The Western Balkans Civil Society Forum urges media freedom

4-12-2012 — /europawire.eu/ — The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted the fourth Western Balkans Civil Society Forum in Zagreb on 26 and 27 November 2012. The Forum welcomed the progress made by the countries of the region towards EU accession in recent years. Participants congratulated Croatia on its upcoming accession to the EU and asked the political authorities of potential candidate countries to speed up reforms. They urged the governments of the region to better protect freedom of expression and freedom of the media and highlighted the role of civil society organisations in the enlargement process. They also adopted recommendations to reinvigorate rural areas in the region.

Staffan Nilsson, president of the EESC, Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Vesna Pusić, first Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, and MEP Mr Eduard Kukan were among the key figures taking part. Mr. Füle stressed that the European Commission was “putting the rule of law at the centre of its enlargement policy.” Mr. Nilsson noted that the upcoming accession of Croatia to the EU “was bringing the reunification of Europe one step further, following on from the earlier accessions in 2004 and 2007.”

Participants deplored the serious setbacks for freedom of expression that had been reported in the Western Balkans in recent years and emphasised that freedom of expression and free media were prerequisites for establishing solid democracies and fostering the development of a vibrant civil society in the region.They condemned the widespread political pressure exerted on media outlets, the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few businessmen, and the lack of normal labour contracts in many media outlets. They deplored the widespread self-censorship among journalists and the lack of investigative journalism in the region.

Participants urged the governments to accelerate implementation of the acquis in agriculture and rural development policies. They also called on the European Commission to simplify the tight controls on access to IPARD. They encourage the authorities to take adequate steps to diversify rural economies in order to provide jobs and thus discourage the younger generation from moving away.

The EESC, representing the economic and social components of organised civil society in the European Union, organised this event with the support of the European Commission. The forum brought together 150 participants, including representatives of Western Balkans civil society organisations, EESC members, European and international socio-professional organisations, European NGOs, representatives of the governments of the Western Balkans, diplomats, EU institutions and international organisations.

This fourth Western Balkans Civil Society Forum was part of a broader effort to give regional-level civil society in the Western Balkans a concerted voice and to encourage the authorities in the region to be open to consulting civil society when adopting the reforms that are needed to move their agenda for EU accession forward. A fifth forum will take place in 2015.

For more details, please contact

Aurélien Juliard

Aurelien.Juliard@eesc.europa.eu

Tel: +32 25 46 99 69

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