IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Highlights: Sixth EaP CSF Annual Assembly 2014
Over 250 participants from the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU took part in the 6th Annual Assembly of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Batumi, Georgia on November 20-21. Civil society representatives, officials and experts congregated to discuss “EU Integration and Common Security: Making it Happen”. Funded by the European Commission and supported by the Georgian government, the two conference days featured three expert panels, thematic workshops and a number of side-events on topical issues for the Eastern Partnership. The outcome of the Forum included the adoption of important resolutions, enhanced dialogue between and within civil society in the Eastern Partnership and the EU and important structural and strategic changes to the Forum, which are set to guide the work of the organisation in the coming years.
The Forum was symbolically opened by a video-address from the Georgian President, Giorgi Margvelashvili and the EU’s Vice President/ High Representative Federica Mogherini. President Margvelashvili’s speech made a strong statement reaffirming Georgia’s commitment towards the European Union and pledged support towards the EaP CSF and civil society. In a similar vein, VP/ HR Mogherini told Forum participants that their work is important not only to the Eastern Partnership countries but also to the European Union, further endorsing civil society as an effective tool for people to engage with their own societies
The opening further incorporated the voice of civil society, including opening remarks by Lasha Tugushi, Chairman of the Georgian National Platform and Arzu Abdullayeva, co-chair of the International Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly. Mr. Tugushi presented an overview of trends in the Eastern Partnership and looked towards the foreseeable large-scale changes to the political, social and economic environment in the countries which have signed Association Agreements with the EU. Arzu Abdullayeva highlighted the increasingly worrisome human rights situation in Azerbaijan and called for efforts towards the formation of global civil society and making the politics moral.
The first panel of the event Human Rights in the Eastern Partnership: Reestablishing EU Focus amid Deterioration focused on the human rights situation in the Eastern Partnership countries, which was given a prominent position on the agenda in light of the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Moderated by Chairman of the European Stability Initiative Gerald Knaus, the panel discussed ways for the European Union to better address growing problems in the region. In his speech, Ambassador of Sweden for the Eastern Partnership Martin Hagström insisted that the real movement for change in the Eastern Partnership needs to be internal but maintained nonetheless the strong commitment of Sweden and the European Union to human rights in the region. The Forum was called upon for more input on deliverables of 2015 EU Summit in Riga. Among the other speakers were Shahla Ismayil from the Women’s Association for Rational Development in Azerbaijan, Oleksandra Delemenchuk from Euromaidan SOS and finally Artur Sakunts representing the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly Vanadzor. Ms. Ismayil covered the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, taking issue with the growing fragmentation of civil society in the country, whilst Ms. Delemenchuk spoke on human rights in Ukraine, claiming that important human rights violations are taking place as a result of fighting between warlord factions. Finally, Mr. Sakunts placed human rights in the context of authoritarian regimes and the implications for EU policy.
Following the first panel, Forum participants had the option to choose between parallel panels on The new security environment in the Eastern Partnership and Propaganda and informational war in times of conflict. High-level officials Dirk Schuebel from the European External Action Service and Ambassador of Poland to Georgia, Andrzej Cieszkowski spoke on the issue of security with civil society representatives, Oleksandr Sushko from the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Viorel Cibotaru from the European Institute for Political Studies and Sergi Kapanadze from Georgia’s Reforms Associates. The panelists discussed Russia’s role in the Eastern Partnership region, the associated ramifications and the response.
The parallel session, moderated by former Steering Committee member Kristina Vaičiūnaitė, elicited a fruitful discussion on ‘new propaganda” and growing informational warfare in the Eastern Partnership region. Panel discussants included Petru Macovei representing the Moldovan Press Council, Barbara von Ow-Freytag from the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Krzysztof Bobinski from the Unia Polska Foundation and Tetiana Matychak from StopFake Ukraine. Together, the panel theorized on propaganda as a tool of the media, analysed in-depth the motives of propaganda emanating from Putin’s Russia and the strategy of Russia Today as a media outlet. Ms. Matychak supplemented the discussion by providing concrete examples of informational warfare and propaganda which have surfaced in Ukraine over the past year.
