IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Association Agreements and DCFTA: Lessons Learnt and Ways Ahead
2 October 2015
"Moldova needs depolitisation of law enforcement and regulatory institutions. After the 2010 success story, in 2015 we have the horror story of state capture"
Igor Botan, ADEPT
"Civil society in Georgia is very vocal, we have a very encouraging and promising cooperation"
Stephen Stork, EU Delegation to Georgia
"Oligarchisation of economy is an important challenge for EaP countries. Public procurement reform is a tool to fight corruption, however DCFTA is not a substitute for functioning judiciary"
Luc Devigne, DG Trade
On 23-25 September the EaP CSF held a capacity building seminar on the National Platforms’ (NPs) participation in Association Agreements (AAs)/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) implementation. During the 3 days of the event more than 60 participants took part in 5 panel discussions and 7 parallel sessions with the aim to produce recommendations on increasing the effectiveness of civil society’s involvement in the implementation process. The final report based on the developed recommendations will be published in the coming weeks.
The seminar was organised in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, which is currently the champion in the EaP countries’ approximation towards the EU. The reforms taking place in the country were discussed in detail at the event opened by the Deputy Foreign Minister Gigi Gigiadze who highlighted Georgia’s aspiration for EU membership and the AA/DCFTA serving for Georgia as the basis for the necessary transformation. He underlined the importance of the Georgian National Platform (NP) of the EaP CSF as one of the most reliable partners of the government with regards to the reform process and implementation of the AA.
One of the most successful reforms advocated by the EaP CSF Georgian NP was the separation of the country’s State Security Service from the Ministry of Internal Affairs as of 1 August 2015. The new law will help to bring more transparency in the decision-making process of the two reformed agencies. The Platform has also consistently raised the issue of illegal surveillance to put an end to such a practice. The reform of the Prosecutor’s Office was recently implemented to make the appointment of the Chief Prosecutor more transparent, merit-based, and free from political influence. Georgia’s public procurement system reform is considered a success and is now largely in line with the European Union regulations. Georgia was also successful in improving the personal data protection to the highest standards. Archil Talakvadze (Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Georgia) emphasised: “The post-Soviet concept of border protection was transformed: now we work to improve integrated border management”. In spite of apparent achievements in all those areas, there is still much missing to ensure that the reforms are fundamental and irreversible, according to Ana Natsvlishvili (Georgian Young Lawyers Association).
The Georgian Government is determined to continue the reforms, however it is experiencing many internal and external challenges. “The conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not frozen – they have very strong dynamics. The more time we lose, the more we lose together as a region,” said Ketevan Tsikhelashvili (First Deputy State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality, Georgia) describing territorial challenges. The role of civil society is essential in rejuvenating the discussion about de facto Russian occupation of these Georgian territories. The government’s policy is focused on conflict resolution and trying to engage the society in Abkhazia and South Ossetia into direct and practical dialogue. “We must make concrete benefits of AA and DCFTA available for those communities as well – it is the best way to reach positive results in this conflict resolution,” added Ms Tsikhelashvili.
Despite the challenges, Georgia is a positive example of involving civil society into monitoring the implementation process: “We carry out monitoring and try to give constructive suggestions. Within the platform, we draft laws, prepare policy papers and present them to the decision-makers. We have offered 37 policy papers for the consideration of the Government and the Parliament; a number of law developed by us were adopted by the Parliament,” described the cooperation Lasha Tughushi (Chair of the EaP CSF Georgian National Platform). For the future, continued cooperation with the government and the parliament on implementation of visa liberalisation action plan, revising environmental legislation, cooperation of Georgia with the EU in the energy sphere, and signing the Memorandum of Understanding on the cooperation between the authorities and civil society are the priorities of the Platform.
Lack of institutional capacity and funding was mentioned as a serious obstacle for the effective implementation of AA related reforms. “We need capable people for implementing this complex document,” says Nataliya Hnydyuk (Government Office for European Integration, Ukraine). Tatiana Molcean (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Moldova) adds: “The lack of human resources is an important issue. The ministries are understaffed and not sufficiently trained.”
The civil society representatives pointed out serious shortcomings in AAs implementation plans as the set benchmarks are often too broad and too vague. “Formulations must be as specific as possible – not to leave any room for speculation. In the action plan, we need to have clear indicators of success and specific implementation timeframe. There is a clear mismatch between the agenda of reform implementation and actions taken,” stressed Ana Natsvlishvili.
The seminar included a timely discussion on the division of tasks and possible cooperation between the EaP CSF National Platforms and bilateral CSO platforms created on the basis of the Association Agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The two types of platforms were designed for different purposes, however some areas of their expertise might overlap, therefore it is crucial to ensure their cooperation for more efficient oversight of the AAs/DCFTAs implementation (see attached presentations).
The lack of communication between EU, central and local governments and civil society as well as between legislative and the executive branches of the government is a very important issue, which prevents efficient implementation of the reforms. “There is a resistance against reforms from the societies which comes not from fatigue, but from the fact that the goals of these reforms are not fully understood,” stressed Andrei Yahorau (Co-chair of the EaP CSF Steering Committee).
DCFTA is seen as a new opportunity to be more integrated into EU market and to increase attractiveness for potential investors, according to Lali Gogoberidze (Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, Georgia). However, the implementation process is very complex and is associated with numerous challenges for Georgia and Moldova, as well as for Ukraine preparing for the implementation from 1 January 2016.
Corruption was highlighted as a challenge in relation to both the AAs and DCFTA implementation. Luc Devigne (DG TRADE) stressed that the ubiquitous corruption problem does not allow the societies to fully benefit from the DCFTA. “Oligarchisation of economy is a very important problem. Several of these countries have a corruption issue so public procurement reforms are very important. In addition, countries could use EU assistance in a more effective manner.”
Government officials and civil society representatives agreed that the AAs implementation can be seen as a relative success, while the three countries still face serious challenges. According to the EaP CSF Co-chair Krzysztof Bobinski the EaP countries should prioritise the three areas - free and fair elections, supporting free media, and fight against corruption - that are instrumental for the reform process to go forward. He also mentioned that the secrecy of the texts of the negotiated AA/DCFTAs remains a problem for the civil society to be fully on board with the process and ensure a buy-in of the society.
A separate parallel session was dedicated to strategies for National Platforms from the three countries that did not sign the AAs/DCFTAs (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus) to build relations with the EU and national authorities. At the moment, the trasparency of negotiations is particularly relevant for Armenia, with which the EU might be signing an AA-like agreement in the future. Belarusian NP is currently focusing on ensuring that civil society has its seat at the table during the talks between the EU and government agencies. Azerbaijani NP is facing the challenges related to the recent Parliament’s resolution, which recommends the Cabinet of Ministers to reconsider the participation of Azerbaijan in the Eastern Partnership initiative. All the National Platforms expressed their solidarity with the Azerbaijani NP’s determination to continue its work despite the possible withdrawal of the government from the EaP.