Almost two years after the idea surfaced for creating a European Endowment for Democracy (see background), this new initiative, largely inspired by the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy, is beginning to take shape.
The board of governors of the EED met in Brussels, co-chaired by Ashton and MEP Elmar Brok (European People's Party, Germany), chair of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Štefan Füle also participated.
The Board discussed the strategic vision and mandate for the EED and appointed Jerzy Pomianowski, Poland's undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, as its executive director, said a statement from the group. Pomianowski is also president of the Polish Aikido Federation.
The EED's mandate includes supporting political parties, non-registered NGOs, trade unions and other social groups mainly in the countries of the Eastern Partnership (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine).
In November, the programme received modest funding of €6 million. But the money only covers administrative costs, while activities are expected to be funded by member states or other donors, such as foundations. Several member states together with Switzerland, which is represented on the board, have reportedly pledged up to €8 million for EED activities.
EurActiv has learned that for now, the programme is struggling hard to secure funding for its activities. Sources said the programme would use funds from member countries rather than EU funds, because the bureaucratic procedures with national funding was less heavy and more appropriate to finance civil society organisations and foundations in authoritarian countries such as Belarus.
The EED is seen with hostility also by the ruling circles in Ukraine, who said it "provokes unrest" and "weakens" the country.
Ashton said the endowment came at a very timely moment, as 2013 will be a crucial year for democratic transitions, in particular in the EU’s neighbourhood.
“The European Endowment for Democracy can play a very important role. By working directly with those in the field, who are striving for democracy; and by offering flexible, non-bureaucratic and dedicated procedures that are tailored to the needs and demands on the ground,” she said.
Füle said the EU was sending a clear message of solidarity to the peoples of the neighbourhood, assuring them that their democratic aspirations and their fight for human rights will be heard and supported by the EU.
“The European Union can also bring its experience and know-how to help them address the challenges of transition from authoritarianism to democracy," Füle stated.
On 13 November, the EED board held its first meeting in Brussels. Nine MEP serve on the board with Brok as chairman. Based in Brussels, the EED should be operational during the first half of 2013.