Commissioner maps out future of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Stockholm

Commissioner maps out future of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Stockholm

Through the Eastern Partnership, the EU assists the six Eastern European countries in completing transformation towards democracy, providing more support to those who reform more, EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle told the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Stockholm on November 29th, 2012.

The results of this approach are visible, Füle said, in that the countries that are pressing ahead with reforms – Moldova, Georgia and Armenia – have received additional funds under the Eastern Partnership Integration and Coordination programme.
The Commissioner shared his views on the short-term future of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and the role of the Civil Society Forum (CSF). He recalled the agenda for the next months until the third EaP Summit in Vilnius in November 2013, as set out in the Eastern Partnership Roadmap:
·         progress, if not conclusion, of negotiations on Association Agreements with some countries, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area when appropriate;
·         headway on mobility through visa facilitation and liberalisation with a visa free regime as a final goal;
·         deepening sector cooperation and strengthening the EaP multilateral track.
Štefan Füle said with the current pace of Association Agreements talks, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA), they could be finalized with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia before the Vilnius Summit, and signed with Ukraine at the Summit. For this to happen, Füle stressed, the EU would expect “determined actions of the Ukrainian government and the new Parliament to address our well known and oft repeated concerns.”
Concerning Azerbaijan, there is still much to be done on electoral law, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and the media, the Commissioner said.
As regards Belarus, the EU is stepping up support for civil society (the European Dialogue on Modernisation with Belarusian Society was launched), while urging the authorities to stop repression and to free political prisoners.
Political reforms are central to the success of transformation towards deep democracy, the Commissioner said, and they should be underpinned by the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  “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,” the Commissioner said.
The role of civil society in democratic reforms is crucial, said Füle, adding that the EU has done much to support civil society and provide it with better opportunities to act, in particular, helped establish the Civil Society Forum itself “which has quickly become one of the most dynamic elements of our partnership.”
In addition, the EU has stepped up financial support to civil society in the Eastern Partnership region by launching theNeighbourhood Civil Society Facility in 2011 and allocating €14 million for civil society led projects. For 2012 – 2013, a further €23 million were earmarked to support civil society involvement in the development and implementation of reforms in partner countries.
The new European Endowment for Democracy has 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,” the Commissioner said.
Štefan Füle also cited other developments, in particular the establishment of the national platforms of the Civil Society Forum in all six partner countries, adding that had signed almost €1 million in support of strengthening the platforms’ capacities earlier today.
More funds will be allocated to support the permanent secretariat of the Forum’s Steering Committee, Füle said, to boost its role as coordinator and promoter of the Forum’s activities.
The Commissioner stressed the need for a regular structured dialogue between governments and civil society representatives to discuss issues related to the implementation of the Eastern Partnership at a national level. He said the Forum should become more sustainable and encouraged its representatives “to 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.”

 

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