4. October 2017 | EDP Wire | Marie Ullmann, Morgan Ross Courtney

Bridge to Democracy? The Role of EIDHR and EED Funded Democracy Projects in Armenia

The Armenian government is sending mixed signals to Brussels by joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in 2014 and proposing an Anti- NGO Law in 2015. As Armenia and the EU commenced policies under the umbrella of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2006, this provided the EU with the possibility to more cautiously control the democratizations processes in Armenia. However, as of the time of writing, the EU seems to not have any influence on developments on the ground.

As claimed by Licínia Simão, the EU’s “process of Europeanisation through soft transfers” failed to establish and support public institutions in Armenia.[1] Nevertheless, the EU provides funding to democracy projects in the country. The most prominent institutions on EU democracy promotion are the European Instrument of Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). The latter is not an EU institution but is closely associated with it, receiving its funding from EU member states. The EIDHR sees itself as “the concrete expression of the EU commitment to support and promote democracy and human rights in third countries”[2] and provides funding to both human rights and democracy projects. In contrast, the EED is entirely focused on democracy projects and claims to “support the unsupported”.[3] Due to the challenges posed to democratization processes, this triggers questions on the impact of EIDHR and EED democracy projects in the country and necessitates a thorough evaluation on the relevance of the funded projects in regards to the developments unfolding on the ground by doing a comparative analysis.

 

EIDHR

Of the five main objectives of the EIDHR, support to democracy is the third. The organization sees itself as enhancing the EU’s work by being able to be “flexible,” supply support to organizations without having to consult with the third countries’ authorities as well as a “(mix) of advocacy and field operations”. For the new framework 2014 to 2020, it was decided that the focus should be predominantly shifted to supporting civil society organizations, vulnerable groups, and economic and social rights in the third countries.[4]

Seven grants for democracy projects in Armenia were identified for the period 2007 to 2013. No information could be obtained on democracy projects funded during the 2014-2020 period.

The seven projects encompass: support to free and fair elections; freedom of expression, information and freedom of the media; setting-up and developing a civil society leadership network; promotion of political pluralism; improving political participation of young people from minority and rural areas; establishment of a regional master program in Human Rights and Democratization. The overall objective of the projects is to tackle endemic problems, such as corruption and election fraud. However, the projects do not address immediate events taking place on the ground, and, according to the research results, the scope of the projects is very generic. The duration of the projects ranges from 24 months and in six out of seven projects up to 30 months. The total budget allocation ranges from EUR 123,503.47 to EUR 1,888,000.00.[5]

Regarding the channels of funding, three out of the seven projects are implemented by an international organization, the Council of Europe (CoE).

As most funding went to the CoE, it leaves a rather marginal scope for home grown organizations to obtain funding. Their access is already limited by administrative burdens to receive funding, such as the conditionality of an organization to be established for two to five years and the obligation to contribute 20% of the total budget. Small-scale and newly established organizations are not able to meet those conditions.  Also, according to the personnel of one implementing organization, funding is mostly awarded to the same organizations in each project application cycle.[6]

Regarding the geographical scope, four of the seven projects were implemented in the South Caucasus and Ukraine or Moldova. Two projects are solely implemented in Armenia.  Taking into consideration the divergent levels of democratic developments in the countries, it is questionable to what extent a one-size fits all approach can address the specific needs in the countries.  Since relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are worsening, it is questionable, how projects targeted at the South Caucasus and beyond are fruitful for enhancing democratic developments.

Based on the research results, the assumption is put forward that the EU provides financial means to impact by inciting democratic change and a more democratic society and political system in Armenia.

 

EED

Established in September 2013, the EED reflects a well thought out democracy promotion mechanism which complements existing donors in the field through its commitment to its slogan of “supporting the unsupported”. With a focus on the EU’s immediate neighborhood including North Africa, the Middle East and former Soviet states of Eastern Europe, the EED’s flexibility enables it to fund less traditional actors or those unable to secure funds from other donors. By accepting proposals without prioritizing key programs, the Endowment ensures that democracy promotion projects are need-driven and reflect homegrown ownership of democratization, rather than being a European export. Overall funding remains relatively small, with about EUR 6-7 million annually going towards programs in some 30 countries. The Endowment’s fast and flexible funding mechanics allows the rapid disbursement of funds to respond to events on the ground. This enables the organization to fill holes left by other donors and reflects its unique strength.

Although not initially prioritized, funding has increased in the last two years, and currently EED funds eight projects in Armenia. At the time of writing, this study identified 21 discrete projects funded by the Endowment, with the average grant lasting between eight and nine months.

