The European Endowment for Democracy is finally up and running, and accepting funding requests. But it has been launched at an especially challenging time for democracy assistance groups, observers suggest.
The endowment states that it is committed to “fostering – not exporting – democracy and freedom. ” It will advance “deep and sustainable democracy” in transitional states and in societies pressing for democratisation, with initial focus on the European Neighborhood – specifically, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia.
States on Europe’s eastern and southern periphery look to the European Union as a source of inspiration for reforms, said Štefan Füle, the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy(ENP).
The launch of the EED is taking place in the context of a realignment of the EU’s foreign, development and neighborhood policies. Under the “more-for-more” approach formulated in 2011, countries in the Neighborhood are to receive more support if they undertake further democratic reforms.
The forthcoming Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in Vilnius in November “would mark a milestone and a ‘point of no return’ in anchoring our Eastern European partners to the European Union,” Füle told a recent diplomatic conference in Warsaw.
The priority to Europe’s South, he said, was a successful transition to sustainable democracy, while stressing that “this will require time, and the European Union must display both unrelenting support and ‘strategic patience’.”
“Democracy and freedom cannot be imported or imposed from outside,” says the endowment’s mission statement. “National ownership is indispensible to ignite the engine of change and ensure sustainable and inclusive democratisation process.”
But the endowment is being launched at a time when democracy assistance initiatives are under attack from authoritarian regimes and face growing skepticism from many local activists, according to Kinga Brudzinska, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.
Many civil society groups take a “negative view of foreign funding,” she claims due to “fear of donor intervention” in their work, “being labeled a ‘local agent’ for donor states’ vested interests” and the risk of prosecution for receiving foreign funding. But the European endowment may enjoy an advantage over its US counterparts, she claims.
Research by the Cairo-based Arab Forum for Alternatives “shows that only 20 per cent of civil-society activists support funding from the US – compared with 80 per cent who hold a positive opinion of European and Japanese aid,” Brudzinska writes.
Although the endowment is relatively autonomous from EU institutions, it aims to ensure that the EU plays a more vigorous role in democracy assistance and to compensate for serious shortcomings – particularly the bureaucratic slowness – of such existing programs as the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
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.
“The E.U. has established a highly bureaucratic and administrative process for applying for funds, getting them agreed and released,” said EED director Jerzy Pomianowski (left).
“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 will 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).
The revolts of the Arab Awakening moved the goal of active democracy pro-motion higher up the EU’s agenda and led to a revival of an almost forgotten debate on appropriate instruments. –
The endowment presents the EU with an opportunity to “seize the momentum” in countries like Ukraine and to “engage with those few civil activists across the country by providing them with legal assistance and political support,” says Ievgen Vorobiov, an analyst the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs.
“Given that the disparate movement has been engendered by local activists, not politicians, the EU has more chances to bring about a real change in law-enforcement on the ground,” he argues.
Such an approach is in line with the EED’s commitment to “supporting the unsupported.”
According to its mission statement, the endowment will assist: pro-democratic civil society organisations, movements and individual activists acting in favour of a pluralistic multiparty system regardless of their size or formal status. The EED will also provide assistance to young leaders, independent media and journalists, provided that all the beneficiaries adhere to core democratic values and human rights as well as subscribe to principles of non-violence. Women rights organisations and female activists will be among the recipients of support and gender perspective will be mainstreamed in all decisions and EED-funded actions.