EU is and will continue to be the strongest supporter of civil society in the Mediterranean region, High Representative Federica Mogherini said today at the opening of the Civil Society Forum Neighbourhood South.
"Civil society is an indispensable partner for our foreign policy, and the European Union will continue to be an indispensable partner for strong, resilient and free societies – all around the world," Mogherini said at the event bringing together some 160 representatives of civil society from all 10 southern neighbourhood countries and European NGOs.
"In so many parts of the world and of our region, civil society is under constant attack. Civil society organisations and NGOs are accused of being a threat to the stability of a country. But the opposite is true. When civil society comes under attack, when democracy is restricted, when free speech is mistaken for subversion – this is the perfect recipe to foster instability."
"We Europeans understand this very well. We know we need to engage with local communities, with trade unions, with mayors, with faith leaders, with the private sector, with associations and charities. There is no other way to build peace, to spark sustainable development, to support democracy."
"We, Europeans will continue to listen to you and to work to empower you. We will continue to stand by human rights defenders, providing them with legal support or helping them escape a threat against their life. We will keep working with civil society, whether to support migrants or to rebuild a country," said the High Representative.
The Forum, which will take place from 10-12 July in Brussels, is part of an ongoing consultative process with Euromed NGO's, begun in 2013, aimed at creating mechanisms for dialogue between and among civil society, the EU and the authorities. To date, over 1000 NGOs have taken part in consultations in more than 40 meetings throughout the region and Europe.
Participants at this week's Forum, which in addition to civil society representatives include also academics, journalists, social actors and representatives from the EU and international organisations, will discuss and finalise key recommendations in the areas of resilience and security, migration and mobility, economic development and human rights. This year's edition also has a specific focus on youth. The cross-cutting issues of gender, media, climate change and education and employment will serve as a thread throughout all the panel discussions and workshops.