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Empowering civil society. What Partnership for citizens?

28.10.2011  |  Publications   |  EaPCommunity,  

The delicate and sophisticated interrelations in society and between governments and the EU in their countries were discussed by Leila Alieva (Center for National and International Studies, Azerbaijan), Ulad Vialichka (co-chair of  the EaP Civil...

The delicate and sophisticated interrelations in society and between governments and the EU in their countries were discussed by Leila Alieva (Center for National and International Studies, Azerbaijan), Ulad Vialichka (co-chair of  the EaP Civil Society Forum, EUROBELARUS), Iris Kempe (Heinrich Boell Foundation, Germany), Sorin Mereacre (East Europe Foundation, Moldova) and Andrei Yahorau (Centre for European Transformation, Belarus) on the 1st session of the Eastern Partnership Conference in Warsaw. The participants tried to ask a difficult question: If the EaP has contributed to the improvement of these relations and if it can further enhance them. Below is the debate in edited and abbreviated form.

Leila Alieva: The further you go to the East, the more there is a need to balance the state versus society relationship. In most Eastern European countries there is already an established culture of democratic elections which provides for the greater legitimacy of the leadership. The further you go into the former Soviet Union the more difficult it is to see power as a representative of people. And that is the major idea that the EU overlooks. The potential of civil society is ignored, while all deals are struck on an official level. I would say that the Eastern Partnership made very important progress towards the establishment of civil society. The idea was to empower civil society in order to create a network or structure which is not a part of government and that would influence the decision makers on the official level. However 3 years of experience show that it is not easily. With Azerbaijan, for instance, the early years of the ENP witnessed enormous campaigning and lobbying from civil society and a certain effect on the official level. As an effect, the European Integration Committee included the clause of European aspirations. In this sense, by the way, I disagree that people in different countries have different attitudes, well governments might, but people have a very similar attitude towards European integration, in all 6 states of the EaP, apart from Belarus. I would say that if you go to the level of society there is no difference between their views and aspirations regarding Europe. I think that the success of Azerbaijani civil society in the early years was related to the fact, that there was still uncertainty regarding what ENP was. There was still hope that it might be a step towards greater European integration and even membership. Now things are different. We should actually ask whether the newly created structure (the Civil Society Forum) indeed has a substantial influence on greater transparency in the relationship between the EU and the national government. I would say that if we think of the Civil Society Forum as a structure which influences Brussels, then it probably does. But if we look at its implications on the national level, I think there are many question marks in this regard.

Iris Kempe: Civil societies... that is a big headache. I mean it’s attractive, but at the same time it’s not… Six or five EaP countries’ civil societies or the countries by themselves are stepping towards democracy. But there are shortcomings. And unfortunately it is not only concerning Belarus, it’s also Azerbaijan, it’s Ukraine. There are shortcomings in all six EaP countries. Paradoxically the Eastern Partnership often becomes a hostage of democratic developments in the EAP countries. And the other point, the combination between Sweden and Poland. I’m missing this figurative combination. I have an ever stronger impression that the EaP, on the side of the EU, is driven only by Poland. The other EU member states are less and less present. Moreover, the idea to develop and use the Eastern Partnership as a strategic toolbox is decreasing. And let me remind everyone - at the end of the day you need all 27 EU member states to agree, you need new strategies, and that can’t be driven by Poland only. To conclude, I hope that one of the next Civil Society Forums will be held in Stockholm, even if it’s not popular inside the all Commission Members because it’s more work. The steering committee of the CSF should be more present when the European decisions are made. Who will be present at tomorrow’s Eastern Partnership summit from the CSF? Nobody. That will be crucial. This is why we need more money and mandate. More mandate for national platforms is a good idea, but it does not solve the problem - the case is more complicated. The working groups of the CSF are doing well, undoubtedly there is success. The minus is that EU representatives are not paid. They do not prevent, because they must pay on their own. For example the German NGO may be less prosperous than the Azeri one because Azerbaijan is swimming in oil. This is a flaw, but a working group agenda is very good.

Sorin Mereacre: I would like to start with a brief reminder: from 2001 to 2009 we had the Communist Party controlling all the power in Moldova. Certainly, civil society didn’t feel very good in those circumstances because we had various problems, starting with registration. Checks and inspections from the tax authorities in the premises were on a daily basis. During the last two years we’ve been experiencing an enormous difference. Moreover, the current government is very open to cooperation with civil society. There is the National Participation Council which is a kind of advisory board for the Prime Minister’s office. The main scope or goal of this Council is to help the Moldovan government to shape public policies. The second is to monitor how the government in Moldova is fulfilling its obligations, in particular those related to the implementation of the law and the transparency of decision making. Speaking about the participation of civil society in the government, I think the most important thing is to have clear rules of decision making. When the government approves some draft laws or draft decisions there should be a very clear mechanism for how society can participate in the consultations in order to give their feedback on these proposals. The major success of this Council that we’ve already had is the new government program adopted for 2011 – 2014. It incorporated almost all proposals that came from civil society organisations and now we are at the next level to monitor how those will be implemented.

Ulad Vialichka: I totally agree that it is a very fair approach that local organisations should also have some kind of ownership of the civil society forum but on the other hand in what particular form that could be done, there is still a question mark, because if we analyse the environment in which civil society organisations are acting in Belarus or in Azerbaijan or other countries I could say that it’s very difficult to make this financial investment into it. So what is really possible is to invest energy, time political capital, whatever, which is not money of course, but this is what is going on, for me there’s a big question mark over what particular format this ownership could be developed into to take into account the circumstances, the very unfavourable circumstances of civil society.

Andrei Yahorau: When we talk about the creation of national platforms of the EaP Civil Society Forum, we have to understand, that this idea was established to reach two major objectives: enlarging the impact of civil society on decision making. Belarusians understood that it may lead us to multilateral dialogue between civil society, the national government and EU structures within the Eastern Partnership. The EaP through the instruments of the Civil Society Forum gave us a very bright future for the development of this multilateral dialogue. The second idea, on the basis of the foundation of platforms, was strengthening the national component within the CSF. At the very beginning that idea was met with reserve and not such an enthusiastic reaction from the European Commission because it was perceived that national platforms will not be able to, for instance, select the delegates for the CSF. National platforms were perceived as various actors who will not have the power to consolidate. Today, after demonstrating our capabilities and the possibility of the development of national platforms, the significant importance was proven. The European Commission has changed its mind. National platforms are an additional way to communicate and a guarantee of the improvement of the CSF. What is their role in the structure of the CSF? I believe that they fulfil several important roles. First of all, a higher legitimisation of the Forum. On the first Forum in 2009, when there were only delegates, it was a misunderstanding, if they represent a third sector, the citizens or the government. Secondly, with the creation of the national platforms, we have created an environment for the activation of the interests of civil society and also the possibility of transmitting the point of view from the national perspective. Thirdly, there is a higher possibility of bearing an impact on the decision made by the Eastern Partnership. Platforms have also become a place of coordination for national policies. In the pro-European organisations, which we have worked with, there is not such a significant importance given to the Eastern Partnership for instance. Our civil society wants to create a stronger platform for communication with the government. The organisations will also participate in the process of monitoring EaP projects and will provide the real implementation of reforms. Civil society as opposed to governments can provide the real implementation of reforms. I want to add one more aspect: we can provide it if we enhance civil society. We have a lack of experts and people who would monitor different areas. 

 

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