Brussels, 13 June 2020
Working Group 1 online meeting
This year’s meeting of Working Group 1 on Democracy, Human Rights, Good Governance and Stability was held entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, nine online sessions were organised. The online format brought about new opportunities since it allowed for the participation of current and former delegates (now members) of WG1.
The different policy debates of Working Group 1 focused on media freedom, election integrity, resilience, gender policies, human rights and the fight against corruption, all against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis. One of the priorities for the Working Groups this year was to decide on a topic for the next policy paper which should address the impact of COVID-19 on an aspect of the group’s area of expertise. The aim of the policy paper is to contribute to shape the public policies in the EaP.
During the pandemic, several EaP governments have tried to regulate media more strictly and the access to reliable information has become more difficult for journalists. Moreover, media outlets experienced a drastic drop in advertising revenues. As a result, many media organisations in the EaP have had to decrease journalists’ salaries. Especially local media has been hit hard by the crisis. Some of the necessary recommendations to help mitigate the situation would be related to the establishment of an emergency fund for independent media and journalists, capacity building for journalists and the encouragement of EaP governments to adopt measures which would help regional, local and independent media to survive the consequences of the pandemic.
Related to human rights and election integrity, there are many disparities among EaP countries. Notably Belarus and Azerbaijan are concerned with large scale election fraud. It became clear that election integrity and electoral reform should become a bigger part in the future EaP strategy. Issues like domestic violence and the lack of access to basic services of vulnerable groups have been exacerbated by the current pandemic and must be addressed urgently.
Therefore, EU stakeholders have stressed the importance of working together in times of crisis. MEP Andrius Kubilius, Co-President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, underlined how international cooperation through formats like the EaP helps countries respond to new difficulties and realize new opportunities. Lawrence Meredith, Director for the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood at DG NEAR, reaffirmed that the EU’s support to the EaP during the COVID-19 crisis has been extremely fast.