The Profile of the International Work of European Political Foundations
The work of European political foundations in developing countries dates back to the 1950s. They engage themselves in long term partnerships – mainly with civil society organisations and other non-state-actors, including political parties and other actors in the democratic process, even in countries where governments and national or regional authorities view political foundations with suspicion and regard democracy promotion with scepticism. European foundations maintain local branch offices and project offices in more than 80 countries worldwide.
Through their experience and management competence, their social net-works and their access to decision makers they are specifically qualified to pave the way for a supportive political, legal and administrative framework conducive to the strengthening of democracy and the inclusion of non-state actors and local authorities in poverty reduction and sustainable development strategies. This is often realised through the design and implementation of pilot or model projects which later on leads to the establishment of national policies or legislation. Political foundations combine partnerships to key civil society actors with contacts they maintain with political forces and with national, regional and local authorities. In their specific development strategies they often link the governmental with the civil society level, thereby considerably increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of efforts to reach sustainable development.
Cooperation with Political Parties
There is a long tradition of cooperation and partnerships between European political foundations and political parties in emerging or young democracies in transition and developing countries. Political parties are indispensable key actors for the functioning of democratic processes. However, due to a lack of tradition, experience and a basic understanding of the role and tasks of political parties in these countries, political parties very often rank among the weakest institutions in the development of new democracies. Further to single party cooperation, which due to close and long-term partnerships generally provides opportunities for greater impact on the strengthening of the internal organization and political profile of the respective party, there are also examples of multi-party cooperation projects focusing on developing and strengthening pluralistic democratic party systems in countries where single party cooperation is impossible or makes little sense.
Since local decision makers perceive the foundations as partners and friends rather than outsiders in these difficult processes, their commitment to direct party cooperation oftentimes provides European political foundations with additional influence on the development and strengthening of democratic institutions, the rule of law and political governance in the countries concerned.
Cooperation with other Civil Society Actors
In many projects, political foundations cooperate on the basis of partnership agreements with local NGOs, academic institutions, trade unions and employers associations, small and medium enterprise associations as well as media and public institutions from the partner countries. There are also successful examples of joint partnerships between European political foundations and other European civil society actors with a variety of actors in the partner countries. These co-operations are the more effective the more complementary the expertise and resources of the different partners are and the more familiar they are with on another – either through long term cooperation or through a common background in terms of orientation, values and objectives.
Cooperation with Local Authorities
Partnership between non-state actors and local authorities in transition or developing countries is crucial for development and for the EU’s policy principles of ownership and participation as laid down in its programmes and instruments. It is political foundations who by means of their specific character best fulfil the role of an effective, independent link between civil society and authorities. Foundations from European countries have plenty of experience in cooperation projects with local governments from partner countries. In most cases this cooperation turns out to be very fruitful and successful due to the flexibility of political foundations in their project approach and their good understanding of local administrative and government structures, based on their political background in their home countries. Due to the access of political foundations to institutions and decision makers on the national level in the partner countries, such cooperation can even effectively support the empowerment of local participative mechanisms and local government structures.
There are also encouraging experiences of project partnerships between political foundations from Europe, European local authorities and local authorities in partner countries. European local authorities often have problems in implementing meaningful and relevant development projects on their own, due to their unfamiliarity with the reality in these countries, their lack of cooperation and consulting experience and of administrative, communication and logistic resources in the partner countries. However, their contribution to sustainable development can be tremendous. The access of political foundations to decision makers in the partner countries and their management and administrative capacities in these countries can lead to very fruitful complementary partnerships, in which the specific competence of European local authorities can be successfully adapted and transferred to their counterparts in the partner countries.