The European Union’s response to the Arab awakening again highlighted its inability to react swiftly and decisively to extraordinary events unfolding in its neighborhood, Hrant Kostanyan and Magdalena Nasieniak write in a report for the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies. But the new European Endowment for Democracy has the potential to make the EU a committed, pro-active and effective leader of democracy assistance, free of nationally-driven decisions, European ‘turf wars’ and cumbersome bureaucracy.
The realization that the EU needs a less ‘traditional’ and more rapid and flexible instrument for democracy assistance prompted reflections on the new European Endowment for Democracy (EED). Poland jump-started the process by presenting the initial draft proposal about a year ago. The final result of stormy political discussions in the meantime is soon to be presented in the form of a statute officially establishing the EED.
In examining the process of the EED’s establishment, this Policy Brief arrives at three main conclusions. First, the initial ambitious proposals of the EED were diluted in the attempt to have all the EU member states on board. This resulted in the attenuation of a number of innovative aspects caused by lengthy political bargaining between the EU governments with divergent interests. Despite such an inclusive membership however, the EED did not secure all member states’ political backing.
Secondly, having all EU member states represented in the Board of Governors did not automatically translate into tangible financial support for the EED. Thus far, a minority of member states made informal promises to provide funds, and the European Commission has pledged to match the amount collected.
Thirdly, despite these setbacks, the ongoing discussions over a more detailed operating framework of the EED however offer another opportunity to empower the new ‘instrument’ with intended added value. To this end, we provide four recommendations for specific areas that are expected to be of key importance in making the EED a real game changer in the EU’s democratic assistance.
By acting on the basis of a fast and flexible approach, the EED’s support is often expected to be ad hoc and fragmented. Therefore, it is necessary to integrate it into a wider strategy linked to the other instruments in general and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) in particular with the aim of creating a coherent action framework for subsequent stages of democratic transformation.
Specifically, the EED could become an instrument for funding projects that would not qualify under other EU instruments. Instruments and programmers such as the EIDHR, the Instrument of Stability, the Civil Society Facility and the Non-State Actors and Local Authorities program should be scrutinized to identify the gaps. The principle of complementarity should be upheld in all aspects of the EED’s operations.
Making a difference
EU’s democracy assistance, as seen particularly on the example of the southern neighborhood, has an ambiguous tradition of democracy efforts often being a hostage to political and security concerns or/and economic opportunities.
Therefore, with the paradigm shift in the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) towards the “more for more” concept, requiring evidence of achievement as a precondition for receiving more funding, the EU can no longer avoid firmly stating the primacy of supporting democratic aspirations in third countries. The European Consensus on Democracy should be finally agreed on, adopted and implemented. The ENP concept of ‘deep and sustainable democracy’, contained in the declaration on the establishment of the EED, can be used as a starting point towards elaborating what kind of democracy the EU wants to promote. This would subsequently allow for identifying possible dimensions of democracy assistance and concrete actions that should be supported.
The EED might need to develop a funding strategy by identifying various possible sources for securing additional money. Fundraising should be taken into account as one of the possible manners of gathering additional support. As illustrated by the example of donor conferences organized by the EU and/or member states, such as the recent ones for Belarus initiated by Poland, for Moldova led by the EU and for Georgia organized jointly by the Commission and World Bank. Such events can be successful in mobilizing ad-hoc funds, especially for countries that are high on the political agenda for either good or bad reasons at the given time.
Promotion of joint projects with other organizations, such as the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the UN and the Council of Europe, could increase available sources of funding. The EED should promote the pooling of resources through so-called ‘basket funding’. To avoid stirring up controversy over the nature of particular organizations, the choice should be made carefully each time. The EED should be able to identify preferable partner organizations in advance in order to speed up the process and streamline the cooperation. Once the EED proves its value by developing a strong and uncontroversial brand, it will become easier to mobilize additional funding.
The existence of active political parties is a defining measure for an inclusive political environment. The direct funding for political parties by the EED is expected to meet resistance by a number of member states. This is one of the areas where the EED’s initial value could be lost in due course of political bargaining. The example of the EIDHR support given for political parties via political foundations has proved to work well and without creating contentious implications for EU’s support.
Therefore, one of the options could be to use political foundations as a point of indirect transfer of funding. However, with growing operational confidence, the EED should be allowed to directly support the political parties based on the principle of non-partisan engagement on an ad-hoc basis. This would require guidelines and good practices on what works best in particular situations. Thus, by building on the experience of other organizations, the NED and political foundations in particular, the EED should be able to judge whether it is more effective and appropriate to provide indirect or direct funding, depending on the circumstances.
The EED should not become a substitute for a firmer and more political support of the EU in its democracy assistance in and of itself.
1. The EED will need a strong political backing in particular from the EU member states. However, the ‘checks and balances’ within the decision-making process of the EED should be insured. To this end, striking the right balance between the roles of the Board of Governors and the Executive Committee as well as strong presence of civil society to transcend member states’ narrow political concerns is of key importance. Inclusion of civil society will additionally enrich the EED with their practical experience.
2. The decision-making process within the EED should be smart, fast and flexible for the use of the funds originating from the EU member states. The EED should aim for a budget that is comparable to that of the US National Endowment for Democracy or of some EU member states’ foundations in order to be capable of properly implementing its ambitious agenda.
3. Leadership in democracy assistance requires a capacity for real risk-taking, which the EU has lacked so far. As opposed to the ‘more for more’ principle, which has become the backbone of the ENP, the EED should follow a ‘more for less’ rationale for intervening in countries where efforts at democratic reform are still deeply constrained. This new approach will require ‘learning by doing’ exercises while regular impact assessments should aim to minimize possibility of failure. Fear of failure, however, should no longer be allowed to inhibit the EU’s support for democracy.
4. The Board of Governors, the Executive Committee as well as the staff of the EED should be composed of specialists who are capable of tabling substantive proposals and innovative methods. Those involved in the EED should refrain from turning it into a platform for constant politicking and the defense of narrow national interests.
Hrant Kostanyan is a Visiting Research Fellow at CEPS and a PhD candidate at the Centre for EU Studies at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Magdalena Nasieniak is a PhD candidate at the Department of Politics, International Studies and Languages at the University of Bath.