Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

EaP Countries Should Not Expect Miracles from EU but Do Their Homework: Working Group 1 Meeting Report

16 June 2015 

Taking place in Brussels on 8 - 9 June 2015, the meeting brought together 50 working group members from the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU and officials from the EU institutions (European External Action Service and the European Commission).

The focus of the first day of the meeting was on challenges and solutions with regard to the human rights situation in the Eastern Partnership countries and promotion of women’s leadership in the region. The results of the Riga Summit and the progress of reforms implementation were evaluated. The second day discussions focused on finding ways to ensure that the EaP region becomes conflict-free and secure and discussion of the situation with media freedom and the impact of Russian propaganda in the EaP countries. The meeting then concluded with the subgroups developing their action plans, discussing future projects and contributions to the ENP review.

At the opening panel Krzysztof Bobinski, the Co-Chair of the Steering Committee and the Working Group 1 Coordinator emphasised the importance of civil society advocating for the recognition of the EU membership perspective for the EaP countries that was not mentioned in the Riga Declaration. Volodymyr Kuprii, Working Group 1 Coordinator, stressed the need to show solidarity of all EaP countries in view of the Russian aggression. Gerhard Schuman-Hitzler DG NEAR Director for Neighbourhood East highlighted the achievements of the EaP policy and underlined the role of civil society as a watchdog in implementing the relevant reforms, as well as in channelling the information and reaching the population with the messages on the opportunities that the Association Agreements with the EU bring to the countries.

Human Rights in the Eastern Partnership countries: Challenges and Focus Areas

"Human rights are non-negotiable and their protection in the conflict zones is key''

Volodymyr Kuprii

''Whenever the EU officials visit Azerbaijan, civil society should
always be present at the discussion table" 

Jeff Lovitt

The panel, moderated by Ion Manole (Moldovan National Platform), underlined the importance of developing tools to protect human rights defenders, in addition to supporting the civil society that is operating under the pressure and ensuring the respect of human rights in conflict zones. Simon Papuashvili (International Partnership for Human Rights) commented on the limited effect of sanctions against Russia and the absence of EU legal rather than political framework for the enforcement of human rights abroad. According to him, the EU’s weak position towards the infringements currently taking place in Azerbaijan is part of what perpetuates the status quo. Razi Nurrulayev (Azerbaijani National Platform) suggested a softer approach through dialogue justifying that a hard line approach will provoke a further crackdown by the government on the civil society. Elena Tonkacheva (Belarusian National Platform) presented the difficulties related to the communication with state officials, restrictions on CSOs work in Belarus. With regard to the current thaw in the EU-Belarus relationship, she stressed that the release of political prisoners and their rehabilitation should be the precondition for any rapprochement with official Minsk. Human rights situation in Crimea, as well as minority rights were mentioned as areas that urgently need attention. Jeff Lovitt (PASOS) presenting the European Integration Index 2014 produced by the EaP CSF, suggested that the EU should be more actively raising the human rights in its dialogue with oil-rich Azerbaijan. Volodymyr Kuprii stressed the importance of the judicial system, and the fact that human rights are a non-negotiable value.  

Women Leading Change in Eastern Partner Countries

"Why do female human rights defenders still feel stigmatized in the EaP countries?" 

Shahla Ismayil

 The panel focused on women’s rights and female human rights defenders. Although the situation has improved for women working with human rights, they still face threats and harassment in their home countries. Shahla Ismayil (Azerbaijani National Platform) brought forward the importance of supporting female human rights defenders in EaP countries who still feel stigmatization.  Emma Sandahl from DG NEAR focused on the importance of access to education and the fight against stereotypes concerning women. She mentioned the draft human rights and gender action plan setting the priorities for the next 5 years as part of the Commission and DG NEAR commitment to work on gender equality and women’s participation in politics. Finally, Katarina Härröd (Swedish CSO ‘Kvinna till Kvinna’) shared how her organisation supports women’s organisations in conflict zones, stressing the importance of driving political change through supporting local women’s groups. Härröd also underlined that unresolved conflicts are breeding grounds for nationalism, homophobia, and gender stereotypes and that the gender approach to development needs to be holistic.

Progress on Reforms in Eastern Partnership

"With EU-Georgia Association Agreement signed closed to a year ago, there has not been
a single parliamentary hearing on its implementation in Georgia"

Ivane Chkhikvadze

"It is very important to conduct the reform in due time. In Ukraine the justice reform
is going non-stop, but people in Ukraine do not trust the judicial system" 

Volodymyr Kuprii

Ivane Chkhikvadze (Georgian National Platform) brought attention to the decrease in the support for the EU by the Georgian population, lack of willingness by the Georgian Government to implement painful reforms stipulated in the Association Agreement due to the upcoming elections, and unsuccessful attempts by the government to communicate the AA to its population. Lilia Carasciuc (Moldovan National Platform) mentioned several priority areas such as anti-corruption reform and reform of public administration.  According to her, security, energy security and combatting information propaganda should be the priorities in EaP countries at the moment. Iryna Sushko (Ukrainian National Platform) presented visa liberalization process between Ukraine and the EU as a means of security strengthening. According to her, there is a need for a boost from the EU, as Ukraine is at risk of losing momentum in terms of implementing reforms. Peter Balas (DG NEAR Head of Support Group for Ukraine) underlined that the current Ukrainian government shows good results in terms of economic and social situation, particularly fighting corruption. While the EU opened the markets to Ukraine, the EU also needs to ensure its energy security. According to Balas, the EU should not start a negative propaganda war with Russia, however sanctions should stay until the conditions are met.

