Europe must Work on Democracy and Human Rights Too

Chairwoman Hautala addressed the Bertelsmann Stiftung conference “Culture of Participation; How to Live together in Europe” on 2 June in Brussels.[:] The focus of the conference was to discuss how can foundations and the wider civil society contribute to enhancing a culture of participation and democracy in the Europe and wider world.

Ms Hautala addressed in her speech the issues of providing experience on democracy and good governance and gave specific focus to the way the EU is able to aid the functioning of the civil society and tackle good governance and human rights issues home and abroad. Unfortunately the current challenges in this field tell of serious struggle against double standards in the EU, she noted. There is still marked discrepancy in the way we feel confident in pointing the finger to another state and shy away from difficult questions at home. There is strikingly little appetite to challenge the decision by the Spanish authorities and Supreme Court to try the currently suspended judge Balthasar Garzon for investigating abuses of General Francisco Franco while the discussion on erosion of freedom of speech in Italy is largely dormant. These issues matter also for they can shine light also into the difficult past of European continent. Struggle to promote human rights in the EU family will be again bit much harder if we are not aware of our past, both the good and the bad in it.Indeed, the EU needs to strengthen its internal democratic structures and human rights policy. Now with the new Treaty of Lisbon we have a rare opportunity to do this, she said, referring to the increased importance of the European Convention of Human Rights, Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Fundamental Rights Agency in the European Union landscape.

As to the EU aiding of the civil society, Ms Hautala noted that there is much to improve. While the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) is an excellent tool and great leap forward in the progress of promoting democracy and democratic values, all too often the small recipients of the funding get tangled up in the heavy bureaucracy of the European Union. At times, this leaves the funding unavailable. Delays and withholds of money are serious issues as many of the recipients work in dangerous circumstances. The EIDHR is designed to fund civil society actors where no comparable cooperation exists and even without prior agreement of the government of the country. To improve the situation Ms Hautala proposed that the EU should look into the similar funding by the National Endowment for Democracy, US foundation, which has proven to be very swift, effective and light in bureaucracy. Carlos Hernandez Ferreiro, Executive Director of the European Partnership for Democracy, agreed on the need to look into the effectiveness of the EIDHR and suggested joint undertaking to look into the options together with different European institutions.

Meeting was also addressed by the Former President of Latvia, Ms Vaira Vike-Freiberga. She recalled even in Europe the democracy and good governance are a work in progress. The new members of the European Union have not reached the level of the older members in democracy and good governance as they simply lack the 60 years of development the older countries have. However, what this shows is that it can be done – transformation from totalitarian structures to open democracy can be done, even at a rather quick pace.