Olli Rehn: Civil Society is a Backbone of the EU Enlargement Strategy

During the conference entitled Civil Society Development in Southeast Europe: Building Europe Together, held on 17 April in Brussels, European Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, highlighted the importance of the role that civil society plays in the process of Southeast European countries' accession of to the European Union.
In his speech, Mr. Rehn pointed out that the strategy of EU enlargement is oftentimes accompanied by skepticism, associated with the lack of awareness of the advantages that the process of enlargement brings to all the countries involved. He stressed that while in the old EU member states one ever more often mentions the so-called “enlargement fatigue”, the process of European reforms is oftentimes erroneously understood by the citizens of the enlargement countries who perceive it as an external pressure and not as a process which may in a long run lead to a considerable improvement of their standard of living. Therefore, it is one of important duties of civil society organizations (CSOs) to establish communication between European institutions, national authorities and citizens with a view to raise awareness of advantages that the enlargement process brings to all EU citizens, as well as to strengthen trust between the citizens of the EU member states and enlargement countries.
According to Mr. Rehn, the CSOs from the enlargement countries are unavoidable factor of implementation of reform processes in these countries. Their major role is associated with promotion of fundamental European principles of democracy, human rights, good governance and the rule of law. Thereby, the EU will keep supporting the development of CSOs in the enlargement countries, thus additionally strengthening their potential of influencing the processes of European integration. Accordingly, it will considerably enhance the amount of resources that will be provided for strengthening of CSOs in the period 2009-2010. During that period, the EU will allocate approximately €130 million for projects and programs to be implemented in the following three areas: local civil society initiatives and capacity-building, partnerships and networks between CSOs in the EU member states and the enlargement countries, and programs to bring journalists, young politicians, trade union leaders and teachers into contact with the EU institutions.
In conclusion of his speech, he pointed out that the present conference is of a great importance for the development of the Southeast European civil society and expressed hope that this event is only an introduction to a set of regular annual meetings between representatives of civil society from the EU member states and enlargement countries.