The inaugural meeting of the European Parliament's Democracy Caucus took place on December 9 2009.

Manifesto          This is the text adopted by the Democracy Caucus calling for the setting-up of an independent democracy promotion foundation based in Brussels.

We have welcomed since then the establishment of the European Partnership for democracy http://www.eupd.eu/homepage                

The EU needs a new foreign policy instrument to promote democracy and human rights outside its borders. Democracy assistance should become a more visible and more effective element in the EU’s external policies. 

Democracy cannot exist without parliaments or competing parties. Therefore, we, as parliamentarians from several parties and countries, propose the establishment of a European Democracy Foundation. 

In the enlargement framework the EU, through its pre-accession strategy, has contributed considerably to the development of democracy and the rule of law in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which have now become Member States. The EU also has impressive policy frameworks – the treaties, the Neighbourhood Policy, provisions in third country Partnership agreements, programmes for democracy and human rights, which are usually executed through EuropeAid, its development agency. 

But today, after the Big-Bang enlargement of 2004 and the two ‘No’ votes on the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands, the transformative effect of potential European Union membership is decreasing. Also, the EU programmes which are designed to promote democracy and human rights have their limits and their critics. The EU is not flexible enough in supporting civil society movements and 'normal' democratic forces, as recent developments in Belarus, Ukraine, or Egypt and Palestine show. This applies especially to countries which are under authoritarian rule.

Yet, at the same time, the expectations of Europe are growing. While the deteriorating democratic process in Russia and elsewhere in the ex-Soviet bloc gives widespread concern, there is a state of flux within which the EU has a potentially important reform role, as well as formal commitments such as its Neighbourhood Policy. Also in other regions of the world, like the Middle East, the EU is invited to - and declares it wants to - play a more active role. 

Thus, the EU needs to step up its efforts. A free-standing European Democracy Foundation, engaging with political and civil society in third countries, is a much-needed additional foreign policy instrument for which there is growing support. It should combine a strategic focus with access to the experience of existing European civil and political society foundations. 

The proposed Foundation would operate at arms-length from – although largely funded by - the institutions of the EU. It would thus be an additional mechanism without disrupting or impeding official diplomatic relations between the EU and the states in which the Foundation was active.

The Foundation would be capable of effective responses to demands. It should be a funding source, capable of operating at a greater level of responsiveness and risk than the EU institutions themselves. It would be expert, deniable and flexible. 

The Foundation's focus should be worldwide. However, in order to reflect concerns about rising instability, it should initially concentrate on regions of strategic interest to the EU, like the ‘Neighbourhood’ countries, the Balkans and sensitive countries worldwide.  

Decisions about precisely how the Foundation could operate should be developed in the context of framing the EU's new Democracy and Human Rights Instrument, which will operate from 2007 – 2013 and replace the current €142 million European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).

In addition to the proposed Foundation, discussions are taking place to use the current review of the EU’s Political Parties Statute – the European Parliament funds the European political parties with €8.4 million annually - to establish European political foundations (stiftungen/stichting). We welcome the debate. Such political foundations, engaging with partner parties both within and outside the EU, would be complementary to a new European Democracy Foundation.

 Now is the right time for the EU to act. The EU has to move forward if it wants to be credible and meet its ambitions. A European Democracy Foundation would not only contribute to the reform process globally and enhance the European profile in democracy assistance: it could at the same time enrich the debate about democracy within Europe.

Edward McMillan-Scott MEP (Conservative UK-EPP/ED)   
Vice-President, European Parliament; Chairman, EP Democracy Caucus; Founder, European Democracy Initiative

Markus Meckel MdB (SPD) 
Member of Bundestag; Deputy SPD Foreign Affairs Spokesman; Former Foreign Minister        

Supported by President Vaclav Havel, President Vytautas Landsbergis

Bronislaw Geremek MEP (ALDE) Former Polish Foreign Minister

Denis MacShane MP, Former UK Foreign Minister (Labour)

Janusz Onyszkiewicz MEP, Vice-President of European Parliament (ALDE)

Jan Marinus Wiersma MEP, Vice-President of Socialist Group

Jose Ribeiro e Castro MEP (EPP/ED) Ari Vatanen MEP (EPP/ED)

Marco Pannella MEP (Bonino List/Radical Party)

General Phillipe Morillon MEP (ALDE) Paulo Casaca MEP (PSE) and many others