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European Endowment for Democracy: What is on the menu?

Catherine Ashton with a “Free Libya” t-shirt (© European External Action Service)

The socio-political development of the Arab Spring has been a real wake-up call for the EU’s policy-makers. Rapid changes in the South Mediterranean once again pointed the finger at the EU’s inability to act swiftly, decisively and audaciously to the events unfolding beyond the EU’s southern borders. Numerous policy changes have recently occurred in the EU’s policy focus aiming to mirror these sudden changes. The most recent step to enhance the EU’s effectiveness of democracy and human rights support is the establishment of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), launched in November 2012. However, as it turns out, there are reasonable doubts whether the whole initiative has been well thought out.

Firstly, to understand the current state of play of the EU’s human rights and democracy promotion policy is possible only through the preceding steps. Here just to shortly describe the whole picture. Firstly, the initial step goes back to December 2011, when the Commission adopted a new document called ‘The Human Rights and Democracy at the Heart of EU External Action – Towards a more Effective Approach’ aiming to boost the human rights policy and foster democratisation efforts throughout the matrix of the EU foreign policies. The next step followed with a set-up of a new office of the Special Representative for Human Rights, for which has been appointed Stavros Lambrinidis. The last step – and so far the most important one – is the ‘EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy’ from June 2012. By now, the launch of the EED represents the last stitch to the EU human rights and democracy promotion initiatives.

Before we get to further characteristics, goals and potential strengths and weaknesses of the newly established foundation, the following part offers a background of what has shaped the decision-making on the EED’s contours. Yet, as the EED can be still considered as a newborn baby of the Brussels’ institutions, it is still early to guess what the future performance will look like. This article addresses some preliminary thoughts on what can constitute the primary obstacles for the EED’s performance in the future and – perhaps even more importantly – whether the EU has had a clear vision of what it actually aims to bring into existence.

Polish initiative in line with the new human rights discourse

A course towards the creation of the EED has been set up in context of the Polish presidency of the Council of the EU. It was, notably, the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski who called for bringing the lengthy discussions on the creation of the Endowment to a successful end and jumped-started the whole process of negotiations, in particular in light of the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus and the North African countries in the first half of 2011. Although, one has to bear in mind, this has not been an enlightened idea in the Brussels’ institutions. Calls for the EU’s very own democracy fund, generously giving assistance to those in need beyond the EU borders, has been already hotly debated in previous years. However, none of them was yet unanimously supported by Catherine Ashton, the High representative of the Union for the Foreign and Security Policy, hand-in-hand with an approval by Stefan Füle, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, as in this case.

Without doubt, it has been an ambitious project from the beginning; to set up an entity creating the sixth pillar of the EU’s Instrument for Stability (IfS) with the aims and capabilities to flexibly, promptly and effectively support human rights and democratisation activities well beyond the EU member states’ borders. From the institutional perspective, the vision was to have an entity, which is not directly associated with the European External Action Service (EEAS) nor the Commission, with a certain degree of independence, however operating along the line of the EU policies. The operating of the EED was expected to run on voluntary contributions by the EU member states.

What has been decided on and what is not clear yet

12 November marks a day when the Commission allocated 6 million EUR to safeguard the swift launch of the EED. As it took 6 months to decide on all the aforementioned aspects, it is finally obvious on what basis the EED will be functioning. The headquarters is going to be based in the EU’s capital Brussels and it is a private foundation registered under the Belgium law (that is independent from the EU). It does not widen the already existing instruments of the EU, such as the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) or the Instrument for Stability. As was initially expected, the EED is going to be an independent institution aiming to co-exist with the already functioning instruments Brussels has in their sleeves. However, there are still some unclear points waiting to be clarified.

The first question deals with a financial side of the whole project, in particular whether the EU member states will be sufficiently up to financially contribute on a regular basis. The austerity measures adopted throughout the EU will not make it easier. The overall effectiveness and sustainability of the EED will strongly depend on how this issue is going to be tackled. The current financial backing of the EED is rather limited: Besides 6 million EUR allocated by the Commission from the budget of the European Neighbourhood Policy, both Polish and Swedish governments agreed on providing another 5 million EUR each. The same is expected from The Netherlands. Generous donation ought to arrive also from Switzerland, which – even though non-EU member state – has been enormously supporting similar initiatives focusing on human rights and democracy on a regular basis. At the moment, it is expected that a budget close to 20 million EUR should ensure the swift launch of the EED.

The EED’s financial budget for the initial months cannot be compared, obviously, to the other EU instruments in this particular field or to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the United States (established in the first half of 1980s), which operates with a more than 5 times higher budget. It is then beyond doubt, that if the EU member states will not be willing to regularly contribute to the EED’s activities, there is hardly to expect that the EED would live up to the expectations and give a new dynamism to the EU’s human rights and democracy promotion policies already in place.

What is the added value?

Many articles, policy papers and policy briefs had an intention over the last months to identify numerous hurdles the EED could run into in the first years. The most insightful ones came mainly from FRIDE, German Development Institute, Centre for European Policy Studies and Open Society Institute. [1] Although all of them laid out guidelines for what is needed for the EED to be successful, it was not obvious at that time what exactly is the EED going to look like once launched.

So far, the answer of what will be the added value of the EED to the already existing plethora of human rights and democracy promotion instruments depends largely on how it will cope with two major challenges. That is, firstly, which actors in authoritarian and potentially democratizing regimes it aims to support and, secondly, how it will fill up the already existing gaps of the in parallel existing instruments the EU has in its hands.

