Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

Concept paper for the EaP Civil Society Forum presented for discussion in Poznan

From founding concept to a strategy for active and expert civil society engagement

The work and composition of the Forum was launched on the basis of a Concept Paper developed in 2009 by the European Commission in co-operation with the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and with extensive contributions from civil society organisations from both partner countries and from EU member-states.

According to the Commission Concept, “Civil society and non-governmental organisations play a crucial role, within their societies, in providing policy input, following new initiatives and in holding governments accountable. They can be active actors in promoting democratic and market-oriented reforms based on shared values, i.e. respect for democracy and human rights, the rule of law, good governance, principles of market economy and sustainable development”.

The Commission proposed “to support the further development of civil society organisations (CSOs)” and, in particular, “to establish an Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum to promote contacts among CSOs and facilitate their dialogue with public authorities”. The Commission invited “the European Economic and Social Committee to participate in the Civil Society Forum”.

A year-round, multi-layered forum

Building on this initial concept, basic principles and criteria were laid out for the procedure for selecting forum participants, the forum was conceived as a recognised partner for the EU and partner governments, and the following constituent parts of the Forum were established: 

• Four working groups were established to complement the Eastern Partnership intergovernmental panels
• Working group coordinators (in each case one from the EU and one from the partner countries) to manage the work process in each of the groups
• Sub-groups were established, with their own co-ordinators
• Country facilitators were elected from each partner country, and national platforms established to ensure local ownership and direct civil society input at the country level
• A steering committee was established as a representative body of the forum, comprising the eight working group co-ordinators, six country facilitators, and three EU co-ordinators
• An annual forum event was established, alongside separate working group meetings.

A strategy for active and expert civil society engagement

After the first year of the forum's existence, a strategy for civil society engagement has now been outlined, comprising the following short-term and medium-term objectives.

Short-term objectives (2012)
• Establishment of, and securing of start-up funding for, a co-ordinating Secretariat to support and guide the work of the Forum and build stakeholder relations with EU institutions, and preparation of a sustainable future funding model. This will include a decision concerning the legal basis on which decision-making will be made by the Forum, and the corresponding funding model. Draft legal statutes will be submitted to the Forum participants for debate and a decision on the legal status of the Forum.
• Strengthening of the national platforms as effective, well recognised civil society fora at the country level ,and establishment of strong communications with the Secretariat to support the work of both the national platforms and the working groups
• Effective lobbying for establishment of a distinct EU Civil Society Facility to finance the capacity of civil society organisations, and support dialogue between civil society organisations and government
• Transformation of the Forum at the working group meetings and annual forum into a dynamic, grassrootsdriven hub of national and international initiatives to facilitate through civil society expertise and projects a more participatory policy-making and democratic transition in the partner countries
• Recognition of the annual Forum event and working group meetings as leading, agenda-setting events on the civil society/EU policymaking calendar, and key networking events with other civil society organisations and stakeholders in EU-Eastern Partner relations

• Provision of regular constructive contributions to the Eastern Partnership intergovernmental platforms and expert panels
• Dissemination to civil society organisations of well-presented, up-to-date, essential information about developments in the Eastern Partnership through the website and electronic bulletins
• Strengthened support for the activities of the sub-groups of the four working groups, and through work with EU stakeholders for the work and programmes of the national platforms and the participating civil society organisations, and establish the national platforms as essential partners for all stakeholders in the Eastern Partnership
• Consultation with the forum participants to agree upon a model for inclusion of independent democratic social partners in the forum, including consideration of a social dialogue platform
• Consultation of the proposed strategic concept with the constituent parts of the Forum (working groups and national platforms), and with other key stakeholders (European Commission, EU member-states, EESC, international civil society networks, and think-tanks in EU and partner countries), and adoption of the final, agreed strategy at the annual Forum event in Poznan, Poland, on 28-30 November 2011.

