Jacqueline Hale Speaks to the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee

Jacqueline Hale Speaks to the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee


And now, I would ask Jacqueline Hale from the Open Society Institute to make some comments before we give the floor to Kav Lamstov. Please. Thank you Chair and Members of the European Parliament for this opportunity to address the committee. I fear some of my points will have already been made, so I will make my best efforts to be brief. I’ll be speaking here on behalf of a Foundation with 30 years of experience fostering civil society in over seventy countries. And we specialize very much in supporting efforts of local organizations to engage in democratic participation and processes. Now, our departure point in looking at the EED a few months ago was how exactly to ensure it’s added value–and that’s something we’ve heard a number of the previous speakers allude to today. This is a crowded field of European Institutions and instruments already doing good work in the human rights and democracy field, so how to make the EED make a tangible contribution. Now having heard from the EEAS about the proposals, we as a foundation are backing the European Endowment for Democracy as offering an opportunity for EU support to be more flexible and attuned to the needs of local actors working to advance democracy in their societies. And I would like to structure my remarks here today around five principles, which I believe that the EED can usefully follow in order to ensure this. The first is the need to be responsible–responsive rather– to local needs and agendas. And this bottom-up approach, which we don’t often see in EU existing support, is especially important, and thinking right now about the Middle East and North Africa region, there are some real legitimate questions being asked, and local sensitivities about the role of outside actors, not only on the part of government forces, but also on the part of civic activists and citizens, who remember EU support for the ancien regime, in some cases. So to be effective in any context, the EU support must not come at the cost of local legitimacy of the organizations in partnership with the Union. So in practical terms, the EED needs to find a balance between being strategic, as the rapporteur indicates in his draft report, and listening to ideas from the ground. For example through an open call for proposals, the EED can be more effective, rather than elaborating criteria generated in Brussels by bureaucrats, and timed according to EU financing decisions, which is the case under the current instruments. Secondly, support a range of actors fostering political change. Bearing in mind that in the past some of the most resonant voices for change have come from outside, as well as inside, established political parties. And here I’m thinking not only of the bloggers of Tahrir, but of the Solidarity trade union movement, which I know must be in the minds of some of the architects of this new agency. So supporting young leaders, social movements, trade unions, is important. And again, thinking of added value, these are groups who do not currently benefit directly from existing Instruments. So for example, support under the EED could come in the range of offering placements or fellowships to dissidents to come study in the EU, take part in the EU democratic processes –a TAIEX for dissidents if you like– to supporting media outlets and diaspora to think tanks which are often linked to nascent political party structures. And this brings me to my third point. The EED would do well to be impartial. The goal here is to offer support to developing democratic systems and cultures, rather than backing winners. This means avoiding ideological allegiances, whether real or imagined, and being non-discriminatory in support. If the EU for example had backed a particular party in Egypt over the last months out of a sense of expediency, and this party had been rejected by the people, this would have been a disaster. So there’s need to build safeguards into the organizational structure, for example a rotating board of governors would be a way, something that we as the Open Society Foundations have used as a structure to avoid conflict of interests emerging and to promote transparent decision making about which projects to support. Fourthly, it’s important to pay attention to the transition context. This involves particularly a secretariat within the EED working under the executive committee, who know the region and can ask the right questions in order to support the right interventions. And I think we heard from the previous speaker about the three pillars of different stages of transition – Is there a state party fusion like in Russia or arguably also in Georgia; is there a closed country like Belarus; is it post-conflict situation like Libya right now. What would be the precise interventions needed in those cases. Finally, we’ve heard from previous speakers the words ‘flexible,’ ‘risk-taking,’ ‘innovate.’ These are adjectives not often used by civil society actors when speaking about current–existing–EU instruments. If you’ve spoken to them you will know what I mean. We would like the EED to be an instrument of first resort rather than last resort. And here I agree with the rapporteur, that this is an initiative that can seed further initiatives or partnerships which can be taken forward under other EU instruments. Whilst the EED can complement the much-needed work of the EIDHR, particularly as the latter supports human rights defenders and human rights protection, to be credible the EED will need to be at arms-length from the institutions. Activists will need to feel that this institution is associated with the EU, but is not controlled by the EU. For the EEAS and the member states, plausible deniability will be important if confronted by partner governments about EU support to democracy aspirants via the EED, which these governments may be seeking to suppress. Chair I’ll stop there.

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