Havel in new bid to help EU money “trickle down” to pro-democracy groups

Václav Havel, photo: www.efdp.eu

The former Czech president Václav Havel is in Brussels on Tuesday to launch a new pan-European human rights initiative called the European Foundation for Democracy through Partnership (EFDP). Mr Havel, who spent years in prison as a dissident in the Communist era, is now spearheading a campaign to make it easier for democracy and human rights advocacy groups to access European funds. One of the members of the EFDP’s board is Šimon Pánek, director of the Czech NGO People in Need. We spoke to him earlier by telephone.

“The EFDP, which is based in Brussels, will hopefully be a new promoter of the human rights and democracy agenda both at the level of the EU and European member states as well as abroad, in the places where democracy is still not in place.”

There are a lot of initiatives and NGOs in this world. Are you not worried that you’re entering something of a crowded market?

“Of course. The difference is that in effect the EFDP’s ambition is to be a spokesman for about 10-15 NGOs from the EU member states which have come together to form such an initiative. Plus, there is definitely an instrumental need – and we know this from Central and Eastern Europe and the work of People in Need abroad, in Burma, in Cuba and elsewhere – to show small organisations that they can get access to some funding from the EU. I’m not saying from the Commission, because it’s usually instrumentally impossible, but from the EU. One of the EFDP’s ambitions is to be able to collect that funding and offer it in a very unbureaucratic, specially-tailored way for use by small organisations and proactive groups in non-democratic countries, so they can get access to at least a small part of the money that Europe is talking about – money that is earmarked to support democracy but that people working in the field in non-democratic countries often never see.”

So in other words we’re talking about enabling pro-democracy activists in Belarus or Cuba to buy laptops or print leaflets, is that correct?

“Well, yes, we are talking about enabling them to get access to the small grant call for proposals and to be able to get more than just verbal support. At the moment the EFDP is funded by just a few sources, but in the future we hope that more governments and hopefully also the European Commission will join this effort and through block grants for example offer some funding which will then be re-granted in very small but down in the field very useful small supporting grants.”