Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

European Neighbourhood Policy: now is the time to bring our interests in line with our values

The renewed European Neighbourhood Policy must reaffirm and strengthen the EU’s commitment to its founding values of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle has told a round table discussion organised by Members of the European Parliament.

The Commissioner said the EU had always been active in promoting human rights and democracy in its neighbourhood, but he admitted it had often focused too much on stability at the expense of other objectives. “Now is the time to bring our interests in line with our values,” he told MEPs, adding: “Recent events in the South have proved that there can be no real stability without real democracy.”

Deep and sustainable democracy

Füle said providing greater support to those partners engaged in building deep and sustainable democracy was one of the cornerstones of the new approach outlined in the ENP Communication adopted on 25 May, identifying the following common elements for building deep and sustainable democracy:

  • free and fair elections;
  • freedom of association, expression and assembly and a free press and media;
  • the rule of law administered by an independent judiciary and right to a fair trial;
  • fight against corruption;
  • security and law enforcement sector reform and the establishment of democratic control over armed and security forces.

“These elements are the central benchmarks against which the EU will assess progress and adapt levels of support to its partners,” said Füle, adding that the EU would also look very carefully at another crucial and closely related element: equality and non-discrimination.

Implementation must match commitment

The Commissioner said commitment to fundamental freedoms through treaties and agreements was also important, but warned that commitments had to be matched by action. “The effective implementation of the obligations contained in these treaties is thus even more important than their formal endorsement,” he said, explaining this was one of the reasons the EU had developed a partnership with the Council of Europe, which has a large experience and could support countries in the South, starting from Morocco and Tunisia.

Commissioner Füle also stressed commitments to promote gender equality, “in line with the major role once again played by women in recent events in the South”, to respect freedom of religion, and to respect the rights of refugees.

Mutual accountability and conditionality

He said that in the next generation of Action Plans, the EU would suggest to partners to focus on a limited number of short and medium-term priorities, incorporating more precise benchmarks, tailored to each country’s specificities.

The new approach to the ENP was based on mutual accountability and conditionality, he said. “Mutual accountability means that partners will be accountable to the EU for the fulfilment of their reform commitments, and the EU will be accountable to partners for delivering on its promises of support, in particular on mobility partnership and market access.”

“Conditionality means that if a partner country wishes to obtain greater support from the EU, to obtain closer political support from the EU, to participate in the EU internal market, to ensure greater mobility for its citizens, then it will have make progress towards a number of very significant political reforms, such as greater freedoms of expression and association; judicial reform; or fight against corruption.”

And if a partner country engaged in unacceptable violations of human rights, “then our cooperation and funding will stop”, he said, as has happened in Syria, where the EU has suspended all bilateral financial cooperation under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument in the wake of the recent violence.

The Commissioner stressed that while much focus had recently been on the Southern Neighbourhood, the promotion of democracy and human rights was equally relevant in the East. “In Belarus, our work towards democratic reforms and respect of human rights continues and is more essential than ever. In Ukraine, Azerbaijan and other eastern neighbours, strengthening democracy and human rights also remains a key challenge and a common interest.”

A key role for civil society

Füle went on to say that more effective support for civil society was essential if the EU wanted to promote democracy and human rights. “One of the main proposals of the ENP Communication is to develop a real partnership not only with governments but with societies,” he said.

The review of the ENP proposes two new instruments to channel EU support to civil society: a Civil Society Facility and a European Endowment for Democracy. The Commissioner said the Civil Society Facility would help civil society organisations develop their advocacy capacity, their ability to monitor reform and their role in implementing and evaluating EU programmes, while the European Endowment for Democracy would help support political actors striving for democratic change, including political parties and non-registered NGOs or trade unions and other social partners that have not been able to benefit from EU support so far. (ENPI Info Centre)

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Štefan Füle speech

ENPI Info Centre – EU launches ‘new and ambitious’ European Neighbourhood Policy (25-05-11)

A new response to a changing Neighbourhood – Joint Communication by the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs

ENPI Info Centre – European Parliament report calls for paradigm shift in EU backing for democracy (08-06-11)

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