Continuing our efforts to work in the Mediterranean region - Southern Neighbourhood Forum for Civil Society
A major new initiative for the Southern Mediterranean, aimed at an enhanced and more strategic engagement with civil society, has been launched in Brussels, at the first Southern Mediterranean Civil Society Forum. Representatives of more than 150 civil society organisations, academics, media, government representatives and international organisations from the Southern Neighbourhood and Europe were present at the launch, at which participants outlined the results of a year-long consultation between the EU and civil society, and marked out the next steps in this process.
Speaking at today's Forum, ENP Commissioner Štefan Füle asked that, "the Southern Mediterranean Civil Society Forum becomes a standing commitment to cooperation and engagement to work together towards the betterment of peoples' lives in the Southern Mediterranean.”
The initiative aims at the creation of mechanisms for sustained, structured dialogue between civil society, the authorities and the EU at a regional level. The structured dialogue will allow civil society representatives to express their views about EU policies in the region and, more broadly, about the policy priorities needed to improve the lives of the people. It is expected that representatives of national authorities from the partner countries will also participate.
The EU will provide funding of up to €1 million, to cover a pilot phase of one year: this will, inter alia, help finance a series of joint learning and training modules for civil society and government officials; dedicated workshops on regional problems such as refugees, migration and environment; the enhancement and capacity development of civil society platforms and networks, as well as the creation of comprehensive communications resources to allow for easier access to information and exchange.
Commissioner Füle said “the language might seem complex, with words such as structures and mechanisms, but what we are trying to establish is the creation of the necessary space, conditions, freedoms and means to allow inclusive dialogue to flourish." He underlined that "the consultation process with civil society has been open, exploratory and bottom-up without any pre-conceived concept of the structures and mechanisms."
The event, jointly organised by the European Commission, the European External Action Service and the European Economic and Social Committee, follows a year-long consultation process between the EU and Civil Society organisations aimed at improving dialogue between civil society, the EU and the authorities, and promoting reform in the region. The process will now continue with the announced pilot phase, and the results of those actions will be reported back at the next Southern Mediterranean Civil Society Forum in June 2015.
This event follows on other initiatives taken by the EU to improve engagement with civil society and increase support, notably the establishment of the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility.