Bitter-sweet impressions from the “Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum”, 4-5 October 2013, Chisinau (Moldova)



This year’s 5th Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, an informal arm of the Eastern Partnership initiative of the European Union to strengthen the cooperation with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, was for the first time organised in an EaP country: Moldova. The previous ones were held on an annual basis starting from 2009 in: Brussels, Berlin, Poznan and Stockholm. Around 250 associations and organisations working in or with Eastern Europe and the Caucasus were invited to the conference: 26 from each EaP state and 70 from the EU, plus international observers (e.g. from the European Commission), the latter without a right to vote. Your correspondent was also there and remains… confused.

EaP CSF in short

The main aim of the EaP CSF is to contribute to the goals of the EaP programme by – as it is stated at the www.eap-scf.euparticipating in the exchange of experience, knowledge and good practices, providing advice and proposals to the EaP’s four platforms [on democracy and human rights, economy, energy security and people to people contacts], sharing experience of the European integration process with EaP countries, […and] communicating the goals and projects of EaP to the general public. The Steering Committee, which is democratically elected at an annual assembly, governs the CSF, manages its daily work and represents it at the highest levels; all of this work is done on a voluntary basis. The Forum realises its activities through five working groups, which deal with the issues crucial for the EaP, such as: 1. Democracy, human rights, good governance and stability, 2. Economic integration and convergence with EU policies, 3. Environment, climate change and energy security, 4. Contacts between people and 5. Social & Labour Policies and Social Dialogue. Moreover, there are also various subgroups, whose number ranges dependently on interest of the participants gathered at the CSF. The Steering Committee consists of altogether 19 members, including: 10 representatives of WGs (one from the EU and one from EaP partner countries), six EaP country representatives (the country facilitators who head the National Platforms) and three representatives from the EU. The works of the EaP CSF, which since last year has been enforced by the permanent Secretariat in Brussels, is financed by the European Commission and on ad hoc basis by a host country.


Challenges ahead

Analysing the structure of the Forum one can come to two assumptions: first, of a perfectly balanced representation of both the EU and EaP sides, thus providing grounds for great East-West cooperation, and secondly, of the wide thematic scope of the CSF, enabling profound understanding of and strong expertise and advocacy for the EaP initiative. Unfortunately, what regards the first impression, in fact the majority of managers of the CSF are either citizens of EaP countries, working for EU organizations, or they come from ‘new EU Member States’ of Central and Eastern Europe. The participation of Western, South or North parts of the ‚old continent’ is very limited, which shows that this region is not of interest to them.

With reference to the second assumption, the bad organisation of the CSF in Chisinau laid its shadow on the successful outcome of the conference. It must be nonetheless underlined that these were not the logistics which constituted the main challenge, because the local hosts from the Moldovan National Platform did their absolute best. The delegates were accommodated in comfortable hotels in the city centre, and they were convening in the most ceremonial place: the Communist era Palace of the Republic (where the Moldovan Parliament has its temporary location), surrounded by dozens of helpful and smiling volunteers.

For me, a person working in a Brussels-based professional think tank, who organises and participates in numerous international conferences, this EaP CSF was one of the worst organised that I have attended, with regards to programming, agenda setting and formal procedures. Three-quarters of the first day contained nothing about the civil society, but dealt with high level political talk. Eight panellists of the diplomatic world[1] were invited to the opening session, repeating more or less the same after each other: about „the civil society being at the heart of the EaP programme” and „importance of the Summit in Vilnius for the future of the initiative”. The second and third panels were devoted to the situation in EaP countries: “Civil society in the context of Association Agreements: before Vilnius and after” and “Assessment of reform process in EaP countries: European Integration Index and Road Map Monitoring” with participation of experts from both EaP and the EU NGOs and think tanks. I could not understand why we waste so much of the precious CSF time on just one-way communication, instead of being enabled to interact with each other. I believe these hours could have been much better spent on fostering networking between the participants. Only these personal and direct moments decide on common understanding and future projects, not passive sitting in the audience. I had gone to the Forum with plans of networking and meeting NGO activists, who – no doubt – know their country and region the best, but unfortunately the first impressions were disappointing.

Pomianowski & Bielarussian activistOnly the final events of the day, like the late afternoon parallel thematic sessions on elections, media freedom, anti-corruption, visa regime, DCFTA, good environmental governance, youth policy and human rights and social dialogue, allowed the CSF participants to finally commence conveying, meeting each other, talking and sharing knowledge and experiences. Unfortunately, there was only 1.5 hour on average for this session, and a delegate could participate in only one. Fortunately, before the reception hosted by the Moldovan prime minister Uirie Leanca, the day was closed with a strong point: a presentation made by Jerzy Pomianowski, Executive Director of the newly established European Endowment for Democracy, an organisation financed by the EC and Member States with an aim of financially supporting both informal and formal associations based in ENP countries, troubling with resources. Only then, at the EaP CSF, seeing the great enthusiasm and interest of participants in the EED, I understood how much such a European foundation-cum-GONGO (governmentally-led NGO) is needed for the organisations to survive in an often unwelcome environment of the East.

In spite of being devoted entirely to the WGs and CSF itself, which is an advantage, the second day was however catastrophically chaotic. The sessions were too short, constantly running out of time and not convened properly, without a clear leadership or coordination. Elections of the new Steering Committee were held quickly, with just a short introduction of each of the candidates.

One of the most powerful instruments of the EaP CSF are the adopted resolutions, which are sent to the EaP countries’ governments and EU institutions, and are reported on by international media. Majority of resolutions were submitted and distributed to the delegates electronically few days before the Forum. Nevertheless, some of them appeared only at the day of the meeting, some were missing parts of texts, some were not even written down, but presented orally by submitters. There was not really any proper institution elected or nominated to count the votes, in fact nobody was even counting them, just the Co-Chairs of the Committee were deciding on their own, looking at the audience’s raised hands, if there is majority or not, while the majority of delegates did not pay any attention to this most relevant matter of the Forum… It is a shame, because the resolutions were touching important issues, such as human rights abuses in Azerbaijan and Belarus, Russian pressures on Armenia and other EaP countries, pre-election troubled situation in Azerbaijan, future of the EaP after the Vilnius Summit etc. I was upset thinking of all the observers who were among us, remembering especially the Commission people, who allocates money for the CSF…

All of the above remarks are for me the more surprising that, as it was mentioned, the EaP CSF met for the 5th consecutive year, and – although the Steering Committee works on a voluntarily basis, receiving just a symbolic diet – there is the permanent Secretariat which is paid for the proper and professional organisation of such an important event. The bad form undermines the successes of the EaP CSF and importance of networking between the organisations from the EU and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Therefore, to be taken seriously, it must be improved. The next EaP CSF will be held in Tbilisi in 2014. In spite of my criticism, I wish to be there, because it is still the only place enabling civil society representatives to meet, share perceptions and challenges, and start common projects for the good of the local communities, particularly in the Eastern Partnership countries. Let’s hope the EaP CSF 2014 will be better organised.

[1] Š. Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and ENP, N. Gherman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Moldova, L. Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, R. Podgorean, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, P. Mareš, Ambassador at large for the EaP, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, I. Tersman, Ambassador of Sweden to Moldova, B. Pęksa, Special Plenipotentiary of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the EaP, M. Panjikidze, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and B. Tarasyuk, Co-President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

Anita Sęk – CII Expert for the EU External Relations

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2 Responses to Bitter-sweet impressions from the “Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum”, 4-5 October 2013, Chisinau (Moldova)

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