The EESC welcomes and supports the proposal to create the Eastern Partnership as an upgraded form of collaboration with the countries of the European neighbourhood policy to the east. The partnership must be based on sharing common democratic values and respect for human rights, which includes social and civil dialogue, and the recognition of the important role of the civil society organisations in democratic societies. The Eastern Partnership should also help strengthen the institutions and lead to the peaceful resolution of existing conflicts.
Many of the Eastern Partnership's priorities are the subject of a strategic partnership between Russia and the EU. Therefore, the Committee suggests involving the civil society of Russia, Turkey and perhaps other countries in discussions on issues of common interest within the civil society forum and thematic platforms.
The EESC supports the relaxing of visa regulations for certain groups of citizens from the partner countries with a view to the incremental dismantling of requirements as and when the security interests of both sides permit.
The EESC calls on the European Commission and the Council to give it a key role in the instigation of an Eastern Partnership civil society forum. This would be a flexible and open network of EU and Eastern Partnership civil society, meeting once a year and operating via working groups and teams which would address specific topics and issue proposals for programmes and projects to secure the partnership's objectives. The full and effective involvement of civil society in this forum should be supported by appropriate funding.
The EESC is ready to join with civil society organisations from the partner countries in all four thematic platforms, since these concern problems that the Committee is heavily involved with and on which it has drawn up a number of opinions and recommendations.
At the bilateral level, the EESC will foster the creation of mechanisms enabling the social partners and other civil society organisations to join in the consultation process for implementing EU bilateral programmes with the partner countries, including during the formulation and implementation of national action plans, and when assessing their results. Therefore, the EESC calls on the Commission to make sure that civil society organisations are included in the Comprehensive Institution-Building Programme (CIB) and twinning programmes funded from the appropriate ENPI heading.