Statement 28/01/2020

The Role of Democracy Support in EU External Action and Recommendations for NDICI 2021-2027

Democracy support in EU external action
In 2019, the main EU institutions and their renewed leadership showed a commitment to democratic governance and to improving democracy within the EU and outside its borders. The focus on democracy in several Commissioner mandates, the new Council Conclusions on Democracy and the plan to deepen European democracy through the organisation of a Conference on the Future of the European Union are among the initiatives that show the emerging momentum for pushing democracy to a higher EU policy level.

The European Network of Political Foundations (ENoP), European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) jointly underline the enabling role of democratic governance for the achievement of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and call on EU leadership to support this democracy vision worldwide with adequate financial instruments in the next multi-annual financial framework (MFF) 2021-2027.

Respect for democracy is one of the fundamental values on which the EU is founded. Also, the European external action “shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms (Art. 21 TEU). The New European Consensus for Development includes the need to support these principles with adequate instruments and actions. A democracy can only thrive if citizens fully understand their democratic rights and duties; where government power is restricted through effective checks and balances, including a level-playing field for different political parties and effective democratic institutions; where media can actually inform and exercise an oversight role in an unrestricted way; where the rule of law enables the judiciary to professionally and independently provide justice; and where fundamental rights are protected. Supporting democratic development can take on many forms. The EU has a large toolbox at its disposal, going from engaging in political dialogue on democracy and observing elections worldwide to supporting in-country projects. Extra leverage is created where respect for democratic principles becomes part of accession, trade or development support negotiations through the application of the conditionality principle. While governments – especially if democratically elected – remain the obvious first partner, civil society organisations, political parties, parliaments, central and local authorities, branches of the public administration and the judiciary and others are equally crucial in advancing democracy. Under the MFF, several funding instruments aim at strengthening civil society and other non-governmental actors crucial to a healthy democracy.

Recommendations for 2021-2027
In a global context where the phenomenon of eroding democracies is worsening and where various stable democratic states take a turn towards limiting democratic spaces, a clear commitment to the European founding principle of democracy becomes more important than ever.
Therefore, we call upon EU decision-makers to consider the following recommendations during the negotiations on the NDICI, as well as in the future programming in the framework of this instrument:

1. Allocation of at least 20% of the geographic programmes to good governance issues, including democracy support. Good governance, democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights are the basis for sustainable development and they are at the core of the
European values, as well as they are a precondition for the successful implementation of the Agenda 2030 and SDGs. In the current Development Cooperation Instrument, at least 15% of the budget is allocated to good governance, democracy, the rule of law and human rights (see Regulation No 233/2014, Annex IV). Considering that NDICI includes also the European neighbourhood where these issues are of even higher priority, we recommend an allocation
of at least 20%.

2. The Commission proposal on NDICI foresees that “Budget support […], shall be based on country ownership, mutual accountability and shared commitments to universal values, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and aims at strengthening partnerships between the Union and partner countries” (Art. 23.3). We call upon the EU institutions to ensure that the eligibility criteria are formulated in a way that only democratically elected governments subject to effective parliamentary control receive budget support. If a government does not respect basic democratic principles, the allocated funding should be diverted to civil society or other actors who strive for (re-) democratisation.

3. Allocation of 50% of the budget of the thematic programme on Human Rights and Democracy to democracy support. With this budget, a wide range of possible actions and actors should be supported. Without human rights, there can be no democracy worthy of the name. In turn, human rights can only be protected effectively in a democratic environment. Both components are mutually reinforcing and should be supported equally in EU’s external action. This restored balance should also be reflected in the next EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy.

4. Civil society, including the media have an important role in advancing democracy and should be involved in consultation and implementation processes of thematic and geographic NDICI programmes. They should be considered as an equally important target group in the thematic programme on democracy and human rights along with political parties, parliaments, central and local authorities, branches of the public administration and the judiciary.

5. The practice of country-based support schemes (CBSS) under EIDHR has proven effective and should be maintained at least at its current level in the framework of the thematic programme “Human Rights and Democracy”. Only the thematic programmes on Human Rights and Democracy as well as the programme on Civil Society are exempt from the need of consent of the governments of the third countries concerned (Art. 10.2, NDICI proposal). Sensitive issues  related to democracy and human rights on national level can therefore be best addressed via these thematic programmes.
In view of maintaining the possibility to address country-specific matters, it is recommended to at least uphold the current practice of CBSS with clear financial allocations per year and per country. This would also allow organisations active in the field of democracy and human rights to better anticipate funding opportunities. (Reference in Art. 4.5 of the NDICI proposal)

6. Make full use of existing possibilities within NDICI, in particular the emerging challenges and priorities cushion and the rapid response pillar, to support sudden democratic transitions. When political events and processes trigger democratic transition in partner countries, they can bring about a momentum for democratic breakthrough. Some cases in the past years showed that EU delegations often lack the possibility to provide support to projects responding to sudden democratic developments and support the building or reinforcement of democratic institutions and processes. The new MFF and the NDICI instrument provide an opportunity to address this matter.

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