At the 3rd meeting of the joint seminar between the EESC and the EU-Russia Forum on 23 November 2016, the representatives of both EU and Russia civil society organisations exchanged on the situation for civil society in Russia and in the EU and on migration.
"Contacts between the civil societies on both sides form an integral part of EU-Russia economic and social relations. Ensuring that Russian and EU civil societies can interact freely and thus contribute to building mutual trust and understanding is of utmost importance", declared Dilyana Slavova, President of the External Relations section at the EESC.
Yuri Dzhibladze, member of the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, highlighted: “Unfortunately, backlash against civil society has intensified in Russia: we have almost 150 NGOs included in the “foreign agents” list since this law came into force four years ago. Many have had to close down; others continue their struggle and experience strong political, legal, and financial pressure and sometimes physical attacks. Ironically, negative developments with the situation of civil society started to develop in some EU member states, in particular Hungary and Poland. It is very important that the problem of shrinking space for civil society – both in Russia and in the EU – remains a high priority in the policies of EU Members States and EU institutions.”
Challenging conditions for civil society organisations in Russia…but also in the EU
Members of the EESC and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum expressed their deep concern about the deterioration of the situation of the civil society organisations and activists in Russia since June 2015.
The rule of law and fundamental freedoms in Russia are also a source of important concern for the seminar participants. They underlined that commitment to democratic procedures must top the agenda in the dialogue between the EU and Russia, regardless of political, economic, or security interests of the parties. Participants called for an increased support to the Russian civil society by the EU.
Representatives expressed their growing concerns over the shrinking space for civil society in Hungary and Poland. They noted an increasing risk in some countries of the “old Europe” in the form of pressure on civil society groups, limitations on NGO funding, and violation of privacy of activists in the framework of fighting terrorism.
Migration – lessons learned
The political and societal consequences of the arrival of refugees and migrants in the EU countries and in Russia were addressed with a review of policy responses at EU level, national level, and especially at municipal level, designed to deal with the new reality.
Representatives highlighted some developments in the refugee crisis in Europe, which are not in compliance with human dignity and international obligations of single states. They underlined that the rights of refugees and migrants as guaranteed by international law should be secured not only inside the European Union and Russia but also in transit countries. These pre-conditions should form a basis for intergovernmental and inter-state agreements.
Finally, the socio-economic, labour and societal aspects of integration of newcomers in Russia and in the EU at the municipal level were raised, as well as the greatest challenges and examples of good integration practices developed regarding adaptation and integration.