“Reforms! Changes! Really? Civil Power for Stronger Results” — CiSEP conference in Chernihiv, Ukraine

From 29–30 March around 60 alumni of our Civic School for Sound EU Practice (CiSEP) followed the invitation to take part in the inter­active confe­rence “Reforms! Changes! Really? Civil Power for Stronger Results” in Chernihiv, Ukraine. 1,5 years after the start of our CiSEP training series, the confe­rence brought the civil society members together to discuss Ukraine’s EU association process and their role in it (in the past, present and future).

The parti­ci­pants had the chance to inten­sively evaluate their previous project work and elaborate new ideas for streng­t­hening the Ukrainian civil society in the future. Of course networking and the mutual exchange of ideas were an important part of the agenda as well.

During the four panels on “Democratic Reforms and Rule of Law”, “Economy, Sustaina­bility and Environment”, “Youth Work and Education” and “Labour, Social Policy, Equality and Health”, as well as in the following plenary sessions, the parti­ci­pants discussed the experi­ences of the imple­men­tation of their projects. One of the biggest obstacles identified was the problem of working together with the local adminis­trative bodies and autho­rities. According to the parti­ci­pants, often the CSOs with a more favorable agenda to the adminis­tration and autho­rities are granted coope­ration. This in return leads to reluc­tance from the civil society to share their monitoring metho­do­logies and expertise with the autho­rities. Though positive examples exist, they are a minority.

A panel discussion with the heads of the Ukrainian National Platform of the Civil Society Forum, Hennadiy Maksak, and the Ukrainian Civil Society Platform (estab­lished by the Association Agreement), Zoriana Mishchuk, offered additional room for an exchange on the work of both platforms and the more general question of regional activism vs. centra­lised insti­tu­tional decision making. While both platforms have a large member base from all over Ukraine and access to national and EU insti­tu­tions, both panelists mentioned the problem of lack of member activity, while the audience in return criti­cised the perceived lack of trans­pa­rency and openness to input from the regions. As the Civil Society Platform is still in the process of insti­tu­tio­na­li­sation (it was estab­lished only a year ago) and the discussion on the distinct diffe­rences and respon­si­bi­lities of both platforms is ongoing, these discus­sions will presumably remain a while longer.

The public panel discussion that finalised the confe­rence started with a key note speech by Mr Wolfgang Bindseil, Deputy Head of the German Embassy in Kyiv, on Germany’s role as a partner in Ukraine’s association process. He empha­sised not only the increased trade between Germany and Ukraine, but also Germany’s invol­vement in the decen­tra­li­sation and public adminis­tration reforms, energy efficiency measures, moder­ni­sation of the electricity grid, support for IDPs (internally displaced persons) and the financial support for infra­st­ructure measures. For the following panel discussion on the general reform process in Ukraine Mr Bindseil was joined by Ms Iryna Bekeshkina, director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initia­tives Foundation and Ms Olga Stefa­nishyna, director of the Government Office for European Integration. The panelists provided a broad overview of successes, risks and chances of and for the association process, empha­sised the need for conti­nuous reforms and the necessity of an active and informed civil society’s parti­ci­pation in this process.

In this regard Mr Bindseil stated that Ukraine should “not loose time in the reform process”, as a lack of progress increases the proba­bility of external events that might hinder the association agenda. He also identified several necessary reforms for the future: a reform of the judiciary, the parlia­mentary and electoral system (also highlighting the proble­matic low salaries) and technical reforms (e.g.: health care system, priva­ti­sation of state enter­prises). Ms Bekeshkina called for more “revolu­tionist activists” and Ms Stefa­nishyna invited the civil society repre­sen­ta­tives to work together in the association process and share their expertise with the Government Office for European Integration.

The confe­rence was success­fully imple­mented by Martin Stein, project manager at IEP, and organised in close coope­ration with the Chernihiv based Polissya Foundation for Inter­na­tional and Regional Studies.

The project is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.

A report of the event (in Ukrainian) by Telekanal Novii Chernihiv can be found here.