Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum

. Posted in News

Фото-0256or give us some water, as we are so hungry that don’t have no place to sleep.

In the year 2013, when Eurasia Partnership Foundation and we organized a seminar in Yerevan, which was dedicated to the international activities of Armenian non-governmental organizations, Armenian colleagues invited us to take part in the projects of Eastern Partnership. You can read on the website of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF), that the Forum is aimed at ''consolidation of civil society in the countries of Eastern Partnership and also at the progress of cooperation and experience exchange between the organizations of civil society from countries-participants and EU''. The aim of Respect International is to build bridges between Western and Eastern Europe, so of course we decided to take an advice of our Armenian colleagues. According to the website, one of the aims for EaP CSF is protection of basic freedoms, human rights and principles of democracy.

But some questions arise already in the beginning of the EaP CSF's work. On the website you can find, that ''Membership of the EaP CSF is open to all civil society organizations within the Partner countries and civil society organizations in EU member states that are active in the Partner countries''. Further, ''all organizations that have taken part in the annual Forum event become Forum members''. After rereading the text number of times you are starting to understand, that organizations, which didn't take part in annual general assemblies, can't be the members of EaP CSF. The Steering Committee of EaP Фото-0243
CSF makes a decision what organization should be invited to annual assembly. For instance, for
the 7th annual meeting of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum which takes place in Kyiv, Ukraine, only 50 organizations from EU will be thoroughly checked and selected to take part to become the member of EaP CSF. One year ago Respect International sent in an application to take part in the 6th annual assembly, which took place in Batumi, Georgia, November 20-21, 2014. We wrote about our projects, which took place in Armenia and Georgia, about our wish to put the non-government organizations of Eastern Partnership wise to the experience of The Netherlands in the building of progressive civil society. We were refused. Moreover, there was a recommendation in the letter addressing many organizations at once to work actively with our National platform. We wrote the letter to the Steering Committee, in which we reminded them, there is no National platform in the Netherlands, and asked to invite our representative as an observer and we are ready to clear all expenses, which are needed to take part. There was no answer. A repeated letter left also without any reaction.

Фото-0263We decided to find out, what non-governmental EU-based organizations are the participants of EaP CSF. Unfortunately, tries to get more information on the website were unsuccessful. We had the same result to find lists and contacts of non-governmental organizations taking part in National platforms. But it wasn't the end or curiosities. In section ''Projects supporting civil society in the EaP region'' you can find the description of project ''Strengthening capacities of the National Platforms of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum''. The project had been funding by the Civil Society Foundation of the European Union during 30 months. The budget of the project amounted 1,016,690 Euro. But we couldn't find any results and the lists of participants.

We decided to find the answers on the EaP CSF conference which took a place in Riga, May 19-21, 2015. The representative of our organization for taking part was chosen by our partner organization ''Latvian Institute of International Affairs” in February, 2015. The organization took the most active part in the organizing of conference. And we came to an agreement, that we clear all our representative's expenses. We also asked to include Armenian youth organization ''New Generation'' to the participants. We knew that that organization not only works actively, but also doesn't fear to protect the rights of local LGBT-society to court. I received an invitation, which was dated of the 1st of April, only on April 29th after my Latvian colleagues sent a request to Bruxelles. I confirmed my participation according to the regulation and asked for information about participants, moderators and so on. Unfortunately, there was silence again. "New Generation'' from Armenia didn't receive any invitation. I got the list of participants only in Riga on the 19th of May. I was really surprised, when I had realized, that EU was represented mainly by non-government organizations of Eastern Europe. In addition, there were no contact details, addresses, e-mails, phone numbers of those organizations. Curiously, but there was almost every country of EU in the list of participants represented by embassy employees. The opening speech of Krzysztof Bobiński[1] on the 20th of May raised more questions than gave answers. He preferred the detailed analysis of the political questions of relationships between EU and countries of Eastern Partnership. How much funds EU did spend for supporting Civil Society in the countries of Eastern Partnership and what results turned out - became a puzzle. Speakers weren't tired of laying stress on significance of civil society for democratic reforming in own countries and for rapprochement with EU. In addition, only Sandra Kalniete[2] considered it important to say that the financing for development of civil society in countries of Eastern Partnership amounts just 5% of total funds. It is significant that not Krzysztof Bobiński, but Sandra Kalniete reacted to my notice that the work of EaP CSF has to be organized in the way to include the participation of non-governmental organizations from Spain, Italy, Greece and other countries of Western Europe.

