Thursday, April 12, 2012

Adopted report on strengthening civil society in the Eastern Partnership Countries

on strengthening civil society in the Eastern Partnership Countries, including the question of cooperation between government and civil society, and the question of the reforms aimed at empowering civil society

The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly,

-having regard to the Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit of 7 May 2009 and of the Warsaw Eastern Partnership Summit of 29-30 September 2011,

-having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

-having regard to the Constituent Act of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly of 3 May 2011,

-having regard to Article 8 and Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union,

-having regard to the Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council of the 3 December 2008 entitled 'Eastern Partnership' (COM(2008)0823),

-having regard to the European Parliament resolution of 20 May 2010 on the need for an EU strategy for the South Caucasus (2009/2216(INI)),

-having regard to the Joint Communication on 'A New Response to a Changing Neighbourhood' of 25 May 2011,

-having regard to the Commission Communications of 5 December 2007 entitled 'A Strong European Neighbourhood Policy', of 4 December 2006 on 'Strengthening the ENP', of 12 May 2004 entitled 'European Neighbourhood Policy - Strategy paper' and of 1 March 2003 entitled 'Wider Europe - Neighbourhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbours',

-having regard to the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on 'Involvement of Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership' (explanatory opinion) of 13 May 2009,

-having regard to the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on 'The contribution of civil society to the Eastern Partnership' of 25 August 2011,

-having regard to the European Parliament's previous resolutions on the Eastern Dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), and on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine,

-having regard to the conclusion of negotiations on the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine and ongoing bilateral negotiations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, as well as to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed between the EU and Belarus in 1995, but not ratified,

-having regard to the European Charter on Local Self-Government,

-having regard to the opinion on the report on recommendations to the Eastern Partnership Summit of the Committee on Social Affairs, Education Culture and Civil Society adopted on 14 September 2011,

-having regard to its Rules of Procedure,

A.whereas the Eastern Partnership (EaP), a specific dimension of the ENP, is based on shared values including democracy, rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights, and recognises the importance of social and civil dialogue as well as the essential role of civil society organisations in the development and consolidation of democratic societies; whereas the ability of men and women to participate on equal terms in political life and in decision-making is a prerequisite for genuine democracy; whereas an active commitment to shared values and principles is essential to moving the process forward;

B.whereas civil society organisations and non-state actors are a vital part of a well-functioning democracy, and play an important role in establishing a democratic culture deeply rooted in society;

C.whereas the EaP has the objective of supporting Eastern European partners in their endeavours to carry out sustainable reform processes, with a view to speeding up their political association and economic integration with the EU;

D.whereas at the second EaP Summit, held in Warsaw on 29-30 September 2011, the Heads of States or Governments and representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, and the EU renewed their commitments to the objectives and continued implementation of the EaP;

E.whereas the EaP Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) and its national platforms are valuable instruments with which to attain the objectives established by the Eastern Partnership concerning the involvement of civil societies;

1.Underlines the essential and indispensable role of a genuinely independent civil society in strengthening democracy and the rule of law and holding governments accountable; stresses that to enable civil society organisations and actors to fulfil this role, fundamental freedoms must be guaranteed, including the freedom of association, of assembly, of expression, of the press and media, and of access to internet; considers that every effort should be made in order to facilitate the work of civil society organisations within a clear legal framework that avoids undue administrative burdens and arbitrary bureaucratic requirements;

2.Stresses the importance of building and strengthening partnerships between the EU, its Eastern Partners and their respective civil societies, emphasising that these partnerships must be inclusive; calls on Eastern Partners to involve civil society in regional dialogue and cooperation, in order to offer a fresh perspective on a variety of topics, including the promotion of democracy, economic reforms, trade, sectoral cooperation, gender equality, the economic and social situation of the youth, sustainable development initiatives and the fight against corruption; notes the varied results to date with regard to establishing dialogue between national governments and civil society;

3.Underlines that, in order to be completely legitimate and rooted in the will of people, any strategy for promoting democracy must be based on dialogue with as wide a range of local actors as possible; therefore, calls for democratic standards to be strengthened to allow the participation of civil society in political dialogue and decision making processes;

4.Emphasises the role that legitimate democratic political parties, genuine social movements and a free press play in safeguarding the public interest by overseeing the transparency and accountability of governments, thereby enabling states to protect human rights and promote social and economic development;

5.Calls on the EU and Eastern Partnership countries to exchange best practices with regard to the protection of the rights of refugees and internally displaced people, the resolution of their social problems and their participation in civil society building;

6.Welcomes the work of the EaP CSF and of its national platforms; supports its contribution to the development of civil society dialogue at different levels, both regional and local, and in different sectors; insists on the need for EaP CSF participation in the meetings of EaP intergovernmental platforms;

7.Welcomes the review of the ENP, which underlines the importance of creating partnerships with societies and envisages a Civil Society Facility (CSF) and the establishment of a European Endowment for Democracy;

8.Calls on the Eastern Partners to guarantee the independence of all media, in particular public, and encourages civil society to monitor the transparency of media agencies ownership; further underlines the need for independence of journalists and calls for the suspension of all kinds of political interference, pressure, intimidation, harassment and politically-motivated trials against them; stresses the need to ensure the independence of public broadcasting and the access of national and foreign media to broadcasting;

9.Calls for the active involvement and participation of civil society organisations in human rights dialogues, including the ones on minority rights; encourages civil society organisations to broadly participate in electoral observation missions, which will help to conduct elections according to internationally recognised standards and in a free, democratic and transparent manner;

