High Level trade union meeting on Eastern Partnership

The PERC organised a meeting of the leaders of national centres from Eastern Partnership countries together with interested colleagues from the EU countries in Brussels, 25-26 of October. The meeting was kindly supported by the FGTB and the LO-TCO Secretariat.

The following organization were present at the meeting: KPA (Armenia), AHIK (Azerbaijan), BKDP (Belarus), CMKOS, (Czech Republic), GTUC (Georgia), LPSK (Lithuania), NSZZ Solidarnosc (Poland), FNPR (Russia), FPU, KVPU,VOST (Ukraine), TCO (Sweden), CC.OO (Spain), FGTB, Hubert Cambier, Ernst Piehl (consultants), ITUC/PERC.

The meeting provided a forum for information and exchange of opinions on perspectives for the future of all interested actors from ITUC/PERC along three major policy dimensions:

o Assess the overall development of the operation of the Civil Society Forum. The challenges and prospects for social partner organizations, trade unions in particular.
o Review developments in the recipient countries, the involvement of trade unions in the setting of National Platforms and the prospects for future work on that basis
o Coordinate the participation of the selected organizations at the 2nd meeting of the CSF, Berlin 18-19 November 2010 and prepare texts for recommendations in the respective working groups.

On the first dimension presentations were delivered by G. Gradev (Executive Secretary, ITUC/PERC), S. Boyle (President of External Relations Committee, EESC) and I. Voles (Chair of working group 2 of CSF and member of the Steering Committee (EESC assigned place, from the employer group).

The three revealed almost complete overlap of assessment of the situation and the perspectives for further involvement, the key challenges for the social partners and EESC and the rationality of participating in this initiative. The problems presented confirmed the concerns about the CSF raised at the Executive Committee of the PERC (March, 2010). The joint letter of EESC, PERC and IOE to the Steering Committee of the CSF did not seem to have produced some tangible results so far. The key challenges persist and necessitate further actions to address:

• The assumptions of who constitutes civil society and what principles for selection of participants can underpin a more balanced and effective representation of its different sectors to avoid “drowning” of the social partners and EESC in a sea of NGOs particularly dealing with human rights in general, resulting in de facto exclusion of whole areas of civil society issues linked employer and trade union organizations, consumers, etc.

• The constitution of the working groups and their representation in the Steering Committee and in this sense in the overall communication process of the CSF with EU institutions;

• The relations of the working groups to the relevant platforms in the EaP and the real chances to interact with them and advance ideas from the members of the working groups.

Discussions on the issues revealed deep disappointment of the national organizations with the pattern of operation of the CSF of the EaP. General opinion can be summarized in the recurring question “What do we do there at all?”. Finally, the participants settled on the proposal to use the current second meeting of the Forum to try and address the problems identified as well as to approach EU institutions politically and if no major changes occur to look for other channels to be involved in EaP operations.

The situation on the national level with the setting up of the so called National Platforms and their interaction with social partners/trade unions revealed another disappointing picture of the EP process.