To shortly elaborate on the first point, the EED faces the ever-lasting issue related to international support of democratization ever since a similar foundation has been established. That is the identification of the actors at the receiving end. Is it going to be political parties, independent media, journalists, foundations, educational institutions or selected dissidents? To tackle this issue will not be trouble-free, obviously. Not only that a group of potential receivers of the EED’s financial help can target actors all the way from governments to individual dissidents, but external support of opposition in authoritarian regimes can be at the end also a two-edged sword; in the worst-case scenario the beneficiaries are discredited in the eyes of public or punished directly by the autocratic regime holding power.

The already mentioned National Endowment for Democracy in the United States, for instance, cannot give a direct support to political parties. Support, thus, bypasses political parties and targets public society initiatives aiming to attract people to the polls. The EED, or the Union respectively, has to face this question as well. Even though political parties are usually the weakest point in political transitions, their support does not have to necessarily pay off. Yet, there are no official signs that the EED aims to take this approach, even though some EU officials are personally in favour of this idea. [2]

As was already touched in the previous lines, the key obstacle of the EED is to avoid duplication with the already existing EU instruments for human rights and democracy promotion beyond the EU borders; namely the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the already mentioned Instrument for Stability. The most similar is especially the first one. As various bureaucratical obstacles limit those particular instruments – such as programming cycles and budgeting – to deliver financial support to the recipients’ hands, the main added value of the EED should be to act flexibly and swiftly in the first place. That is, notably, to support smaller projects, non-registered NGOs and dissidents. In other words, namely those, which have difficulties to provide financial contributions by themselves in order to get financial support by the EU, as it is required in the EIDHR, for instance. As those beneficiaries are out of the mainstream of financial support flowing from the aforementioned instrument, this should be the crucial area of interest for the EED.

What is on the menu?

In the current state of play, it is still too early to conclude on what will the EED have on the menu, as the dust of the newly established institution has to settle down; nor how well thought out are its intentions for the future. So far, it is still yet a newborn baby facing countless questions on what skills it aims to acquire.

Surprisingly, also some of the EU officials have doubts how exactly it will look like in the future. One of the EU high officials, who was present in the whole negotiation process, led by the Polish presidency, commented in a private conversation in a similar way: “[the Polish presidency] pushed through the whole idea [on the EED], without even thinking on how to secure the long-term financial backing by the member states (…) it is not clear what exactly is it going to be supporting and how to make sure that it will not duplicate the other instruments.” [3]

In light of these information, as the EED has been already established, some of the issues it has to cope with are obvious. Institutional framework engraved in the still hot off the press founding statute allows various directions in which the EED can take its lead in the upcoming years. However, and most notably, to acquire a regular financial support by the EU member states will be the key for its successful role among the other EU human rights and democracy promotion initiatives. For instance, a wrongly addressed financial support to actors collaborating with authoritarian regimes could obviously hinder the hardly developed and determined picture of the EED and could result in a weakened legitimacy of the whole project. The same goes to only half-hearted efforts without adequate backing by all 27 member states. All in all, the effectiveness and sustainability of the whole project will be derived from how flexibly and swiftly the EED is able to support non-institutionalized actors in the already highly unstable and unpredictable areas beyond the EU’s borders. If the EED will be limited by strict bureaucratic restrictions, as it is the case for in parallel existing instruments for human rights and democracy, the added value of the whole project will be seriously challenged.

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] For more information generally R. von Meijenfeldt, ‘A European foundation for democracy: what is needed’, Policy Brief No. 93, FRIDE, September 2011; R. Youngs & K. Brudzinska, ‘The European Endowment for Democracy: will it fly?’, Policy Brief No. 128, FRIDE, May 2012; J. Leininger & S. Richter, ‘The European Endowment for Democracy between Wishful Thinking and Reality. Flexible and Unbureaucratic?’, Briefing Paper 11/12, German Development Institute, 2012; J. Hale & V. Ursu, ‘How Could a European Endowment for Democracy Add Value?, Discussion Paper, Open Society Institute-Brussels, 2012; H. Kostanyan & M. Nasieniak, ‘Moving the EU from Laggard to a Leader in Democracy Assistance: The Potential Role of the European Endowment for Democracy’, Policy Brief. No. 273, Centre for European Policy Studies, June 2012.

[2] A conversation with EU official involved in the whole process of negotiations on EED, 29 November 2012.

[3] Ibid.

 

 

Author

Petr Pribyla
Petr Pribyla

Petr Pribyla specializes in a broad area of the EU’s external policies with focus on the Common Foreign and Security Policy /Common Security and Defence Policy (CFSP/CSDP), Human Rights and in general on the EU’s role in post-conflict reconstructions in third countries.
Petr currently resides in The Hague (The Netherlands) where he works as a Research Intern at the Centre for the Law of EU External Relations (CLEER) at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut. From March 2013 onwards Petr starts as a Stagaire at European External Action Service (EEAS), Human Rights Policy Instruments and Bilateral Cooperation Unit.
Since 2010 he has been also Non-resident Research Assistant at the Czech Centre for Human Rights and Democratization (CCHRD) at the International Politics and Human Rights department. Petr recently obtained his one-year post-graduate E.MA degree at the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratization (EIUC) in Venice (Italy). For the E.MA thesis research was hosted by KU Leuven (Belgium), at the Human Rights Institute. He holds MA degree in Political Science with specialization in Human Rights and Democratization at Masaryk University (Czech Republic) from 2011 (the MA thesis nominated for the European Young Scholar Awards 2011). Part of his MA studies he spent at University of Helsinki (Finland) and National Chengchi University in Taipei (Taiwan). Petr is author of more than 30 articles in the respective field. His articles appeared e.g. in the Democracy Digest; The Global Politics Journal; the Bulletin of the Czech Centre for Human Rights and Democratization; the Czech Republic Human Rights Review; Euractiv.
All opinions in this blog are solely mine.
You can follow him on Twitter @petrpribyla

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