The association agreements signed between the EU and each of the Mediterranean Partner Countries (MPC) include a clause to the effect that adherence to democratic principles and fundamental rights are an essential element of the association agreements.
The action plans that the European Union is concluding with the MPCs under the European Neighbourhood Policy introduced in 2004 also include references to "good governance and the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms".
The reality in the MPCs – although to differing degrees – is however that freedom of association is not guaranteed and a flourishing civil society is held back by political and administrative hurdles ranging from rejecting associations' constitutions in some cases, to banning or suspension orders in others.
The emergence of free associations of social groups in different sectors of civil society (workers, employers, farmers, social economy, women, young people, consumers, etc.) is a prerequisite for the process of democratisation in the Mediterranean partner countries.
The EESC calls on the European Commission to ensure that the democratising commitments of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, the association agreements and the neighbourhood policy action plans are fulfilled.
The EESC also urges the European Commission to take account, in drafting the country strategy papers establishing the framework for Community cooperation under the action plans, of the level of compliance by the partner country governments with respect to freedom of association and human rights.
The EESC asks the European Commission to require the involvement of MPC civil society as part of the follow-up to the association agreements and action plans.
At the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, where it has observer status, the EESC will propose that partner country parliamentarians are informed of the need to reform any legislation which hampers freedom of association.
The EESC, with the cooperation of Euromed networks of employers, trade union, and the social economy, may draw up regular and detailed reports on the state of freedom of association and human rights in the MPCs.
The EESC will also press ahead with its work of supporting the establishment of official MPC civil society consultative bodies.