EESC calls for more media freedom in Western Balkans

EESC calls for more media freedom in Western Balkans

BiH capital Sarajevo hosted the 6th Western Balkans Civil Society Forum, organized by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). The participants adopted the Final Declaration and called on more media freedom, opening the doors of the Western Balkans to EU enlargement, the implementation of migration policies and increased employment opportunities, and working on women’s rights.

Participants in Declaration emphasized that this year the Forum was held in the “symbolic city of Sarajevo”, on the day of remembrance of tragic events that happened twenty-two years ago in Srebrenica. A minute of silence was observed in respect to the victims.

Participants also  emphasise that freedom of expression and free media are prerequisites for establishing solid democracies and allowing a vibrant civil society to develop, stressed that civil society must be vocal and take the lead in denouncing the negative developments in the region in relation to freedom of expression such as political pressure on media.

”The independence of the public service broadcasters (PBSs) should be strengthened and non-transparent financial dependencies and ownership of media outlets, the overwhelming share of state aid and/or state advertising in media funding and its arbitrary distribution should be stopped”, stressed participants in Declaration.

Regarding rights and empowerment of women in the EU and in the Western Balkans the participants stress the common challenges that the EU and the Western Balkans are facing regarding gender inequality: widespread domestic violence, limited labour market opportunities, harassment and violence at workplace, salary and pension gap between women and men, reproductive and maternity rights and unequal access to participation in high-level politics (despite existing targeted objectives).

“We stress the need for all actors to further promote and enhance the role of women and girls as agents of change for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, including conflict prevention, mediation, peacebuilding and conflict recovery”, is emphasized in the Declaration.

Georges Dassis, EESC president, said in his opening speech that the goal that everybody should strive for is a lasting peace among countries that went through terrible times not so long ago, and EU accession is there to anchor peace in their relations.

“European integration is not only a matter of political and economic integration and cooperation, but also one of contacts and dialogue among citizens”, Dassis added.

President of the Western Balkans Follow-up Committee of the EESC, Andrej Zorko, emphasized that the position of the Committee has always been clear – the future of the countries of the Western Balkans should eventually be in the European Union, and organized civil society should play a prominent role in their EU accession process.

Participants expressed hope that, despite the multitude of challenges EU is facing, the EU’s enlargement policy will remain one of EU’s priorities and will become more progressive and ambitious. They stressed that, in order to foster reconciliation and promote overall democratisation of the countries of the Western Balkans, it is essential that EU institutions and the governments of these countries increase their efforts in expanding the space for civil society.

The declaration also called upon the governments of the Western Balkans to promote social dialogue and to fully and regularly involve Economic and Social Councils when undertaking reforms and legislative changes.

On migration, participants commended the important role CSOs are playing in handling the refugee crises. They expressed concern on the impact of depopulation as a result of intra-regional migration and emigration towards the EU and called on governments to prioritize development of rural areas and creation of employment opportunities, especially for the young people.

As it was announced from EU Delegation to BiH, the Civil Society Forum provides an opportunity to exchange views on the current situation of civil society in the region, its needs and its future development. It brings together civil society organisations from Western Balkan countries, members of the EESC, representatives of national Economic and Social Councils and similar institutions, representatives of EU institutions and of governments of the region. The Forum is organized every two years since 2006 and participants adopt conclusions addressed to national authorities and European institutions./IBNA