The European Union is creating a €22 million fund to support civil society along its eastern periphery and also aims to establish a European Endowment for Democracy, said Štefan Füle, the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy.
The new Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility is designed to support democratic actors in a region marred by resilient or resurgent authoritarian actors.
The Arab Spring has promoted a shift in the EU’s stability-first approach to its southern periphery, Polish premier Radek Sikorski said recently, noting that Warsaw had proposed a European Endowment for Democracy, modeled on the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, to provide a more flexible and focused instrument for democracy assistance.
“The debates generated by the proposal for an EED provide an opportunity for EU support to (political) civil society to become more extensive and more flexible than allowed under current funding rules,” argues a new discussion paper from the Open Society Institute.
The possible creation of a Convention or new agency, and/or the reform of the financial regulation affecting current funding instruments (in particular the EIDHR), deserve support if they offer less burdensome mechanisms for non-governmental actors to access and manage EU funds. The most valuable outcome of the EED debate would be if EU support became more flexible and responsive to the needs of the actors working in support of human rights and democracy.
The new endowment should not focus only on political parties but support a broad range of pro-democracy civil society actors, including media, dissidents, diaspora, unregistered NGOs, think tanks and social movements.
The facility should also “consider hardship funding for individual targeted dissidents and fellowships for critical voices and future leaders (along the lines of the NED fellowship and using a mechanism similar to TAIEX – the EU’s Technical Assistance and Information Exchange – currently offered to officials) which would include placements in Brussels and/or member states, with an introduction to EU institutions and how they function, access to networks, and where necessary, temporary protection.”