• Protester dragged away by police in Moscow (Photo: Antonio Grossi)

EU creates pro-democracy fund

26.06.12 @ 09:28

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - EU member states on Monday (25 June) agreed to create a European endowment for democracy aimed to encourage "deep and sustainable" change in societies struggling under oppressive regimes.

The fund should become operational by next year and will primarily target EU neighbouring countries such as Belarus, where people are routinely jailed for showing opposition against President Alexander Lukashenko.

The fund was the brainchild of the Polish EU presidency in June 2011 and will function primarily as a grant-awarding institution.

Pro-democracy and social movements, young leaders, civil society, independent media, foundations and educational institutions among others are its intended target beneficiaries.

Nasta Palazhanka, the 21-year old Belarus leader of the banned Youth Front organisation, told this reporter in Minsk that greater EU support could help in their efforts to "awaken" a society buckled by fear and apathy.

Many young Belarusians, she said, keep a low profile for fear of arbitrary and pre-emptive arrests.

"Lukashenka is afraid of an awakening among this indifferent mass. This is why he frequently expels students and threatens to fire their parents," she said.

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters in Luxembourg on Monday the institution "will carry swift and effective assistance" to countries in the immediate EU vicinity.

Candidates will not apply for the fund, but EU officials in Brussels will decide who gets support on a "low-profile" case-by-case basis.

The endowment will be funded by member states and the European Commission.

Sikorksi noted that if things go well, it will be possible to choose a seat for its headquarters, appoint staff and propose its first programmes "by the end of the year."

Foreign ministers on Monday also adopted a global EU strategy on human rights and democracy and called for a new EU special representative on human rights.

"With this comprehensive package we want to enhance the effectiveness and visibility of EU human rights policy," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The framework will help guide policy and decision-makers to promote human rights in all bilateral and multilateral relations with countries outside the EU.

The guidelines have a special focus on the freedom of expression and the freedom of association and assembly.

An action plan will implement the framework and pressure countries to ratify international human rights treaties. The impact of EU laws on human rights will also be assessed.

Ashton is expected to nominate the new special envoy - who is to have a two-year mandate - later this week.

Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch, said the EU masterplan is a reaction to recent global events where people have risen up and toppled regimes.

"The overthrow of autocratic regimes in Europe in 1989 and the public uprisings during the Arab Spring show that the power of the people is ultimately more significant than the people in power," she said.

"Tomorrow, the hard work begins of turning words into action, and we will be watching to see that EU member states and institutions practice what they preach," she added.