At the last Eastern Partnership Ministerial (Foreign Affairs) Meeting, EaP CSF was represented by Zaur Akbar, Working Group 4 Coordinator and Steering Committee Member – who pointed that, despite all the successes, policy-makers should pay close attention to rule of law and civil society engagement. Some of the points reflected on the recommendations in EaP CSF Position Paper “Advancing Eastern Partnership: 23 Civil Society Ideas for the Policy beyond 2020”, launched in the same week
In his address to the EU and EaP foreign ministers, Akbar said that without rule of law, “any progress is reversible, any investment can potentially be lost”. Judiciary reform, tackling corruption and ensuring respect for human rights and democracy is still a challenge for most countries in the region. There is a need for more consistency, warned Akbar, elaborating more in the country-specific observations. The situation in Moldova is particularly worrying – the recent events, connected to the general elections, cast a serious doubt on the successful implementation of its Association Agreement (AA).
Across the region, civil society continues to perform monitoring, or “watchdog” function, which is why it needs EU’s support. In this light, it is encouraging to see the inclusion of civil society in EU-Belarus Dialogue on Human Rights. In Armenia, civil society also hopes to have a more active role in Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), and has already expressed interest in shaping its outcomes through a dedicated civil society platform. In Georgia or Ukraine, it has shown to be a resilient partner in the reform process, while calling for and ensuring greater transparency.
Overall, the EaP policy has contributed to greater integration – resulting in “tighter economic, political and personal connections”. Here it is worth mentioning the successes in people-to-people contacts, particularly student and youth mobility, which is great part ensured by EU programmes, such as Erasmus+. But looking beyond year 2020, the policy will have to address new or growing challenges – such as mitigation of hybrid threats or harmonisation of digital markets. We see a need for a more flexible approach, which could be provided by re-establishing European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), concluded Akbar. The Eastern Partnership Ministerial (Foreign Affairs) Meeting took place on 13 May 2019 in Brussels. EaP CSF is the only civil society organisation to have a permanent observer status, to be represented at the Ministerial meetings.