The Eastern Partnership Society Forum, held between November 28 and 30, may fulfil hopes pinned on it. Hundreds of participants who are coming to Poznan want the increase of the third sector’s influence on the Eastern Partnership programme.
Good organisation at the basis
The Civil Society Forum is an integral part of the Eastern Partnership programme. Every year it is held in a country currently presiding over the Council of the European Union. The main task of the event is to discuss problems of non-governmental organisations and civil society in the Eastern Partnership countries. The discussion is held in a large circle of activists, community workers, experts and politicians. The previous editions, Brussels in 2009 and Berlin in 2010, received a mixed reception. The praise went to enthusiastic and committed participants, while the limited decision-making possibilities and institutional gaps were criticised for hindering the process of suiting actions to spontaneous ideas. This time, the organisers want to raise the status of the event and provide it with so needed a shot in the arm.
Wojciech Borodzicz-Smoliński from the Center for International Relations emphasised the expected differences between this year’s edition and the previous ones. The expert of the CIR, in overall charge of the organisation of the Forum, thinks that Poznan can become an example of an organiser of events like this one: “The Forum has never been so supported by state and regional institutions. Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has become strongly involved, so have Poznan authorities: Marshal of Wielkopolskie Voivodeship Marek Woźniak and Mayor of Poznan Ryszard Grobelny.” While talking to Eastbook.eu, Borodzicz-Smoliński stressed that in recent years the organisers implemented the minimum plan, limiting themselves to renting halls for the event. Poznan is prepared for raising the standards. The programme was extended to three days, while its majority is co-organised by non-governmental organisations. Thanks to that, apart from the inevitable conference panels, one can participate in discussions and workshops held in narrow circles and focused on specific current problems: support for non-governmental organisations in Belarus, promotion of free media, creation of an international contact network and projects based on volunteering. The only discouraging element of the programme is its intensity.
What comes next?
The expected commitment of the participants and their creative unrest notwithstanding, Poznan Forum needs something more. Within the Eastern Partnership programme, Civil society, so accented in the name of the event, comes down to declarations, resolutions and recommendations, all of them sounding serious. However, no specific actions follow issuing documents formulated by various organizations, neither in the European Union’s countries, nor in the Partnership ones. Grant contests announced by the European Commission are too complex for the majority of organisations of the EaP countries. They are usually coordinated by experienced NGOs from the Union countries, the fact which obviously limits the effectiveness of such actions in the target area. Ulad Vialichka, Belarusian non-governmental activist, co-Chair of the Steering Committee of the Civil Society Forum, points to the need of introduction of a global plan of action covering the non-governmental sphere in the Eastern Partnership states: “We are expecting new energy that will dynamise the Eastern Partnership. Instead of new appeals to our governments, which are usually ignored, we need big and interesting regional projects based on cooperation of civil society,” he stated, when asked about expectations of Belarusian organisations which met in Minsk on November 22 to work out a joint stand before the meeting in Poznan.
Cooperation of international platforms (organisations participating in the Forum are used to establishing national platforms afterwards) is yet another problem standing in the way of planning long-term cooperation within the framework of the Forum. The problem is the increasing pressure put on non-governmental organisations by state authorities as well as the ambitions and objectives of each group, frequently making it more difficult to agree on a final common position statement. What can systematise this chaos is institutionalisation of the Civil Society Forum. Creating a team with a budget, office and plan of action focused around building the network of contacts and partnerships, and bringing opportunities already available to the Union closer to the Eastern partners. People involved in the Forum are working on this solution. A draft of future competence and initial version of the statute are both ready. It does not mean, however, that after the debate in Poznan some revolutionary changes should be expected. There will be rather small, yet significant, alterations the effect of which will depend on the amount of work and, most of all, cooperation of the participating organisations.
Learn more about this year’s edition of the Forum:
Translated by Marta Lityńska