By Stefanie Schif­fer. From the 18th to 19th Novem­ber more than 200 rep­res­ent­at­ives of civil soci­ety organ­isa­tions based in the coun­tries of the European Uni­on and the East­ern Part­ner­ship (Ukraine, Belarus, Mol­dova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Geor­gia) met in Ber­lin for the second “East­ern Part­ner­ship Civil Soci­ety For­um”. The aim of the con­fer­ence was to present to the plen­um the res­ults of the work of the work­ing groups and nation­al plat­forms from the pre­vi­ous year, as well as to com­pose recom­mend­a­tions for the future work of the for­um.

The East­ern Part­ner­ship Civil Soci­ety For­um is a body which was estab­lished in May 2009 by the European Uni­on and which brings togeth­er rep­res­ent­at­ives of organ­isa­tions which oper­ate inde­pend­ent of gov­ern­ment influ­ence. The for­um is able to con­trib­ute to the reg­u­lar meet­ings of the min­is­ters of the East­ern Part­ner­ship States in Brus­sels with its recom­mend­a­tions in the fields of demo­cracy and human rights, eco­nom­ic integ­ra­tion, energy and the envir­on­ment, and con­tact between people. The fields as with which the Civil Soci­ety For­um works are designed to cor­res­pond to the plat­forms of the min­is­teri­al meet­ings of the East­ern Part­ner­ship. In this way the Civil Soci­ety For­um con­trib­utes to the gov­ern­ment­al dis­cus­sions con­duc­ted on sev­er­al plat­forms.

The second meet­ing of the for­um took place at the Ger­man For­eign Office in Ber­lin, after the first meet­ing had been organ­ised by the EU Com­mis­sion in Brus­sels. In so doing, and by invit­ing the Pol­ish For­eign Min­is­ter to host next year’s for­um in Pozn­an, the European mem­ber states are show­ing that they too hold the work of civil soci­ety organ­isa­tions in the same high esteem that the EU does and that they wish to assume respons­ib­il­ity for the con­tinu­ing suc­cess of this pro­cess.

Due to the relo­ca­tion of the con­fer­ence from Brus­sels to Ber­lin, it was also pos­sible to con­duct a whole series of pub­lic events in con­nec­tion with the Civil Soci­ety For­um. This gave the polit­ic­ally inter­ested pub­lic in Ber­lin the oppor­tun­ity to famil­i­ar­ise itself with the civil and polit­ic­al devel­op­ments in the East­ern Part­ner­ship states and the work of the non­gov­ern­ment­al organ­isa­tions oper­at­ing there. This oppor­tun­ity was enthu­si­ast­ic­ally taken up by those Ber­lin act­ors who were not mem­bers of the Civil Soci­ety For­um.

The dis­cus­sions at the for­um itself left a mixed impres­sion: Whilst there were more than 200 com­mit­ted and well-informed rep­res­ent­at­ives of non­gov­ern­ment­al organ­isa­tions from the six EaP states and the EU present, the extremely schem­at­ic struc­ture and lead­er­ship of the work­ing groups and the plen­ary ses­sions provided very little scope for the devel­op­ment of com­mon strategies or even for dis­cus­sions to take place. For this reas­on, the for­um left the impres­sion of a polit­ic­ally very ambi­tious, but in the details of its exe­cu­tion some­what aim­less event. Thereby it fell short of the highly-set expect­a­tions. On a pos­it­ive note, the lead­er of the clos­ing plen­ary dis­cus­sion did address the feel­ing of dis­con­tent amongst the par­ti­cipants with regard to the event’s lack of sub­stance and con­crete ideas, call­ing upon all par­ti­cipants to offer their cri­ti­cisms and sug­ges­tions for improv­ing the WORK OF THE East­ern Part­ner­ship Civil Soci­ety For­um. The mem­bers of the for­um and par­tic­u­larly the super­vi­sion team are now charged with the great respons­ib­il­ity to take up these sug­ges­tions and to real­ise that the for­um does not only have to meet the demands of organ­isa­tion and pro­tocol expec­ted of such a large inter­na­tion­al event, but also has to provide a plat­form for sub­stant­ive dis­cus­sions deal­ing with issues which are cur­rently of great import­ance.

Some of the KEY recom­mend­a­tions for the fur­ther devel­op­ment of the format are:

  1. The polit­ic­al dia­logue between the rep­res­ent­at­ives of state struc­tures and those of the Civil Soci­ety For­um at the Min­is­teri­al meet­ing in Brus­sels, which forms the cent­ral idea of the Civil Soci­ety For­um, must take place in a more trans­par­ent man­ner. Ensur­ing that civil soci­ety interests are rep­res­en­ted equally is the core aim of the Civil Soci­ety For­um and EFFECTIVE meas­ures HAVE TO be taken in both Brus­sels and in the East­ern Part­ner­ship mem­ber states to make sure that this is the case.
  2. The super­vi­sion team, con­sist­ing of 17 people, has achieved quite some­thing in found­ing and estab­lish­ing the for­um. It should be sup­por­ted by a full­time sec­ret­ari­at, which would be able to deal with organ­isa­tion­al ques­tions and the neces­sary com­mu­nic­a­tion between the mem­bers of the for­um. In the long run it will not be pos­sible to man­age this polit­ic­ally ambi­tious pro­ject on a vol­un­tary basis without its qual­ity suf­fer­ing.
  3. The fin­an­cial SUPPORT for the East­ern Part­ner­ship pro­gramme from the EU Com­mis­sion, and par­tic­u­larly for the work of civil soci­ety act­ors, has to be increased sub­stan­tially so that the EU’s polit­ic­al decision of the will­ing­ness to assume respons­ib­il­ity for this region gains cred­ib­il­ity. This would mean that the polit­ic­al declar­a­tion WILL be fol­lowed by con­crete steps which are vis­ible to the CIVIL soci­et­ies of the EU and EaP states.
  4. Less tech­nic­ally demand­ing and far more rel­ev­ant and up-to-date inform­a­tion about the events of the vari­ous formats of the Civil Soci­ety For­um and about the work of the super­vi­sion team are essen­tial for inform­ing the par­ti­cipants about the work of the for­um, for bring­ing in new par­ti­cipants, for enabling par­ti­cipant organ­isa­tions to offer cri­ti­cism and pro­pos­als con­cern­ing the for­um, and finally for con­trib­ut­ing to the improved vis­ib­il­ity of the Civil Soci­ety For­um in the soci­et­ies of the EU and the EaP states.
  5. A format closer to that of an open space con­fer­ence should be con­sidered for the large yearly events, in order to make free exchange of ideas and cre­at­ive work between the par­ti­cipant organ­isa­tions pos­sible.
Categories: Analysis