Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

EaP CSF participates in joint roundtable with PISM on deliverables for the Eastern Partnership Summit in 2015

The Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum participated in a roundtable discussion organized in partnership with the Polish Institute of International Affairs on 2 October in Warsaw. The event discussed the objectives for the 2015 Riga Summit on the Eastern Partnership as well as the state of human rights and democracy in the region, with particular regard to the situation in Azerbaijan.

The speakers included Steering Committee members of the EaP CSF, fellows of the Polish Institute of International Affairs and Polish government representatives, including Konrad Pawlik, Director of the Eastern Department of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Jarosław Ćwiek-Karpowicz , Head of Research at the Polish Institute of International Affairs opened the panel dedicated to the objectives for the Riga Summit 2015  by calling on the roundtable to discuss how the EU can (1) strengthen its role as a security actor and (2) its position in terms of democracy promotion in the region.

The first speaker on the panel, Konrad Pawlik, Director of the Eastern Department of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs looked at the Eastern Partnership in perspective. Despite the fathers of the Eastern Partnership programme, Radosław Sikorski and Carl Bildt leaving their respective posts as foreign ministers of Poland and Sweden, Mr. Pawlik offered his reassurances that there would be continuity in the Eastern partnership Programme. This continuity is to be mirrored in five aspects:  (1) reforms and adjustment to European standards supported by EU technical assistance, (2) tailor-made offer, (3) more-for-more principle, (4) mobility and, more recently, (5) security.

Following the speech, Country Facilitators of the National Platforms of the EaP CSF presented background information on their respective countries and the objectives they hold for the approaching summit in Riga. Oleksandr Sushko, representing the Ukrainian National Platform, offered his positive expectations for the Riga summit and stated that the challenges ahead have already been identified. Ukraine will be pre-occupied with coordinating the reforms of the administrative system connected to the Association agreement with a view to showing progress and learning from the experience of other partner states. Furthermore, Mr. Sushko emphasised Ukraine’s expectation for a clearer strategy on energy security, including the diversification and delivery of energy resources to the region.

The other country coordinators to present included those from EaP frontrunner states Georgia and Moldova. Despite Georgia’s progress, Ivane Chkhikvadze presented a comprehensive overview of the challenges facing the Georgian political system, namely the tug-of-war between the executive and legislative branches of the country, which is likely to undermine checks-and-balances in the country. Moreover, broad security challenges related to Russia’s occupation of Georgian territory, economic interdependency and public opinion were voiced. The conclusion was that the EU should be more attentive to its soft power in the country paying more attention to trusted institutions in the country such as the Georgian Orthodox Church.

National coordinator from Moldova, Lilia Carasciuc, identified similar challenges but painted a more optimistic image of the road ahead. Ms. Carasciuc is hopeful that certain EaP countries will follow the path of the Baltic States and expects the EU to address the issue of state-sponsored Russian propaganda in the region, raise awareness of EU policies, including minority rights policy, and broaden the EU’s security approach.

Lastly, National Platform coordinator from Armenia, Boris Navasardian, offered the perspective of non-signatory country. Mr. Navasardian spoke about the drastic decrease in the support of the country’s population of the membership of the Eurasian Economic Union, and the possible ramifications to be expected when it comes in force. His message to the EU was to continue supporting Armenia with strict conditionality in place, work with alternative partners in country who support European integration, and raise awareness of the benefits of EU integration.

EU coordinator Jan Piekło finished the discussion by focusing once again on the situation in Ukraine, drawing a parallel to the Balkans during the 1990s, from which important lessons can be drawn. His address also punctuated the need for greater focus on energy security and EU support, both practical and visionary. Mr Pieklo concluded that both a soft and hard security agenda will need to be developed by the Riga summit.

The second panel of the roundtable discussed the human rights situation in the region, including its deteriorating state and the role that civil society can play as a force for democratic transformation.

EaP CSF Working Group 1 coordinator Leila Alieva presented a comprehensive overview of the EU’s relations with Azerbaijan. The highlights of her speech were that the EU has a special relationship with Azerbaijan related to Azerbaijan’s oil-based economy and argued that as a result energy interests have thus far taken precedence over human rights in line with a more pragmatic approach to the region. Ms. Alieva offered her criticism of the EU’s failure to address the contradictions inherent to the country and urges more seriousness in its policy of differentiation. Co-chair of the EaP CSF steering committee and Jeff Lovitt also focused his attention on Azerbaijan calling for a more integrated and informed approach on the part of various EU member states a greater and more pre-emptive agenda-setting role of the EU in the region.

In a similar vein, Andrei Yahorau, country-facilitator for Belarus, offered his analysis of the EU’s engagement in Belarus. Since 2010, bilateral political contacts between the EU and Belarus have intensified but this has not resulted in more pressure on the human rights front. Instead, Mr. Yahorau sees the EU focusing more on sectoral cooperation and finding other instruments of engagement. This tacit acceptance of the conditions of Belarussian authorities to depoliticise the dialogue has been coupled with a narrowing the role of civil society in bilateral relations.

Finally, Elżbieta Kaca, Senior Research Fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs announced that the think-tank has recently completed a study on the monitoring of budget support offered by the EU to the Eastern Partnership and believes there to be scope for civil society organisations and the EaP CSF to engage in budget support.

In the Q&A session the need of combatting Russian propaganda in the region and the world was discussed through having a proactive approach and supporting independent media in the EaP countries and increasing the quality of reporting on the global level.

Project funded by the European UnionEU