established the Eastern Partnership for managing relations with the Eastern neighbouring countries, the EU wasn´t planning the creation of new structures for integrating the partner countries. However, we can proceed from the assumption, that because of the activities carried out by the different stakeholders, the cooperation leads to interesting synergies between the European Commission and the Civil Society Organiszations. The most important outcome is to create functional and operational structure for cooperation and interaction.

CSF Structure and Interaction. Author's visualisation: Hr. Hrisoskulov
The Steering Committee (results of consultations) was established on 11 September 2009 for the swift selection process of the Civil Society Forum participants and the facilitation of the work during the launching period of the Forum. It is composed of 17 members from European Commission officials, representatives of the EU Presidency, the European Economic and Social Committee and independent experts. The distribution is as follow: four platform representatives from the partner countries and four representatives from the EU countries (thematic); six country facilitators one from each partner countries and three representativies from he EU countries (regional).

The Civil Society Forum represents the interlink between the national (National Platforms) and European (European Commisison and Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers) level of governance. The main responsibility is to provide recommendations, opinions, and information to the european institutions. The Forum will work along the thematic working groups but also on the level of national platforms which are being facilitated by the national coordinators (European Partnership for Democracy).

The thematic Working Groups reflect the priorities of the Eastern Partnership multilateral track. Representatives from the Working Groups participate in Eastern Partnership Panel and Platform meetings. In the run-up to the Forum meeting they discuss in four groups (democracy, human rights, good governance and stabilityeconomic integration and convergence with the EU policiesenvironment, climate change and energy security; contacts between people) number of issues related to the organization of the CSF and working group activities (Working Group 1 of the CSF on democracy, human rights, good governance and stabilityWorking Group 2 of the CSF on Economic Integration and Convergence with EU Policy, Working Group 3 of the CSF on environment, climate change and energy security, Working Group 4 of the CSF on contacts between people). Coordinators of the Working Gropus will exchange opinions with the activities of the Working Groups and the National Platforms.

The National Platform has a consultative function (drafting road maps for cooperation) and holds its sessions at least twice a year. It is responsible for input accumulation from local and regional Civil Society Organisations. According to the European Partnership for Democracy, the work of the national platform will provide important input for the Eastern Partnership - national platforms will be able to monitor both multilateral and bilateral component of the Eastern Partnership and facilitate these processes - by preparation of policy recommendations, monitoring of fulfillment of the conditions, communication with the public about the Eastern Partnership which covers basically all the negotiations and agreements between the 6 EaP countries and the EU.

Civil Society Forum Meetings

The first Civil Society Forum Meeting was held in Brussels on 16-17 November.

Civil Society Forum of Eastern Partnership, Brussles, 16-17 November 2009. Foto: Photographic service © European Communities 
The second forum took place in Berlin on 18-19 November 2010. There is clearly much greater awareness and interest in the second forum than there was one year ago, and a larger number of organizations are considering to participate. Even the plenary sessions have been broadcasted.
  • Aim
The aims of the two meetings are to explore the potential of involvement of Civil Society Organizations into the framework of the Eastern Partnership (first meeting), to take stock of what has been achieved since November 2009 when the initial meeting of the Forum took place, and to discuss how the Forum should evolve in the future (second meeting). For example (Association of Local Democracy Agencies), in Berlin were debates about whether the Eastern Partnership is actually an alternative to EU membership, what the future of the Eastern Partnership should be, what policies the civil society representatives from the eastern neighbourhood should recommend, and how the eastern neighbours can help Europe connect with civil society in Russia.
  • Outcome
The Civil Society Forum has four platforms, the same thematic platforms proposed by the launch of the Eastern Partnership: democracy and good governance; economic integration into the European Union, environment, climatic change and energy security, and relationship between people. However, all the partner countries consider the opportunities proposed by the Eastern Partnership as part of their national modernisation programs. They identify and analyse trends and develop possible solutions. The main topics for cooperation are energy (for example for Azerbaidshan), environment, research, economy etc. 
  • Participants
The forum is open to Civil Society Organizations from the eastern partner countries, the European Union, international organizations, and third countries. Every year 40% of the forum members are renewed and each organization could be a member at least three times (contact.az).

