21st Sep 2023


A decade of the European Endowment for Democracy

  • Neglecting democracy comes with a heavy price tag for every European citizen (Photo: European Commission)
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Ten years ago, the Arab Spring was a clarion call for democracy, a moment of collective awakening that led to the formation of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED).

This institution has since acted as a lifeline for democracy campaigners, journalists, and civic activists. Operating on a flexible, rapid-response model, the EED has been instrumental in nurturing the green shoots of democracy where they are most vulnerable.

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  • The Kyiv Independent gained international prominence, and Vilne Radio, based in Bakhmut, continued its critical work, broadcasting into the troubled Donbas region (Photo: Kyiv Independent Twitter)

Take Ukraine, for instance.

When Russia invaded last February, democracy support from some waned. In contrast, EED maintained an uninterrupted flow of aid, approving a grant daily for the initial 60 days. Through fast-tracked emergency mechanisms, it allocated millions, sometimes responding to requests in as few as 12 hours.

This nimble strategy yielded immediate results. The Kyiv Independent gained international prominence, and Vilne Radio, based in Bakhmut, continued its critical work, broadcasting into the troubled Donbas region.

EED-backed initiatives in occupied southern Ukraine stand as testaments to the resilience and promise of a democratic future even under fraught circumstances.

When EED was established in 2013, there was scepticism about its raison d'être, and concerns were voiced about the potential for duplicating existing EU efforts. Nearly a decade later, EED has defied these doubts. It has shown that eliminating bureaucratic delays can mean the difference between the life and death of nascent democratic movements and the freedom of the press.

Now, as we observe the International Day of Democracy on 15 September, we must confront the critical question: What comes next?

Syria, Belarus, Iraq, Ukraine

EED has effectively channelled nearly €180m in high-impact grants, touching lives from Syria to Belarus and Ukraine to Iraq. But the model's true test lies in the coming decade. Can we scale this model without diluting its essence?

Moreover, we must address the elephant in the room: the isolation of democracy support from other policy areas. For democracy to flourish, it needs to be seen not as a stand-alone effort but as a cornerstone of a broader policy network that includes trade, security, migration, and climate change. Policies in these areas must be constructed with the health of democracy in mind.

Such an integrated approach demands more than mere lip service; it calls for financial commitments and a shift in mindset. Increased funding is not just a matter of budget allocations; it's an investment in Europe's long-term strategic and economic interests.

Russia's aggression in Ukraine has illustrated this point vividly. Neglecting democracy comes with a heavy price tag for every European citizen.

As the International Day of Democracy appears in the diary, it should not merely serve as a ceremonial pause to extol democratic virtues. Rather, it should be a day of action and critical introspection. It is a day to assess our shortcomings and to chart a renewed path forward. We cannot afford to continue with a business-as-usual approach.

Democracy support, which has become even more urgent in an era marked by a rise in authoritarianism and complex global challenges, must be fundamentally rethought and revitalized. In summary, as we celebrate the International Day of Democracy, let's make it a launchpad for concrete action.

Let's commit to an agenda that seeks to make democracy support robust, inclusive, and interwoven into the fabric of broader policy initiatives.

This isn't just about marking a day in the calendar; it's about initiating a transformative movement. A movement with the power and vision to carry democracy from its current crossroads to its next renaissance.

Author bio

Jerzy Pomianowski is the executive director of the European Endowment for Democracy and a former deputy foreign minister of Poland.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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