The second day of the Forum was marked by a panel discussion on the future of the Eastern Partnership. The main issue discussed included the emerging division in the region between those countries which have signed Association Agreements with the EU and those which have not. The panelists came from different viewpoints on the issue. On the one hand, Latvian Ambassador for the Eastern Partnership Juris Poikans expressed an optimistic view for the future of the initiative, though still noting that the success of the initiative will depend on the trajectory of the current front-runners: Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Similarly, Georgia’s Chairman of the Parliament, Davit Usupashvili made a strong case to seek opportunities, not differences in the different choices of the countries. Leila Alieva, on the other hand, took a more steady approach, claiming that the success of the Eastern Partnership initiative is conditional on the EU’s ability to strike a balance between value-based and strategic interests in the region - a reservation she notes in the EU’s policy approach towards Azerbaijan. Finally, Leonid Litra offered a more methodological perspective towards the future of the Eastern Partnership by outlining the findings of the new edition of the European Integration Index for the Eastern Partnership countries produced by experts of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and the progress made by the partner countries.
On a more practical level, the Forum was addressed by representatives of the European Commission, Monica Bucurenciu, Thomas Hansen and Sinziana Poiana and representatives of the EU Delegation in Georgia Helga Pender and the EU Delegation in Ukraine Stanislav Topolnitsky. The panel looked at regional support offered to civil society and the results of the Civil Society Facility call, EU roadmaps for engagement with civil society and the European Commission’s bilateral programmes in the region. The new 3-year funding for the EaP CSF was announced by the EU Commission representative.
Furthermore, the Forum discussed together the new Strategy of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum for 2015-2017 that is based on a wide process of consultation with the Working Groups of the Forum and its National Platforms in all six countries of the Eastern Partnership concerning the general priorities, advocacy tasks, and priorities of thematic groups both at the national level and at the level of the Forum. The new strategy was approved by Forum participants after their successful feedback and input into the final text. The new strategy of the Forum is available here.
A reform of the Steering Committee was approved by the Forum delegates with a new formula which will include six country coordinators, five WG coordinators, and up to two EU advocacy coordinators giving a way for a leaner structure that will be comprised of up to 13 members versus 19 in the previous composition. It was also decided to set up five 7-member Working Group Councils to give more practical prominence to Working Groups, each comprising: 1 EaP co-ordinator and 1 EU co-ordinator, each elected by the WG at the annual Forum and respective Working Group Coordinators from the 6 EaP countries. More info on the new composition of the Steering Committee can be found here.
As protocol dictates, a new Steering Committee was selected under the new structure. This year, a total of 12 steering committee members were elected in the relevant sessions of the Forum. The list of members of the new Steering Committee is available here.
The Forum participants were presented the report on the activities of the Forum during the period from November 2013 to November 2014 by the outgoing Co-Chair of the Steering Committee Jeff Lovitt. Annual reports of the National Platforms, Steering Committee and the Secretariat, Working Groups and subgroups of the Forum can be found here.
Beyond the panel discussions, Forum attendees participated in working group sessions and their respective subgroups. The working group sessions covered the areas of human rights, free and fair elections, visa and migration, media, good governance, economic integration, environment and energy security, contacts between people and social policy and social dialogue as the the thematic areas of the working groups. The sessions featured a discussion of relevant developments related to the issue-area within the Eastern Partnership, the activities of the working group and the election of both working group and subgroup coordinators.
In parallel to the Forum, a number of side-events were organised by partner organisations. These side-events ranged from Civil Society and Peacebuilding, Civil Society and Anti-Corruption to the EU in Myths and Reality to the Discussion of the formation of the Civil Society Platforms envisioned under the Association Agreements. Finally, Czech Organizations People in Need and NESEHNUTÍ presented an exhibition entitled Behind the Scenes: Human Rights in Azerbaijan.
Finally, the Forum yielded a number of important results, including the adoption of resolutions geared towards addressing relevant developments in the region, including, but not limited to, the process of establishment of civil society platforms between the European Union and Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, and Georgia envisioned in the Association Agreements, cooperation with the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, the media war by the Russian Federation, the support of the Belarusian human rights activist Elena Tonkacheva, better protection of minority rights in the Eastern Partnership process, and effective implementation of the UN convention on the rights of disabled people in the Eastern Partnership countries.
To see the full list of adopted resolutions, please click here.
Coincidentally, and largely symbolically, the Forum took place on the one year anniversary of Euromaidan. The Forum commemorated Euromaidan with a minute of silence in honor of the heroes of Euromaidan. Moreover, the Ukrainian delegation invited Forum participants to share their wishes for the future of the Eastern Partnership countries. In sum, the Forum laid solid groundwork for the future work of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, guided by a re-structured Steering Committee, a new strategy and more clearly defined priority areas.
Agenda of the Forum
Streaming of the Forum