Russia intervenes in other countries domestic processes by abusing the freedoms of democracy established by states, and gaining it`s objectives through manipulation; civil society has a crucial role in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries move towards membership in the European Union (EU); the challenge for the EaP countries today lays in securing their territorial integrity, as was voiced at the EU EaP Civil Society Conference.
Today on May 20th, 2015 in Riga, the first day of the European Union’s (EU) Eastern Partnership (EaP) Civil Society Conference was hosted. The Conference, which is part of the Eastern Partnership Summit , gathered more than 300 experts and representatives of civil society from various countries, providing a platform for debate on multiple pressing issues regarding the Eastern Partnership.
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia, Laimdota Straujuma, opened the conference, and used the opportunity to call for re-evaluation of the Eastern Partnership, in order to ensure that it reaches its objectives, and reacts to society’s strives for democracy, development and the rule of law. This conference is a chance to adjust Eastern Partnership’s relations to each individual country’s specific needs, the Prime Minister emphasized.
The Conference commenced with expert assessments on the possibilities of improving the civil society’s participation in the Eastern Partnership’s processes. Questions were raised on the current state of relations between the European Union and Eastern Europe; the main challenges in carrying out reforms; the role of civil societies domestic, regional, and Eastern Partnership’s policy making.
Juris Poikāns, Ambassador-at-Large for the Eastern Partnership (Latvia), emphasized that the following three years will be crucial in implementing the Association Agreements in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. The civil society is expected to play an important role in the implementation of the needed reforms in fields of judicial system, governance, and corruption reduction..
Ales Bialiatski, Chairman of the Belarusian Human Rights Centre “Vyasna” and Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, pointed out that the civil society is a ‘locomotive’ that pulls the EaP countries towards the European Union and its values, and acts as an advocate of people. The expert concluded that it is crucial to follow this ‘locomotive’ in its attempts to strengthen the move towards a democratic society, and ensure that it does not become a political weapon of authoritative regimes.
Experts also focused on topics about civil societies’ role in promoting peace and stability, managing conflicts, and contributing to the process of conflict settlement in the Eastern Neighbourhood region. Following the evaluation of main challenges, the experts looked for approaches to successfully engage civil society in these processes.
Dr Kakha Gogolashvili, the Director of EU Studies at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, emphasized that EU brings stability and security to countries. Furthermore, European values motivate other countries to become member states of the EU. Speaking about other challenges that the EaP states face, Gogolashvili suggests two dimensions of challenges: the capacity to provide territorial integrity and indivisibility, and also attempts to attack European ideas and values.
Dr Olexiy Haran, Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Kyiv Mohyla University School of Political Analysis, pointed out that Ukrainians are dying daily for European values. Putin is trying to exploit the fragile Ukrainian democracy to destabilize the country through the freedom of speech and elections. Therefore the civil society has to be very aware when passing judgement on the government, because it can undermine the security and stability of the state. Haran emphasised that the violation of the Minsk Agreement, just three days after its signing, was a slap in the face to A. Merkel and F. Hollande. A stricter EU policy is necessary concerning the conflict in Ukraine.
Haran raised a question, asking for European Union’s role in defending democratic values, and the absence of the voice of civil society. He stressed that an international peace campaign in defence of Ukraine’s democracy, that would speak not only in the name of NGO’s, but also in the name of wider European society, and would speak up for a democratic and free Ukraine, is necessary.
While discussing Russia’s policy, the Co-Chair of the Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, Krzysztof Bobinski, ironically said that Russia likens a big scary mother in law, that tries to control everything and everyone by looking into their kitchen and giving advice how to cook better or what to eat, or by looming in the bedroom door – is everything going on according to the rules. Bobinski also suggested that the EU’s reaction to Russia’s policy is too weak.
Ian Bond, Director of Foreign Policy, Centre for European Reform, (United Kingdom), pointed out that one of EU’s main challenges today is Russia’s manipulation of narratives, and distortion of the things that go on in their countries.
Participating in the conference are experts from the European Union (EU) and all six Eastern Partnership’s states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The goal of the conference is to help strengthen civil society, and to involve it in the planning and implementation of the Eastern Partnership policy.
During the conference, recommendations will be drawn up for the EU institutions, as well as for the governments of EU and EaP member state, proposing more effective ways to achieve the Eastern Partnership’s objectives. The recommendations will be available tomorrow,
The Conference is held on May 20-21, at the hotel Bellevue Park Hotel. The program of The Conference is available here: https://eu2015.lv/images/Kalendars/MFA/Media_programme_biography.pdf.
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Conference in Riga is organized in cooperation with the Latvian Institute of International Affairs (LIIA), the Centre for East European Policy Studies (CEEPS) and the Latvian Transatlantic Organization (LTO), with the participation of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. The conference is supported by the European Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, the Secretariat of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Black Sea Trust, a Project of the German Marshall Fund of the US and the National Endowment for Democracy.
More information on EU EaP Civil Society Conference: www.appc.lv, www.easteurope.lv and on the Internet pages of Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia.
Photos from Day 1 on the conference:
Eastern Partnership Civil Society
Phone: +371 2926828