The Southern Caucasus is extremely diverse in terms of ethnicity, language, history, religion and politics. This, together with the ongoing territorial conflicts and centuries of foreign domination mean that the question of constructing an independent State, a national identity and defending independence absorb a lot of energy, not least for civil society organisations.
Neither the social partners nor other civil society organisations have so far played an adequate role in drawing up or implementing the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, which came into force in 1999, or the 2007-2011 action plans linked to the European Neighbourhood Policy, since the start of the negotiations on these matters.
Both the implementation of the action plans and the foreseen negotiations of Association Agreements as bilateral instruments, and the multilateral Eastern Partnership initiative represent an opportunity to involve organised civil society in related activities.
In order to achieve active involvement of the civil society in the countries of Southern Caucasus in the implementation of the ENP Action Plans, active support by the European institutions and Member States is necessary. Therefore, the European Commission should encourage the governments of countries in the Southern Caucasus to cooperate actively with the social partners and civil society organisations in implementing the action plans and Partnership and Cooperation Agreements.
At the same time, the European institutions should also stress that human rights and democratic standards, as well as principles of social dialogue and those of civil dialogue should be respected in the action plan negotiations. Annual reports on implementation of action plans should include an assessment of these issues. This could enhance both the importance of civil society and the independence of its organisations as well as have a positive impact on safeguarding basic labour rights and equal rights for women.
Setting up the civil society forum provided for in the Eastern Partnership initiative may facilitate dialogue between organisations from the countries included in the partnership and dialogue between them and the authorities. However, there is a need to ensure that representatives are appointed to the forum democratically and that the forum should include the most representative, democratic and independent organisations. The EESC could play a prominent role in this process by assuring that these criteria are respected and in the functioning of the forum.
Comprehensive contacts should be promoted between people and between organisations from countries in the region and EU Member States, not least on a bilateral basis. To this end, obtaining visas should be made easier for people from the countries of the Southern Caucasus.