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EU-Russia Civil Society Forum enhances contacts with EU institutions

28 October 2014

Today, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum addressed a number of requests to the new European Commission on its work in the coming period. In policies towards Russia as well as in accession and association and internal EU policies, maintaining and maximizing freedom for civil society organisations to operate should be a key issue. In reviewing EU-Russian relations, the Forum emphasized that the European Union should expand support to civil society initiatives in Russia and seek expansion as well as direct contact between citizens.

The Forum said: “Current tensions between Russia and the European Union have been largely caused by the Russian government’s lack of adherence to international and European principles and mechanisms of law and common security.  In responding to developments in Ukraine, Russia violated that country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by providing military and material support to armed insurgents. The Russian government should redress these policies. Yet contacts between citizens from the EU and Russia should not suffer from the deteriorated relations.” Visa facilitation for such contacts should be prioritized, as should exchange and academic cooperation programs.

The Forum is gravely concerned about the increasing restrictions on the freedom of civil society to operate in Russia, but also points to restrictive and stigmatizing moves in EU Accession Countries such as Serbia and Macedonia, and in EU member states such as Hungary.

The appeal was drafted after a visit to Brussels from 6 to 8 October by a delegation of the Forum, in which the Netherlands Helsinki Committee took part together with a number of other Forum members, both from the EU and from Russia. Part of the visit was devoted to a senimar on the role of civil society in the EU and Russia, jointly organized with the European Economic and Social Committee. The seminar examined how civil society plays a role, or how its role is limited by authorities, in contributing to and scrutinizing official policies. The seminar also looked at opportunities and challenges in its work to address social, economic and environmental injustices. The way these issues are addressed (or neglected) in trans-border trade, investments or other economic operations was flagged as an area of further study.

The delegation also had conversations with staff of the European External Action Service, the European Commission and the European Parliament, and was in touch with a number of Brussels-based Forum members.