The revolts of the Arab awakening have been a wake-up call for European Union policy-makers, as rapid change in the Southern Mediterranean again highlighted the EU’s inability to act swiftly, decisively and audaciously to events unfolding on its borders. Last month’s launch of a European Endowment for Democracy is one of the initiatives to emerge in response to recent events, but there are reasons to question whether the project has been thought through, writes Petr Pribyla.
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski successfully jump-started the negotiations leading to the formation of the European Endowment, notably in light of the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus and the tumult in North Africa in the first half of 2011. Calls for the EU to establish its own democracy fund to provide assistance to those in need beyond EU borders already been hotly debated in previous years. But none had secured the support of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, or of Stefan Füle, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy.
What has been decided on and what is not clear yet
On 12 November, the Commission allocated 6 million EUR to launch the EED, which is designed to be an independent institution, functioning alongside the EU’s current instruments Brussels for promoting democracy and human rights. But some points are yet to be clarified.
It remains to be seen whether EU member states will make financial contributions on a regular basis, particularly in light of current austerity measures. Current financial support is limited to 6 million EUR allocated by the Commission from the budget of the European Neighbourhood Policy; the Dutch, Polish and Swedish governments have each agreed to provide another 5 million EUR; and another donation is expected from Switzerland, a non-EU member state with a strong record of supporting similar human rights and democracy initiatives. Consequently, it is expected that the EED will have a budget close to 20 million EUR at its launch in mid-2013.
The EED’s budget cannot be compared to other EU instruments in this field or to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the United States which operates with a budget at least five times greater. So it is clear that if EU member states are not willing to contribute regularly to the EED, it can hardly be expected to live up to expectations and give a new dynamism to the EU’s human rights and democracy promotion policies.
What is the added value?
Many insightful articles, policy papers and policy briefs from FRIDE, the German Development Institute, the Centre for European Policy Studies and the Open Society Institute, amongst others, have identified numerous hurdles the EED could encounter in its first years. Most suggest that the EED’s added value to the existing plethora of EU human rights and democracy promotion instruments depends on how it copes with two major challenges. Firstly, which actors in authoritarian and potentially democratizing regimes will it support; and, secondly, how it will fill the gaps left by current EU instruments.
Will the EED prioritize political parties, independent media, journalists, foundations, educational institutions or selected dissidents?
The effectiveness of existing EU instruments for human rights and democracy promotion – the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and the Instrument for Stability – is limited by such bureaucratic constraints as programming cycles and budgeting in delivering financial support to recipients. So the EED’s added value should be its ability to act flexibly and swiftly in supporting smaller projects, with non-registered NGOs and dissidents.
What is on the menu?
It is still too early to identify what will be on the EED menu, although some EU officials cast doubts on its future. One senior EU official involved in the negotiations to establish the EED, commented: “[the Polish presidency] pushed through the whole idea, without even thinking how to secure the long-term financial backing by the member states…[Consequently] it is not clear what exactly it is going to be supporting and how to make sure that it will not duplicate the other instruments.”
This is an edited extract from a longer post on the Foreign Policy Association blog. RTWT
Petr Pribyla is based at the Centre for the Law of EU External Relations (CLEER) at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague, Netherlands.