The fledgling European Endowment for Democracy this week secured pledges of €11 million to promote democracy in the European Union's immediate neighbourhood.
An EU official said that the promises, from the European Commission and Poland, are likely to be followed in the coming weeks by commitments from other countries, including Sweden and the Netherlands. Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, will also contribute.
The European Commission committed €6 million from its European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument on Monday (12 November), ahead of the first meeting of the governing council of the foundation, which was established in June. Poland said during the board meeting that it would provide €5m. During its presidency of the Council of Ministers in 2011, Poland championed the creation of a foundation as one means of responding to the Arab Spring and of helping pro-democracy efforts in the EU's eastern neighbourhood.
The target is to raise €10m to €20m in voluntary contributions from the public and private sector for the EED, which is expected initially to have roughly a dozen staff and to remain small.
At one point, Poland pushed for voting rights to be linked to financial contributions, but that proposal was scotched several months ago in favour of equal voting rights for each governor. The board, which is chaired by Elmar Brok, a German conservative who chairs the European Parliament's foreign-affairs committee, has 42 governors, a number described both by insiders and observers as unwieldy.
The executive board has yet to be formed, but will include six people, three of them from civil society. An official said that the relatively large presence of civil society in the executive is to show that the EED, which is legally a private Belgian foundation, has “some distance from the [EU's] institutions”.
Institutional independence, flexibility and a narrow geographical focus are among the features intended to distinguish the foundation from other EU efforts to nurture democracy, chiefly the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), whose budget for 2007-13 was €1.1 billion.
Observers have suggested that ensuring that the EED is independent, flexible and distinctive are likely to be the biggest challenges for the governing board as it prepares for its next meeting in December, at which discussion will turn to strategy and possibly to recruitment of key staff. An official said the foundation, which will be based in Brussels, may become operational “early next year”.