The European Union is “entering unchartered territory” with its initiative to establish a European Endowment for Democracy, analyst James Kilcourse writes for theInstitute of International and European Affairs:
The lack of unanimous support from EU Member States is a challenge for the new organisation because it creates uncertainty about the long-term financing of the initiative. However, many Member States remain concerned about the lack of accountability that necessarily comes with such an organisation. The work of the Endowment will require some discretion in order to protect democracy activists in authoritarian states……Achieving a satisfactory balance between transparency and autonomy will be necessary if the EED is to win the support of all EU Member States.
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 USA’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was repeatedly held up as a model during the debate on the EED.
Funding of political parties is another contentious issue since it has “traditionally been perceived as interference in the political dynamics of third countries,” writes Kilcourse:
It was initially not clear if the EED would support political parties, but a European Commission press release in November 2012 indicated that it would. The development of political parties is a crucial factor in successful democratic transitions. As the primary interlocutor between citizens and the state, they are an essential part of effective democratic governance. However, donors remain very cautious about intervening in the political processes of other states…..
EU foreign policy chief Ashton has publicly supported the endowment initiative for providing a flexible new instrument for cultivating “deep democracy” in the Arab world. But the EU has been criticized for its failure to match rhetoric with resources when it comes to democracy assistance on both its southern and eastern peripheries.
“The EU is often behind the curve on democratization,” says Richard Youngs, the director of FRIDE, a Madrid-based think-tank, and editor of The European Union and Democracy Promotion: A Critical Global Assessment. “A year into the Arab spring and there is barely any additional money flowing, except in Tunisia.”
But the Endowment will also face a challenge “to ensure that its activities are complementing rather than duplicating the work of a broad range of organisations already involved in democracy promotion in Europe’s neighbourhood,” Kilcourse contends:
Concerns have been raised by the Commission’s DG Development and Cooperation (DEVCO), and by the European Parliament, about the danger of the EED diverting funds from existing European instruments, such as the EIDHR. Political foundations from EU Member States like the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, the Westminster Foundation and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, have contributed to the promotion of democracy around the world for many years and have already built up strong networks on the ground. If the EED is to be useful, it will need to establish a clear division of labour with these instruments and organisations, and be able to show that it is adding value to their work.