Human rights and civil society in South Neighbourhood key pillar of EU policy
Brussels, 7 November – "Our commitment to improve the human rights situation and to support the civil society remains strong and proves to be even more important in the light of the current developments in the Southern Neighbourhood," Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said to the representatives of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) today. They met in Brussels to share views on the state of human rights almost two years after the start of the Arab Spring. The implementation of the revised EU Neighbourhood Policy and new EU Human Rights Strategy in the region were also discussed.
"We are not entirely happy with the progress in improving human rights and fundamental freedoms in the region, it is not as strong as we have expected," Commissioner Füle said. "The transition and transformation in the countries of the region is still accompanied by a lot of uncertainty and volatility. That is why we are urging our partners not to lose focus on these issues," he added recalling the EU´s active support for this by promoting reform of justice, of the security sector, promoting gender equality, women's rights, fundamental freedoms, refugees' rights and making in this effort the civil society as important partner as the official authorities. "The key for further progress in ensuring respect for fundamental rights and freedoms are the new Constitutions which should be prepared and discussed in an inclusive manner with all the stakeholders and ensure respect for the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sex, religion and minorities as well as respecting freedom of expression," Commissioner Füle stressed. He also appreciated the contacts with the civil society organizations: "The interactions like the one we are having now are important for us since they help us to concentrate on the real challenges in the partner countries and also on how to better engage with civil society."
In this context he underlined that the reinforcement of civil society is the key to achieve a democratic transformation and that the EU is increasing its support to this end. For this purpose the Civil Society Facility was created in September last year, with €12 million earmarked for support to Civil Society in the Southern Neighbourhood. Few days ago the Commission adopted a new budget allocation for 2012-2013 amounting to €22 million (see press release here http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1298_en.htm?locale=en).
For the EU it is crucial that the potential of the Civil Society Facility is used to the maximum ensuring also coherence with other instruments supporting civil society. An additional instrument to provide support to democratisation in the Neighbourhood in cooperation with the non-governmental sector is the European Endowment for Democracy being launched this year (see related press release here http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1199_en.htm?locale=en)