During the first meeting 29 organizations from Belarus, 31 from Ukraine, 20 from Moldova, 19 from Azerbaidshan, 23 from Georgia, 21 from Armenia, 45 from the European Union, and 6 from third countries attended the Forum. 27 organizations from Belarus, 29 from Ukraine, 23 from Moldova, 23 from Azerbaidshan, 25 from Georgia, 26 from Armenia, 60 from the European Union, 2 from international organizations, and 7 from third countries participated at the second meeting . The more visible strength of the meetings occurs in the increased number of Civil Society Organizations from the partner countries and the European Union, such as from third countries like Russia and the United States.
  • Political Support
The Civil Society Forum is also recieving political support from the european institutions and the EU member states. The presence at the first meeting of the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs (and chair of the EU presidency) Carl Bildt, the then President of the European Economic and Social Committee Mario Sepi and the then EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner underline the concern of european institutions to get Civil Society Organizations more involved within the multilateral framework of the Eastern Partnership:
"As representatives of the European institutions we are truly convinced that the Eastern Partnership cooperation cannot be achieved without the representatives of grass roots organizations, trade unions, business and professional associations, NGOs, think-tanks, non-profit foundations, national and international networks – all the diverse actors of Civil Society. (...) Many of the ideas emerging from this Forum will find their way into the political decision making process. On 8 December, your representatives will pass your recommendations to the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the EU and the Eastern Partner Countries. Your ideas will later feed into the work of the Eastern Partnership thematic platforms, and we will support you in this." (Speech of Benita Ferrero-Waldner at the first meeting)
Guido Westerwelle (German Minister of Foreign Affairs), Cornelia Pieper (State Minister at the Federal Foreign Office, Berlin), Štefan Füle (European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy), Mikołaj Dowgielewicz (Minister for Europe in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Jiří Schneider (First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic), and Jacek Krawczyk (Vice President of the European Economic and Social Committee) attended the second meeting of the Forum.

The participation of the European institutions remains constant. As for the European Commission, the Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy recognized the Eastern Partnership as one of the "most dynamic instruments" of the European Union. He underlined that "reforms in the partner countries can be successful for completition of the transformation process and further approximation with European standards" if the CSOs are fully engaged as "advocat and watch dog" for policy makers. Mr. Füle outlined the "distinctive character" of the Forum and proposed future possibilities for including CSOs into the framework of the Eastern Partnership:
  • promoting the CSOs position into the desicion-making and the review process of the European Neighbourhood policy
Of course there is a gap between the partner proposals and that what the European Union is offering. The main stimulous would be to "bridge the gap" followed by increasing the impact of conditionality. Therefore, the CSOs have been urged to place their strategies and to "develop their proposal for involvement into the implementation process of the European Neighbourhood policy review".
  • promoting areas of cooperation
Štefan Füle outlined the most important area of cooperation between the CSOs, namely visa liberalisation. A facilitated visa regime is helping to strengthen the contacts between people. However, the visa liberalisation process should be accompanied by "improved security standards in the partner countries".

What is more important and sustainable is the participation of political representatives from the EU member states mostly from Germany and the eastern members, namely the Czech Republic and Poland that is going to chair the EU presidency in the second half of 2011. These are all member states that actively support the further development of the Eastern Partnership.

The State Minister at the German Federal Foreign Office, Cornelia Pieper, re-affirmed the German and the Swedish-Polish role in the establishment and devolopment of the Eastern Partnership. She commented on a number of topical issues such as previuos achieved success in school partnerships and academic exchange. In view of the fact that the EU Presidency will be headed by Poland during the second half of 2011, Germany has been seeking contact to the Polish government and the Polish Civil Society for managing the further development of the Initiative.

As for the Polish Government, Mr. Mikołaj Dowgielewicz will be able to follow up on this in the second half of 2011 to "deliver concrete proposals". The Minister for Europe in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made very clear that Eastern Partnership is its main priority for "strengthening not only the bilateral but also the sectoral cooperation". He invited the Steering Committee to organise the Third Meeting of the Civil Society Forum in Poznan in order to express Poland's solidarity with the Eastern Partnership.

Summary

The Civil Society Forum in the framework of the Eastern Partnership gives all the involved stakeholders the ability to successfully identify priorities for political, economic, and social cooperation between EU institutions, member states, and partner countries and among the partner countries. The Forum is the visible outcome of a bottom-up approach laid down in the Eastern Partnership. However, the Civil Society Forum can be a successful story if the entire involved stakeholders recognise the great importance of this format for cooperation. 
www.tips-fb.com

Kommentare:

EU21Global hat gesagt…

Visa- free travel Eastern Partnership countries possible in case of meeting European safety requirements (Link: http://www.panarmenian.net/eng/world/news/56991/Visa_free_travel_Eastern_Partnership_countries_possible_in_case_of_meeting_European_safety_requirements)

EU21Global hat gesagt…

Rede von Bundesminister Westerwelle beim 2. Zivilgesellschaftsforum der Östlichen Partnerschaft (Link: http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/de/Infoservice/Presse/Reden/2010/101119-BM-Oestl-P.html)

Kommentar veröffentlichen

Reader