Eurasia’s authoritarian regimes use “bribes and gifts” to prevent the Council of Europe from criticizing “rampant human rights violations,” says a senior European diplomat.
That’s another reason why Europe needs an autonomous nongovernmental body to advance democracy and human rights, observers suggest.
“When Belsat TV started broadcasting seven years ago, Belarussians finally gained access to independent television news. The monopoly of public broadcasting tightly controlled by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko was broken,” writes Judy Dempsey, editor in chief of the Carnegie Endowment’s Strategic Europe:
Belsat TV works out of small offices in Warsaw, where it has been operating on an annual budget of €6 million, or $8 million. The Polish government has provided most of that, with additional contributions from Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.
Despite the European Union’s commitment to spreading democracy and human rights, Brussels has given no funding to Belsat TV. Late last year, money became so scarce that Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, Belsat TV’s director, was forced to make programming cuts. “We simply ran out of money,” she said.
Accordingly, Belsat is now a likely candidate for financial support from the European Endowment for Democracy, the recently-formed foundation modeled on the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.
“The promotion of democratic values is Europe’s role. That is what defines us,” the EED’s newly-appointed director Jerzy Pomianowski (above) tells Dempsey. “Any time support for the undersupported is necessary, the EED will act in a flexible manner.”
While US politicians and analysts have recognized the strategic and moral imperatives underpinning democracy support, their European counterparts have been either slow or reluctant to do so.
In February 2011 Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski put forward a proposal for a democracy fund, an idea that had already been hotly debated in Brussels for some years. The NED was repeatedly held up as a model during the debate on the EED.
But why is there a need for the EED. in the first place? asks Dempsey. Doesn’t the European Union pride itself on supporting pro-democracy organizations and promoting its values of human rights anyway?
“The E.U. bureaucracy and lack of transparency is terrible,” says Belsat’s Romaszewska-Guzy. “Applying for a grant from the E.U. is a bureaucratic nightmare.”
Pomianowski agreed. “The E.U. has established a highly bureaucratic and administrative process for applying for funds, getting them agreed and released,” he said……“One of the conditions of the E.U. for providing money is that organizations need to be registered,” he said. “In many countries, this means that they have been vetted by the regime.” That is why the EED aims to support unregistered groups.
“That is exactly what N.E.D. did with Solidarity under Communism and continues to do so with other pro-democracy individuals and groups throughout the world,” said NED president Carl Gershman (right).
“Even the Council of Europe is no longer an organization where human rights activists and groups can expect unequivocal support,” Dempsey notes:
The council was established in 1949 to develop common and democratic principles throughout Europe based on the European Convention on Human Rights. But since the 1990s, when the council admitted Russia and the authoritarian regimes of Central Asia, advocacy groups and diplomats say the organization has become a bitter ideological battleground.
On the one side are countries committed to holding the members of the Council of Europe accountable to the organization’s values. On the other side are those, including Russia and Azerbaijan, that resort to corruption and bribery to divert criticism from human rights violations.
“Bribes and gifts are about softening, even stopping” the council’s criticism “of rampant human rights violations, especially in Central Asia,” said a senior European diplomat.