Medium-term objectives (2013-2014)
• Recognition of the forum and its constituent parts as recognised representatives of civil society and as partners of the EU and the partner countries in the democratic transition of the partner countries
• Development as a partner with EU institutions of a roadmap for democratic transition for the partner countries, and for closer political and economic integration of the partner countries with the EU
• Establishment of Advisory Council of senior political and think-tank figures who can strengthen the advocacy work and analytical depth of the Forum, in particular in shaping the roadmap for democratic transition for the partner countries
• Establishment of the sub-groups of the working groups and the national platforms as the core drivers of civil society engagement and expertise in a locally driven, decentralised Forum • Securing of sustainable funding and office space for a Secretariat expanded to three persons (Executive Director, Advocacy & Communications Manager, and Finance & Administration Manager) to support the work of the Forum, monitor the Eastern Partnership process, and build stakeholder relations with EU institutions
• Securing of sustainable funding and necessary resources for the functioning of the national platforms
• Facilitation and demonstration of the essential contribution of civil society - at national and international level -
to the process of strengthening political and economic ties between the EU and the partner countries through co-ordination by the Secretariat and, where necessary, securing of funding by the Secretariat, for:
- flagship projects monitoring democratic transition
- securing permanent participant status at meetings of official intergovernmental platforms, thematic working groups, expert panels and flagship initiatives
- facilitating direct input and submission of written opinions and recommendations in the early stages of draft policy plans and priorities between the EU and the partner countries, preparation of practical policy recommendations, and advocacy for them
- evaluation and analysis to monitor progress in implementing commitments and agreements made between the EU and the partner countries in the framework of the Eastern Partnership
• Facilitation via EU delegations of trilateral dialogue at the national level concerning bilateral agreements, including priority-setting in European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) funding and review of financial perspectives, and prior access to draft plans and priorities that are subjects of the Action Plans and Association Agreements.

Challenges And Policy Dilemmas

As a new organisation, the Forum and its constituent parts face various challenges in finding a model for sustainable growth and effective operations. The challenges vary across country and depend on the policy focus of the civil society organisations and between the four different working groups and their sub-groups.
1. Inclusivity. The participants in the Forum differ greatly in their capacities, environments, specialisation, and modus operandi. This means that it is extremely difficult to design research and monitoring projects that involve all Forum participants. One solution is to encourage a national strategic plan on the part of all the national platforms to establish common priorities and projects; another is to decentralise to the sub-groups of the working groups as much as possible, and for the secretariat to work in a supportive role to all sub-group co-ordinators managing multicountry projects of the participants of the Forum.

2. Competition. Equitably involving all Forum participants in joint activities, or in particular joint projects, remains a huge challenge, against the background of the great diversity of the participating civil society organisations. Another key challenge for the Forum relates to the effective regulation of the relationship between the participating civil society organisations and the Forum steering committee so as to exclude unnecessary conflicts of interest, and
between the participating civil society organisations and the Forum secretariat, for instance in applying for funding to the same donors. There is a need for clear and transparent procedures in any applications for funding on the part of the Forum to guard against perceived and actual competition with the Forum participants without excluding the Forum from raising funds in the knowledge that it will inevitably target some of the same donors focused on the region. 

3. Professionalism and balance. A serious challenge is posed by the fact that the steering committee comprises volunteers who have highly demanding positions in their own organisations. On the one hand, it is obvious that the Forum needs a full-time Secretariat. On the other hand, allocating resources to a Secretariat has to be balanced with a transparent, decentralised approach to setting thematic and country priorities that should drive the advocacy and communications focus of the secretariat and steering committee. Striking the right balance requires good planning and careful timing of policy initiatives, as well as a parallel strengthening of services to the Forum participants alongside the establishment of an effective level of human resources in the Secretariat.

4. Local sustainability and legal environment. In many of the partner countries, the legal environment for civil society organisations curtails a range of modus operandi, including legal structures, such as branches of international organisations, and sources of funding, especially international funding, making it difficult to secure sustainable funding. This is an area where the secretariat can work with intergovernmental organisations and international civil society networks to lobby more effectively for reform of the legal environment in the respective
countries. This might also include working with the funding units of the European Commission to find flexible ways of funding that are not proscribed by the restrictive legal environments in the countries concerned.

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Related documents:

Strategic roadmap for EaP CSF

Civil Society Forum in Poznan

Project funded by the European UnionEU