Levers for Change: The EU and Civil Society in the Eastern Neighbourhood

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GR:EEN Policy Brief 6
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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.