The 7th EaP CSF Annual Assembly was held in Kyiv on 19-21 November attracting around 300 participants, observers and guests who attended more than 20 sessions and a Networking Fair in the framework of the Assembly. The event was opened by the Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk.
“Everyone benefits when civil society is strong, proactive and independent. Democratic governments know they are stronger when they listen to you,” said Commissioner, adding that the EU had substantially increased its financial support through the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility, benefiting more than 200 organisations across the region.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk stressed that the Ukrainian civil society is rather strong: «The role of the civil society is determinant for the activity of the Ukrainian authorities.» The Prime Minister emphasized the importance for the civil society to maintain dialogue with the Ukrainian Government. «We need the help of civil society when the Government takes difficult decisions. And I am asking for such help,» he said.
The main panel discussion “Eastern Partnership between a Fixed Formula and Menu a la Carte” was dedicated to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) review. DG NEAR Deputy Director-GeneralKatarína Mathernová highlighted the major points of the ENP review. The review ensures the interests of the EU Member States in the policy while keeping all the relevant policies under one roof. This does not mean that “one size fits all” since different ambitions of neighbouring countries, as well as levels of preparedness to engage with the EU are reflected in the renewed policy equipped with a toolbox of measures. The review defines the EU interests as a guiding principle turning to pragmatic approach. The ENP Communication comprises the enhanced security dimension, while human rights serve as a baseline and the EU will continue the human rights dialogues with the countries and support to the civil society.
Civil society is seen as key in development of the EaP countries, as well as of AA/DCFTA implementation. The support for civil society is increased to 150 mln EUR for 2014-2017, while DG NEAR is actively looking for ways to channel the support more effectively. Within the existing EU rules, new flexibility should be achieved and the pool of reached CSOs should be broadened. The Civil Society Fellows Programme is the new initiative aiming at coaching young civil society leaders and allowing for networking.
Iryna Herashchenko, chair of the Euro integration Committee in the Verkhovna Rada, stressed the challenges of the transposition of the EU legislation in Ukraine, speaking about the work of the Committee. While the EU association and integration process became part of the internal politics and policies, the expertise of the lawmakers needs to be strengthened since the legal structures and terminology need to be harmonised. Situation in Donbas is used as an counter-argument in visa liberalization process and will be played further on in the DCFTA implementation since it will continue to be a zone of destabilization.
EaP CSF Co-chair Andrei Yahorau commented on the EaP CSF expectations that were not met in the ENP review. His assessment was that the new ENP policy is a compromise between Member States and between the policy towards the Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood that does not look very ambitious with the EU aspirations being quite limited. Since the new ENP policy is quite general in its goals and aims, is does not carry any strong message or response to the current challenges. The proclaimed priority of the human rights and democracy did not transform in a clear policy to influence the neighbourhood and to build democracy and stability in the region.
Moreover, there is no mentioning of the EU perspective for the EaP countries, which provides weak incentive for the countries that have to work hard and implement demanding reforms. He also highlighted that the inclusion of civil society into the policy formulation and decision making process is needed more than further capacity. EU should leverage inclusion of the civil society as equal partners in these processes.
Richard Youngs from Carnegie Europe praised the new instruments and practices anchored in the new ENP. He stressed the importance of the differentiation principle, including the one at the level of the civil society, in particular in countries where the governments do not fully share EU values. According to him, the link between the EaP and EU civil society should be strengthened, as well as the diplomatic support to the civil society in countries where it is under threat. New flexibility in the policy should be taken advantage of by the civil society.
Approaches to facing the Russian propaganda were discussed in a separate session. David Stulik from the EU Delegation emphasised that the efforts to combat propaganda are too late and too little. EEAS East Stratcom TaskForce does not have enough resources and staff. He mentioned that the media in the EU Member States that do not have presence in Ukraine on the ground often use unreliable sources that contribute to production of the propaganda. Strong cooperation with the Russian journalists that produce reliable content should be established.
During the session on the DCFTA progress and challenges Luc Devigne (DG Trade) and Natalia Hnydiuk (Government Office on EU Integration) discussed the adoption of a great number of regulations in Ukraine so that the actual DCFTA implementation could start without delay in early 2016. It was mentioned that the Russian food embargo is not as significantly felt now as it used to in 2013-2014 due to export market diversification. The trade flows of the EaP countries are gradually being diverted from Russia due to its policy of using trade for political purposes.
The Parallel session on security focused on trust building and involving the civil society in the policy.Alexander Vinnikov, the Head of the NATO Liaison Office, gave examples of the involvement of civil society in Ukraine, such as inclusion in parliamentary activities and embedding volunteers into government institutions.
A parallel session on the EaP CSF effectiveness also attracted a lot of attention. Jana Kobzova from European Endowment for Democracy (EED) highlighted that there is a space and relevance for the EaP CSF in the EaP policy. However, the Forum should move from policy-making to policy-shaping looking at the needs of the civil society on the ground and more effectively communicating them to the EU. According toLeonid Litra thanks to the Forum the civil society in the EaP has become a real community.
The Forum produces a number of very useful publications, including the Eastern Partnership Index, however the potential of National Platform (NPs) for advocacy is not fully used. Steering Committee Member Mikayel Hovhannisyan highlighted that the Forum is an important element in the multilateral dimension of the EaP policy.