Фото-0249According to organizers, the most important part of the conference had to be making recommendations. I made an appointment with Group №4. There we have to discuss transnational networking, facilitation visa regime, opportunities of exchange of the best practices and educational programmes. To my great astonishment, there were only representatives of Eastern Partnership countries. The moderator of the group declared at once that the group would concentrate upon a subject of visa-free regime between EU and Eastern Partnership countries. A decision to divide the group in two was taken only after my objection that the networking is really important between the representatives of civil society in EU and Eastern Partnership countries; one group prosecutes subjects of visa regime and another group takes itself the rest of the group’s topics. Making a speech, I said about the experience of Youth United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, where participants got contacts of each other at once, created their own group on Facebook and discussed questions, which had to be on a conference, beforehand. I also declared, not only endearing words  about the role of civil society define the relationships between EU to civil society in Eastern Partnership countries, but the amount of funds too. During morning sitting the representatives of civil society had been talking constantly about ineffective management, corruption and oppression in their countries. However, the lion's share of funds for Eastern Partnership Program goes through government sources, but not to civil society directly. But civil society is that part of population, which is interested in building democracy and equality in one's country. This is one of the reasons, why the representatives of civil societies in Western Europe don't want to take part in EaP CSF. But moderator of our group declared that the questions regarding the increasing of funds and mechanisms of transparency for using the funds don't cover the group's terms of reference. As a result, we got only technical questions in recommendation for the group. The only thing which I could obtain after long disputes, is to make a suggestion – to make events carried out in Eastern Partnership countries the priority for Erasmus Plus Programme.

Irina Sushko, presenting the results of Group №4 at the plenary, spent all her 10 minutest to explain the importance of visa-free regime for Ukraine and Georgia. After that, during coffee-break, she came to me and explained that she didn't receive the results of our group's work. But she promised that the recommendations would be included to the final resolution of conference. It is evident to notice, there were offers in the recommendations of other groups to revise the amount of funds for the support of civil society in Eastern Partnership Program. Especially, it's evident to trust more organizations of Eastern Partnership countries and to refuse an experience to give big financial grants to EU-organizations. But will these recommendations be included to the final text of resolution, is still not clear for me. There was no time to discuss and to adopt the document in the program of the conference. As a result, the participants of the conference started to discuss the instruments for the support of civil society and positive experience. I asked for a speech and told that before the UN Worldwide Conference in Rio de Janeiro in June, 2012[3], the UN carried out several civil forums of subjects, which were dedicated to problems of youth, women and ecology. The resolutions of the forums were represented by civil societies on the main plenary session of worldwide conference, when the chiefs of state-participants were sitting there. I offered to adopt this experience for the EU and Eastern Partnership countries summit. Unfortunately, neither the participants of the Forum, nor high-ranks of the second event didn't comment my offer. It's not clear for me, what will be with the resolution of EaP CSF - to whom it will be addressed, who will read it, on what it will have an influence - it remains just to guess. On the other hand there was an effective and touching presentation to Johannes Hahn[4] with Ukrainian and Georgian petition for admission to EU. The representatives for Civil Forum of Ukraine and Georgia found the easiest way for the democratic reforms, struggle against corruption and poverty: they need to join EU and then things will sort themselves. At the same time chancellor Angela Merkel declared, the aims of Eastern Partnership Program don't include joining of these countries to EU.

Фото-0259On the 21st of May chiefs of EU-countries came to Riga in a majority to take part in the Summit of Eastern Partnership. As a result, a question rises, why all chiefs of EU-countries came to the Summit of Eastern Partnership, but the representatives of civil societies didn't want to take part in the same program of Eap CSF, for instance, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Greece? Why non-commercial organizations from Western Europe take part willingly in the events of Erasmus Plus Programme, for instance in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine but why there are so little of them in Eap CSF.

Let's imagine that, for instance, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Francois Hollande would have to pay their travel expenses and to fill in an application form, which contains description of their impact in 3000 characters, for a conference financed by EU. In addition, the Steering Committee has a right to deny their claim. And finally, the future of main conference's document – its resolution’s – will be defined not by them, but by the Steering Committee. These kind of rules for taking part in Eap CSF are just inadmissible for many representatives of civil society from the European Union. It's very possible that many non-commercial organizations of Western Europe that wanted to become members of Eap CSF, were not chosen as participants of annual conferences. And those who took part, had lost any interest for participation after bureaucratic conflicts and such kind of rules.

Фото-0269Whole enthusiasm and energy of Eap CSF's participants in Riga was spent for the criticism of Russian politics. Krzysztof Bobiński compared Russia to a mother-in-law, who comes uninvited to a bedroom or a kitchen with her advice and morality. However, the strange proceeding of participation on EaP CSF, informational opacity about both actual participants and the results of implemented projects, for which quiet big amounts of EU tax-payers' money was spent, resembles more Russian methods of administration, than European standards. That's why the development of co-operation and experience-exchange is successful only with the Eastern part of EU, i.e. with so-called ex-socialistic countries. That's why the most part of experience-exchange turns into so-called "insult-exchange", the source of which is former Soviet Union, and actual Russia. And the main way to support democracy and equality is to pack a suitcase and go to the West to start a new life there. But this kind of strategy will definitely not make the citizens of Eastern Europe more successful, but will also jeopardize the well-being of EU-citizens.

It seems to me, that Krzysztof Bobiński has never lived with his mother-in-law. Otherwise he would have know better than to call "old silly woman" despite of her behavior, as she would find heaps of way to put her daughter against you. As a result, everything ends with a divorce, as it was with Armenia, or your wife becomes the source of enormous problems, as it was with Ukraine.

Arman Hayrapetyan

[1] Co-chair of the Steering Committee

[2] Ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs in Latvia