Global Ethics Corner: Will the European Endowment for Democracy Really Work?

Jan 28, 2013

The European Union has faced criticism in recent years for not doing enough to promote democratic values abroad. With the formation of the European Endowment for Democracy, this could be changing. Will this initiative really work?

The European Union has long considered itself a model of democratic values. Its ability to promote those values abroad has defined the international role of the Union. And for a while, the EU’s approach to democracy promotion was widely celebrated for advancing political reforms in places like Hungary, Poland, and most recently, the Balkans.

But the EU’s democracy promotion strategy has faced criticism in recent years. First came its failure to support democratic activists in Belarus during protests in 2010. Next came the Union’s tepid response to the Arab Spring. For many, the Union’s shortcomings pointed to a crisis in its democracy promotion strategy. And so in 2012, the EU founded the European Endowment for Democracy.

If the term sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Europe’s Endowment is both named and shaped after its American predecessor, the National Endowment for Democracy. Like its counterpart, the European Endowment is a private foundation that will give grants using government funds. It will use those funds to support individuals, political parties, and civil society groups that are promoting openness and democracy in countries with authoritarian regimes. Unlike the EU—which is regarded as a bureaucratic nightmare—the Endowment will provide fast, flexible support capable of reaching activists in real time.

But the Endowment is already causing controversy. For some, it represents a form of ideological imperialism that will drag the EU back into the controversial business of regime change. For others, the Endowment doesn’t go far enough. With just ten million Euros at its disposal, the European Endowment has a small fraction of the budget enjoyed by its American counterpart. Doubters warn that until Europe’s political leadership makes promoting democracy a priority, the Endowment will be undermined by geostrategic interests.

As the EU recalibrates its democracy assistance strategy, what do you think? Will Europe’s latest tool to promote democracy really work?

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

Judy Dempsey, "Cutting Red Tape on the E.U.'s Road to Change," The New York Times, January 21, 2013

Judy Dempsey, "Does Europe Need an Endowment for Democracy?," Carnegie Europe, January 14, 2013

Radoslaw Sikorski, "Fostering Europe’s infant democracies," Europe's World, Autumn, 2011

Patryk Pawlak, "Europe's Struggle with Democracy," Europe's World, April 30, 2012

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance: Prachatai European Parliament [also for pictures 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 14] Per Pettersson National Endowment for Democracy MATEUS_27:24&25 Metziker Images Money

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