A Stronger Eastern Partnership: Conflict and Security Aspects

"The lack of membership perspective leads to more insecurity for Georgia
decreasing drive for transformation" 

Natalie Sabanadze, Georgian Ambassador

"The ENP review will look at the EU ambition in conflict resolution, 
it is about the EU credibility in the Eastern Partnership region" 

Michael Miller, EEAS

"The Eastern Partnership countries should not expect miracles from the EU;
they should do their job in implementing the reforms" 

Richard Tibbels, EEAS

Jan Pieklo (PAUCI) as the panel moderator introduced the security issues that are high on the agenda and suggested that the OSCE Helsinki Final Act has to be reviewed in light of the Russian aggression and a new civil society platform on security should be created. Hennadiy Maksak presented the recommendations of the Kyiv Security Conference held on 3-4 June. According to Natalie Sabanadze (Georgian Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU), Georgia and Ukraine are the examples of the EaP weakness in terms of security and responding to external threats. In her opinion, the lack of membership perspective leads to more insecurity for Georgia. Michael Miller (EEAS, Deputy Head of Division on Conflict Prevention, Peace Building and Mediation Instruments) mentioned that the ENP review will look at EU conflict resolution ambition. The tools utilised should be conflict prevention, conflict analysis (understanding the drivers), encouraging civil society dialogue network, and creating a mediation support team with EU participation. Richard Tibbels (EEAS, Head of Division on Eastern Partnership) emphasised that the EU will continue focusing on developing democratic institutions in the EaP region. Security should be mainstreamed in all spheres of cooperation, while resilience is the main concept on the agenda. The three focus areas are energy security, cyber security and information. Moreover, the success of visa free regime with Moldova shows that mobility agenda brings a real added value. The EaP countries should not expect miracles from the EU - political will should be generated from within to address security challenges.

Media Freedom and Combating Propaganda in EaP Countries

"Strong and vibrant local media is the best answer against propaganda.
We should stick to our values and promote ethical journalism" 

Rasto Kuzel

"Media regulators in the Eastern Partnership countries should isolate and exclude free access
to the channels that practically violate the legislation of those states" 

Boris Navasardian

"Any foreign media and broadcasting from the countries that have not ratified
the relevant international conventions should be banned on official level" 

Petru Macovei

"We should not leave people to the mercy of propaganda and bias, it is important
to develop national media. 
There should also be credible alternatives to Russian propaganda in Russian"

Andris Kesteris

Boris Navasardian (Armenian National Platform) and Rasto Kuzel presented the report on monitoring messages of Russian TV that was produced by the media sub-group of the EaP CSF and Memo98. Navasardian focused on the solution for combatting propaganda, such as introducing national media programs, legal tools tackling propaganda by national regulators, initiatives similar to the Ukrainian ‘stop fake’ campaign, TV channels in national language and finally access to unbiased sources of information. Rasto Kuzel explained that the main problem was a lack of reliable journalism, presenting the clear biases of the main Russian channels. However, he advised not to use counter propaganda, but to stick to ethical journalism instead. Andris Kesteris from DG NEAR mentioned that more assistance to national media is needed in the EaP countries.

The Way Forward after Riga: Debate with Policy Makers

"Visa free travel with the Eastern Partnership countries remains our common aim to be reached" 

Gunnar Wiegand, EEAS

"Paradoxically, in order to have closer relations with the EU,
Armenia had to join the Eurasian Union" 

Mikayel Hovhannisyan

"From the security point of view it is very difficult to be a part of Europe and not part of the EU. 
The EaP countries should be included in the new EU Security Strategy.
Ukraine is currently not only defending itself but also European security" 

Lasha Tugushi

The final panel focused on the road after the Riga summit. Gunnar Wiegand (EEAS, Director for Russia, EaP, Central Asia, Regional Cooperation and OSCE) highlighted that the new reality of two EaP countries representing the Eurasian Union interests in the EaP should be taken into account. He stressed that the Riga Declaration introduced the focus for the years to come. He also emphasised that the EaP countries should use the opportunities the EU is offering by AA/DCFTA framework before enquiring about the future possibilities. Mikayel Hovhannisyan (Armenian National Platform) mentioned the lack of publicly available information on AAs negotiations and its content as a challenge for having a broad support of it. According to Leonid Litra (Moldovan National Platform), the top two priorities of EaP should be security and energy and the partner countries should become members of the Energy Union. According to Lasha Tugushi, the EaP countries should be part of the new EU Security Strategy.

Project funded by the European UnionEU