Efforts to establish a European Endowment for Democracy reflect the European Union’s intent to create a “new normal” in its relations with its eastern neighbors and a commitment to increase EU investment in ‘people power’ across the region, leading politicians said today.
Leaders and officials from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine meet their EU counterparts at the Eastern Partnership summit that opens today in Warsaw at a time when the ‘gravity model’ of democratization appears to be losing its pull, prompting calls for Europe to develop a new Ostpolitik.
“Troubling smoke-signals are quickly rising from the six European post-Soviet countries outside Russia,” writes Thomas de Waal. “Twenty years after they became independent, with the end of the Soviet Union, they form an arc of disappointment.”
Vladimir Putin’s return as Russian president “should focus minds on how to present an alternative to Russia’s increasingly authoritarian model,” he contends.
The partnership is designed to encourage democratic reform and economic liberalization by offering trade and aid incentives – but not the immediate prospect of EU membership – to the EU’s eastern neighbors. But analysts question whether the initiative is promoting such ‘Europeanization’, citing the resilience of authoritarian rule in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus, democratic regression in Ukraine, and patchy progress in Georgia and Moldova.
“There are some signs of change in the EU’s thinking,” say Iryna Solonenko, European Programme Director at the Kiev-based International Renaissance Foundation and Natalia Shapovalova, a researcher at FRIDE, the Madrid-based think tank, citing the budget increase for the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights in the region from €3.3 million in 2009 to €5 million in 2011 and the proposed Civil Society Facility and European Endowment for Democracy to support advocacy and policy monitoring by civil society actors.
But the EU should mainstream democracy support as a “genuine priority in the EU’s policies towards the region both at the political and assistance level,” they argue:
The concept of ‘partnership with societies’ should be put into practice. This means the empowerment of civil society through engagement with a broad range of non-state actors and an improvement in civil society conditions in partner countries. Moreover, democratic governance based on the principles of transparency, accountability and citizens’ participation should become a cross-cutting aspect of all EU policies from energy to foreign aid management.
Their argument received support today from leading EU figures, citing the Cold War precedent of empowering civil society to engender democratic change.
“Communist-era opposition movements like Poland’s Solidarity, Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77 and the Baltic popular fronts showed that change is illusory without pressure from civil society,” wrote Polish foreign minister Rados?aw Sikorski, his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt, and Štefan Füle, the European commissioner for enlargement and the European Neighborhood Policy.“This is why, through the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, the European Neighborhood Civil Society Facility and the planned European Endowment for Democracy, we will redouble our investment in ‘people power’.”
As a leading democracy assistance practitioner recently noted, “Eastern Europe has a great deal to offer” in contributing to effective strategies for encouraging democratic transition. But that requires a twin-track strategy of empowering civil society and engaging governmental actors, said Nadia Diuk, a vice president at the National Endowment for Democracy.
“We should be mindful that a strategic and concerted effort through both diplomatic and non-governmental actors is the most cost-effective way to achieve these aims,” she told the Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in the US Congress.
There is perhaps one exception to the eastern neighborhood’s arc of gloom, writes de Waal, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ”Tiny Moldova is probably the brightest spot and has the most progressive government, but is also the poorest and its reformist agenda is mostly on paper,” he notes.
“The past two decades have been a test for the country to maintain its sovereignty, further its democratic transition, and move towards Europe,” NED’s Bobbie Jo Traut recently observed. “A vibrant third sector has emerged over the past 20 years, and civic activists have become key leaders, advisors, and policymakers in the government.”
But, at the other end of the spectrum, Belarus remains Europe’s last dictatorship.
“[EU leaders] express their deep concern at the deteriorating human rights, democracy and rule of law situation in Belarus and call for the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners and the start of a political dialogue with the opposition,” a pre-summit statement said. “They also call on the Belarusian authorities to fully respect their commitments to freedom of the media.”
Minsk rejected an invitation to attend the summit and Germany called for tougher sanctions against the regime.
Similarly, the trial of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is undermining undermining Kyiv’s prospects of closer relations with the EU.
As NED board member Judy Shelton recently noted, President Viktor Yanukovych “has recovered from his loss in the 2004 Orange Revolution, and is proceeding to consolidate power and weaken the pillars of pro-democratic civil society.”