European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Speech: European Endowment for Democracy
Second meeting of the Board of Governors of the European Endowment for Democracy, Brussels
09 January 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address this second meeting of the Board of Governors of the European Endowment for Democracy. Today's meeting is a real sign of progress and confirmation that you are turning words into action and getting down to your operational activities.
The dramatic changes that have been taking place in the European Union neighbourhood since 2011 clearly justify this new initiative. After years of relative stagnation, democracy has started taking root in the neighbourhood spurred on by the democratic revolutions in the Southern Mediterranean.
While the general trends points towards more democracy, more accountable forms of governance and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, there are areas where progress has been limited, areas essential for ensuring the sustainability of political reforms. In some countries progress has stalled or there are signs of regression.
In Algeria human rights defenders face restrictions to their freedom of expression, association and assembly and suffer intimidation and judicial harassment. In Morocco some civil society organisations working on sensitive issues such as the monarchy face bureaucratic obstacles to register.
In Azerbaijan civil liberties continue to be severely curtailed while in Belarus the situation is far from improving since the severe deterioration following the December 2010 crackdown on the opposition and civil society in the wake of the presidential elections.
In addition, women are now confronting attempts to exclude them from public life in several Southern Mediterranean countries. Acts of discrimination and violence are being perpetrated with impunity by extremist groups and in some cases by security forces.
It is vital that steps are taken to establish equal rights between men and women as the very foundation of democratic societies. It is equally vital that full ownership of the democratic transition is ensured and that it is not perceived as being "imposed" by others.
A vibrant civil society and a functioning democracy depend on the right of citizens to freely exercise their right to peaceful assembly and association. This nurtures open debate in society, providing safeguards against conflict and instability.
I see the Endowment for Democracy as a strengthened effort, supporting democratisation and peaceful forces that work for democratic changes to happen, supporting the actors of change in our neighbourhood, the emerging players that face obstacles in accessing European Union funding.
With this new initiative we are 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 European Union. The European Union can also bring its experience and know how to help them address the challenges of transition from authoritarianism to democracy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to make two key points about the endowment:
First, it is important that the Endowment adds value and is complementary to all our instruments and in particular those with a specific focus on the support for democracy, notably
the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights;
the European Neighbourhood Instrument which includes the Civil Society Facility; and
the Instrument for Stability.
It is essential to maximise the impact and build synergies between the various European Union initiatives and a "must" in the current economic crisis.
The Endowment's added value will come from rapid and flexible support for actors who are not yet supported, or who are insufficiently covered or have difficulties in obtaining support from existing European Union instruments; the most obvious cases being non-registered NGOs and emerging political and pro-democratic movements.
Second, we need to build on the current momentum and take all the necessary steps to ensure that the Endowment will be fully operational as early as possible with its own identity and credibility in the international sphere.
The recent progress in developing the Endowment has been remarkable. It was only last June when the statutes were adopted and now the governing bodies and rules of procedure are in place, the first financial and non-financial commitments have been made and Switzerland has been accepted as a new member.
These are all excellent signs of the concerted effort by European Union Institutions and Member States to advance democracy in our Neighbourhood and beyond.
To conclude, allow me to congratulate the Member States, the European Parliament and the European External Action Service for making the European Endowment for Democracy a reality.