10.Urges the authorities of the EaP countries and EU Member States to fight violence against women in all its forms through the implementation of legislative, institutional and public educational strategies; stresses the need to increase public awareness of violence against women as a criminal offence and as a violation of human rights; underlines the importance of achieving full gender equality through the adoption of gender equality policies and action plans to address the huge gender pay gap, which remains key to women's economic autonomy; firmly supports all initiatives, incentives and capacity-building measures included in EU external policies with a view to promoting the participation of women in the decision-making process at all levels, both in the public and the private spheres, as well as the engagement of civil society in issues of gender equality; recalls the international commitments taken with regards to gender equality;

11.Insists upon the essential role of youth in societies and encourages the implementation of policies targeted at increasing youth employment and social integration; stresses the importance of mobility schemes as mechanisms for intercultural dialogue and knowledge;

12.Encourages the EaP countries to contribute to the promotion of the common European social values; underlines the importance of providing information on and raising awareness about social dialogue among the government, employees and employers, particularly in connection with promoting the EaP's activities and objectives and building a European cooperation network; calls for the right of trade unions and employers, including SMEs, to participate in social dialogue;

13.Acknowledges the vital role played by NGOs and other non-state actors in the promotion of democracy, social justice and human rights; urges that all NGOs should, as long as they do not incite racial, ethnic, religious or any other discrimination or hatred, have equal access to registration and the right to function freely, without government interference and any type of political pressure, in order to preserve their integrity;

14.Considers that strengthening judicial systems and their independence, fighting corruption, securing and implementing fundamental freedoms and international human rights commitments, and ensuring the legal and economic conditions for civil society organisations to work independently are elements that would greatly contribute to the enhanced development and the strengthening of civil society in partner countries; calls for a greater separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive power;

15.Encourages the rights of every citizen to participate in public life and to run for public office; stresses the need to ensure that every citizen fully enjoys their right to table petitions, as well as the need to strengthen the role of the Ombudsman in EaP countries, including through a broad information campaign on the functioning of these institutions and by strengthening their office's independence from executive powers;

16.Stresses that improving the distribution of authority and of responsibility between local and central authorities is essential for public administration reform, including by permitting independent candidates to participate in local elections; encourages a greater decentralisation and a greater independence of local governments, including fiscal independence, and the full implementation of the European Charter on Local Self-Government;

17.Calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to share their experience and provide recommendations in relation to civil society consultations and their funding, and on providing new ways and means of communicating with people (using modern communication technologies); encourages the promotion of e-government and e-municipality policies;

18.Considers that national minorities represent an added value to the society as a whole, and encourages support for their rights and organisations;

19.Urges the EaP governments to promote the financial sustainability of civil society institutions by encouraging the development of independent and transparent mechanisms, including through sectoral approaches, as a priority for sustainable development;

20.Suggests to the national parliaments of the Eastern Partnership countries to improve their legislation on civil society institutions and to bring it in conformity with EU standards;

21.Encourages the development of a civil society dimension in existing and planned regional and trans-national networks and in cross-border cooperation programmes, and as a means of promoting capacity building; calls on the Commission and EEAS to make full use of instruments at their disposal to promote this cooperation; underlines the role of intercultural dialogue in conflict settlement and confidence building; takes into consideration the specific geographical, historical and political characteristics;

22.Stresses that the observance of EU principles of cooperation could have a positive impact on regional and international peace and stability; underlines that peace and stability are essential to create a positive environment for democratic reforms and civil society development; underlines and welcomes the role and initiatives of NGOs in promoting peace, understanding and confidence building;

23.Believes that empowering individuals and civil society through education, training and awareness-raising, while facilitating effective advocacy for all human rights, including social, economic and cultural rights, is an essential complement to the development and implementation of democratisation policies and programmes; stresses that a close partnership between the public and private sectors, as well as the empowerment of oversight institutions, including national parliaments, are key to promoting democracy; notes that cooperation in the field of culture, education, training and research can promote people-to-people contacts for which the necessary funding should be ensured; underlines the importance of enhancing intercultural dialogue via available EU programmes ; points out that a prioritisation of policies and projects focusing on investments in youth, education, training and skills can lead to increased job creation potential and a more sustainable economy; in this context highlights that mobility fosters cultural and social exchanges and promotes integration between the EU and the EaP countries; therefore urges the EU and the EaP countries to finalise negotiations on visa facilitation;

24.Highlights that dialogue with citizens and partnerships with society at all levels requires appropriate financial resources; calls for a long-term balanced and appropriate approach to the EU’s Southern and Eastern neighbours;

25.Underlines the important role of countries’ civil society and parliaments in democratic budget oversight, and is convinced that any direct budget support provided by the European Union has to be complemented by a technical and political reinforcement of the oversight capacity of national parliaments; maintains that the European Union should actively inform third countries’ parliaments of the scope of EU cooperation;

26.Considers that in the process of negotiating and subsequently implementing Association Agreements between the EU and its Eastern Partners, there is a particular need for reinforcing the role of civil society, including through consultation and strengthened dialogue with the national parliaments; notes that the pace of reforms connected to the civil society's situation in Eastern Partner countries can have a direct impact on the intensity of cooperation with the EU;

27.Instructs its Co-Presidents to forward this resolution to the President of the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, the EEAS, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Eastern Partnership countries.

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