IN THE SPOTLIGHT
EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Seeks Permanent Dialogue with Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum
29 March 2011, Prague, Czech Republic:
EU and Russian civil society representatives gathered in Prague for the founding meeting of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum on 28-29th March.
In total, 57 representatives of the civil societies of Russia and 18 EU member states along with a number of observers, attended the inaugural meeting in the Czech Foreign Ministry.
The charter of the new forum, as approved on 29 March, includes the commitment to "strive to develop permanent dialogue with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum".
The new platform is intended to facilitate co-operation, networking, advocacy and development of joint agendas, positions and projects. Four working groups were established:
Similar to the EaP CSF, a number of sub-groups are planned, e.g. one on co-operation between the EU and the Russian government on human rights and the rule of law. Another one will be a joint project on Belarus and the wider Eastern Partnership issues.
The decisions taken prior to and during the Prague launch meeting, paralleled some of the debates around the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. These included the balance of EU and EaP members and the exclusivity or inclusion of membership. The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum will have a formal membership structure.
Key decisions discussed at the meeting included the composition of the Steering Committee. It was decided that the 50% of Steering Committee will be representatives of EU-based organisations while the remaining 50% will be Russian-based organisations. The EaP CSF steering committee includes 7 EU representatives and 10 EaP country representatives, but a key difference is that the new forum launched in Prague is explicitly an "EU-Russia" civil society forum.
Two further decisions reflect some of the debates and decisions taken in the framework of the EaP civil society forum. For instance, a proposal was made to exclude for the first four years Moscow and Brussels as the location of the forum Secretariat if funding is established (the EaP CSF steering committee is working to secure funding for a Brussels secretariat for the EaP CSF). This proposal was rejected after a number of participants, such as Fraser Cameron of the EU-Russia Centre, urged participants to take into account the importance of engagement in both locations as central to the work of the forum.
A proposal to exclude employers' organisations and trade unions from the forum was approved by a majority vote, however no such exclusion exists in the EaP civil society forum. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has been involved since the outset, and one of the EU members of the EaP Civil Society Forum steering committee is an EESC representative. EESC is an advisory body representing employers, trade unions, farmers, consumers and other interest groups in the EU.
The idea to establish the EU-Russia Forum was initiated in 2009. In autumn 2010, a position paper by Russian CSOs on the issue of establishing the Civil Society Forum was published, defining a bottom-up approach and non-institutionalisation as key features of the future platform. The document also mentioned the need to co-operate closely with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in the belief that no dividing lines should be drawn across Europe. The preparatory meeting for the Prague event was held back-to-back with the Berlin EaP CSF meeting in November 2010, involving around 30 NGOs.
On 29 March, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum elected a steering committee, comprised as follows:
Members from the EU:
Members from Russia:
The Prague meeting was organised by DEMAS – Association for Democracy Assistance and Human Rights, Czech Republic, and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Open Society Fund Prague, and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.
The next Assembly of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum will meet by the end of 2011 in Warsaw (the annual gathering of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum takes place in Poznan on 28-29 November 2011) and will be organised by the Stefan Batory Foundation and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
Further information, documents and audio and video coverage of the meeting can be downloaded at www.eu-russia-csf.org
Authors – Members of the EaP CSF Steering Committee:
Jeff Lovitt, Executive Director of PASOS (Policy Association for an Open Society)