The EED’s strategy in Armenia is fourfold and is thus characterized by the following elements: first, EED provides emergency funding to organizations that may otherwise be forced to close their doors due to financial hardship. Second, EED takes political risk by funding organizations which other donors might not, reflecting institutional flexibility and dynamism. Third, the Endowment prioritizes elections, with one taking place nearly every year in Armenia since 2013. Finally, EED fills the gap left by other organizations which have reduced activities due to the increasingly constraining environment for democracy and governance promotion.

Due to severe monetary and staffing constraints, EED currently functions without a Monitoring and Evaluation department. As a result, the EED lacks sophisticated evaluation mechanisms and thus relies on grantees to self-evaluate their programs combined with desk monitoring by EED staff and about three annual field trips. Despite the absence of formal evaluation mechanisms, the Armenia portfolio does reflect a strategic intervention which reflects the organization’s overall motto of “supporting the unsupported.”

This analysis divided the 21 grants into three thematic categories: anti-corruption, media, and election-related projects. The analysis serves as a starting point in evaluating the extent to which the EED was able to affectively respond to the three critical events.

  1. Anti-Corruption Programs

Three of the 21 identified Armenian projects specifically addressed corruption, a significant barrier to democratization. Program activities include providing free legal aid to citizens challenging arbitrary traffic citations, trainings for journalists to cover court cases, and general awareness raising, reflecting three unique tactics for combatting corruption. Overall, EED’s selection of unique projects which combat corruption in a variety of creative ways reaffirms the value-added of EED grant-giving. The small scope of the projects as well as their untraditional nature likely prevents them from being awarded funding from more traditional donors, yet through EED funds they are able to carve out a space, however small, to challenge the status quo vis-a-vis corruption, thus initiating a ripple-effect which may ultimately contribute to a more democratic Armenian society.

  1. Free-Media Programs

Nine grants can be categorized as media projects which either provide support to journalists or maintain independent print, online, or radio media outlets. As the space for free media shrinks, support for media professionals is an important component of democracy assistance. Two projects focus on capacity-building of journalists, while the remaining seven include independent sources of media which report on and create forums for discussion on issues of importance in Armenian society including human rights, corruption, European integration, Russian influence, elections and constitutional referendum.

  1. Election Support

An additional six organizations worked on election-related programming. Two provided election-monitoring around the referendum vote, two focused on women’s engagement in elections, one provided awareness-training for first-time voters, while the last grant provided public opinion polling in the run-up to the referendum. The election-related portfolio appears to deviate greatest from the EED’s overall strategy, and seemingly lacks the impact of the other two thematic clusters. That one third of grants went to strict election monitoring deviated from EED standards of complementing other sources of donor funds in country and appears redundant, given the presence of other, comprehensive monitoring missions. EED’s programming surrounding the referendum seemingly does not reflect an organic need from the grassroots, as was demonstrated with the other two thematic groups.

 

Comparison and Conclusion

Overall, the two organizations represent complimentary methods of funding democracy promotion activities in Armenia. EIDHR relies on a longer strategic approach which prioritizes regional, multi-year programs and across multiple countries and works with a significantly larger budget. EED, on the other hand, prioritizes significantly smaller-scale grants with flexible disbursement of funds primarily to local organizations. Based strictly on institutional structure, the two organizations reflect two discrete democracy promotion mechanisms by the EU.

The EIDHR model has the potential to have a greater impact based on the significantly larger budget it is able to allocate. However, investments in multi-year programs which tend to reflect more generic themes non-specific to the Armenian context  hinder EIDHR from responding to events on the ground. Additionally, EIDHR’s model of funding sub-regional and regional programs has the potential to have greater impact by duplicating the success of projects across countries, however, it comes at the cost of ignoring specific Armenian needs. EED programming, on the other hand, reflects a much more coherent strategy which identifies new local actors and provides flexible funding to initiate a ripple effect which may ultimately contribute to the widening of democratic spaces in Armenia. Despite this, funding remains very low, thus inhibiting the Endowment’s ability to make a significant impact.

 

[1]  Simão, L. (2012). The Problematic Role of EU Democracy Promotion in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Communist and Post- Communist Studies, 45(1- 2), p. 197. Retrieved 14.02.17, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0967067X12000116.

[2] Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzigovina & European Union Special Representatives in Bosnia and Herzigovina, “European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)”. Retrived 03.09.2017, from http://europa.ba/?page_id=519.

[3] European Endowment for Democracy. Retrieved 03.09.2017, from https://www.democracyendowment.eu/about-eed/.

[4] European Commission (2017). What is EIDHR? Retrieved 14.02.17, from European Commission: http://www.eidhr.eu/whatis-eidhr.

[5] In the period of 2007 to 2013 and then 2014 to 2020, the overall budget of the EIDHR was accelerated by about EUR 228 million to EUR 1, 332, 725,000.

[6] Personal Communication with Personal of Organization (01.02.17).

 

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