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On May 25 – 26, 2011, the Community of Democracies, together with the European Partnership for Democracy, celebrated a round-table on “Europe and its Neighbourhood: Towards a Renewed Partnership for Democracy,”hosted by the Polish Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels. 

After the ground-breaking events in the Arab world, the two-day Round-table aimed at facilitating the dialogue between civil society representatives and policy makers at EU and national levels, contributing to building bridges for enhanced cooperation and coherence in supporting the neighbouring countries’ democratic evolution. It represented a unique opportunity to bring together high-level policy makers and civil society representatives to discuss the political, social, economic and institutional implications of recent developments in the European neighbourhood.

On the first working day, civil society representatives from Tunisia, Egypt and Belarus, meaningfully contributed to the discussion by providing valuable input and focused assessment of the situation in their respective countries. At the same time, they defined those crucial issues in need of being addressed, and provided possible frameworks for the EU and the intergovernmental Community of Democracies to play a role in current developments.

The speakers drew attention to the importance of a differentiated approach, and the need for the international community’s support, always based on local needs and ownership. Referring specifically to the revolutions in Tunis and Egypt, key-note speakers highlighted the “home grown” – not outside-driven – nature of the revolutions, focused on national agendas and based on domestic – socio-economic and political – demands. Human Rights became a transversal issue encompassing all the before-mentioned elements. In reference to Belarus, the discussion centred on the need to undertake steps to help consolidate different parts of society through a comprehensive dialogue with and among state and civil society representatives.

The second day of the Round-table focused on the role of Europe in supporting diverse democratization movements, in addition to potential cooperation efforts with the Community of Democracies. Representatives of civil society organisations and the EU institutions exchanged their assessments of the current situation, the role that the EU has played in the region in the past and recommendations on its possible role in the future. During the debate, the participants welcomed the joint Communication – “A new response to a changing Neighbourhood” – to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions introducing the new European Neighbourhood Policy, adding potential recommendations to the document.

The EU, and the international community at large, carries a crucial role for the successful transition processes taking place in Europe’s neighbourhood. At the same time, different actors need to be proactive, and act timely and concretely in order to support these countries in their steps towards establishing democracy. The coming elections will be a stepping stone for these countries, and an opportunity for donors, especially the EU, to demonstrate its commitment towards democracy in its neighbourhood.

The current developments in the Southern neighbourhood were not only perceived as challenging, but as an opportunity for the EU and the intergovernmental Community of Democracies to enhance democracy support and their impact and visibility in international affairs. In the concluding remarks, therefore, the importance of a renewed partnership between Europe and its neighbourhood was underlined, highlighting the potential impact of the response to current developments in and for the region.

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