Levers for Change: The EU and Civil Society in the Eastern Neighbourhood
Stability in its immediate neighbourhood is vital for European Union (EU) security. It depends on, among other factors, the quality of domestic governance in neighbouring countries including democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and civilian control over the security sector. The key challenge for the Eastern Partnership (EaP) region – which includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine– is addressing state fragility, which opens the door to corruption, the abuse of power, weak institutions, lack of accountability, and organised crime. Regional stability is also threatened by the unresolved conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, over Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and over Transnistria in Moldova.
The EU’s overarching strategic objective in its Eastern neighbourhood is to ensure a smooth democratic transition by promoting political and economic reform. The Eastern Partnership, launched in 2009, includes both a normative dimension, based on extending EU values and norms, and a functionalist approach, which entails policy transfers and regulatory approximation to the EU acquis. The assumption is that incremental reforms will, over time, foster normative and political convergence around democratic principles and practice. But change cannot just be exported, it must come from within.
The emergence of a strong civil society is key to ensure the achievement of this objective. This paper addresses the relationship between the EU and civil society in the region, focusing on the perceptions of local actors of the EU’s support to democratic reform and security in EaP countries. Local civil society plays an important role in improving transparency and accountability, both by explaining EU policies to a broader audience and by overseeing governments’ reform efforts. Civil society actors in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus see the EU as playing three main roles: as a reference model and norm-setter, a mediator and enforcer of dialogue between local authorities and non-governmental stakeholders and as a capacity -builder for local organisations.