10 December 2019
Entitled “EaP4EU: Joining forces for a win-win partnership”, the 11th Annual Assembly of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) took place in Brussels earlier this month, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership initiative. The event welcomed over 300 civil society representatives from the EaP region and the EU as well as international stakeholders, key decision makers and journalists. AGBU Europe attended the event as a European member of the EaP CSF.
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum was created with the purpose of promoting European integration, supporting reforms and democratization of the six Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. As the largest umbrella organization bringing together more than one thousand NGO’s from the EaP region and the EU, the Annual Assembly is a unique platform to stimulate debates and discussions between EU officials, government representatives and civil society organizations from the EU and its partner countries. It is the occasion to brief on the progress of policy implementation in the region and address shortcomings.
This year, the Annual Assembly aimed at shaping “the post-2020 EaP policy into a mutually beneficial and equal partnership between the EU and EaP countries”, as stated in its programme, in the hope that both entities can contribute together to the solution of regional and global issues.
The opening speech of the programme was delivered by Olivér Várhelyi, newly appointed Commissioner of the European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, who stressed the EU’s commitment to support reforms in all six partner countries. Várhelyi specified that, in this respect, civil society has an important role to play in the process. ‘’An empowered civil society is key to strengthening democracy, public accountability, advancement of human rights and resilience”, he noted.
The Minister of Justice of Armenia, Rustam Badasyan, was a speaker in the panel focusing on the future of the Eastern Partnership. Badasyan highlighted that Armenians, who have in history greatly contributed to the common European values and heritage, see the Eastern Partnership not as Europe’s Eastern neighbors but as the continuation of Europe to the East. In his view, the aim of this partnership should be to create a platform which guarantees the respect of shared common values (human rights, rule of law, democracy) and ensures that its principles prevail over geopolitical considerations. Badasyan also mentioned the results of a recent survey conducted by the EaP CSF, stating that 92% of those living in Armenia have a favourable view of their country’s relations with the EU. In his speech, the Minsiter also stressed the importance of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU and the implementation of its roadmap. Badasyan indicated that three out of the four sectorial strategy papers – judicial & legal, anti-corruption, penitentiary & probation – are already approved by the Armenian government, showing Armenia’s high commitment to the implementation of this roadmap.
Speaking in the same panel, Luc Devigne, Director of the Eastern Partnership at the European External Action Service, pointed at the EU’s adaptability as well as its openness and transparency in policy making, indicating that the EU consults with multiple actors – governments, civil society, academics and businesses. Devigne also assessed Armenia’s progress on the rule of law, human rights and good governance since its Velvet Revolution in 2018.
During Armenia’s stakeholders meeting, Kristinne Grigoryan, Deputy Minister of Justice of the RA informed on the EU-Armenia cooperation in the field of judiciary reforms. Vassilis Maragos, Head of Unit for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Eastern Partnership at the European Commission, welcomed Armenia’s acceptance of EU standards within the CEPA framework. In view of Armenia’s progress in the field, Maragos noted that the EU increased its financial support to the country.
To conclude the programme of the Assembly, a panel dedicated to countering hybrid threats, including propaganda, disinformation and cyber-attacks, elaborated on specific realities in Moldova, Armenia and Georgia. The session aimed to facilitate civil society dialogue with experts and decision makers on how to strengthen the multistakeholder approach to hybrid threats and how to involve the civil society effectively into the EaP policy planning, implementation and evaluation beyond 2020.