Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, yesterday (9 January) discussed the strategic vision and mandate of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), a new initiative to foster democracy in the EU’s neighbourhood, and appointed a Polish diplomat as its executive director.
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.
Ukrainian independent political expert Roman Rukomeda said:
"The creation of European Endowment for Democracy (EED) and appointing a Polish diplomat as its executive director sounds like a good news for Ukraine. First of all, EU and Ukraine received the new instrument for development of bilateral relations and moved them closer to the signing and ratification of Association Agreement.
Secondly, Poles are traditionally defending the interests of Ukrainians in Europe so there will be a certain credit of trust from Ukraine from the beginning of EED functioning. Third, the new structure appeared at the moment of truth in the EU-Ukraine relations. So there is a hope that it will help to jointly work out an effective agenda between Kyiv and Brussels in 2013 and further. Lastly, there is a big hope that democracy in Ukraine will receive additional boost and new initiatives in the sphere of electronic democracy, development of civil society will finally be realised."
On 25 May 2011, the Commission unveiled a fresh Neighbourhood Policy, proposing to revamp the EU's relations with countries on its Eastern and Southern borders.
On the financial side, the Commission explained that in spite of the economic crisis, additional funding of €1.24 billion would be transferred from existing resources and made available to support neighbourhood policy, on top of the €5.7 billion already allocated for 2011-2013.
The strategy's main novelty is the closer contact it proposes to establish with non-governmental organisations, in an effort to build partnerships with civil society. Concretely, the EU states its readiness to make EU support more accessible to representative groups via a dedicated Civil Society Facility.
In addition, the paper suggests creating a European Endowment for Democracy to support political parties, non-registered NGOs, trade unions and other social partners. The name appears to emulate the National Endowment for Democracy, a non-profit organisation financed by the US Congress which helped civil societies in Europe's East before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
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