In 2006, The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR II), was approved to launch in 2007 (Řiháčková 2008: 8f). It is the successor of the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR I) launched in 1994 by the European Parliament. Its main goal, just like that of its predecessor, is democracy and human rights assistance through civil society.

The EIDHR's unique feature is its mandate to target (ergo, give money to) non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in countries outside the EU without consent of the host governments.* This offers the opportunity to directly support civil society in countries where governments are reluctant to reform (Herrero 2009: 12).

The general idea behind the EIDHR is that the establishment of a thriving civil society is essential in supporting, or even bringing about democracy (Charniakovich 2013: 1f). Civil society allows for public participation, civic engagement and the pursuit of common interests. Accordingly, civil society is seen as a necessary target of democracy promotion (Jorjoliani and Muskhelishvili 2009: 685).

The EIDHR Strategy Paper outlines five priorities, or objectives (EC 2013: 2):

"1. Enhancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in countries and regions where they are most at risk (Strategy Paper points 38 to 47 and 93 to 96).

2. Strengthening the role of civil society in promoting human rights and democratic reform, in supporting the peaceful conciliation of group interests and in consolidating political participation and representation (Strategy Paper points 48 to 56 and 97 to 100).

3. Supporting actions on human rights and democracy issues in areas covered by EU guidelines, including on human rights dialogue, on human rights defenders, on the death penalty, on torture, children and armed conflict, on rights of the child, on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them, on International Humanitarian law and possible future guidelines (Strategy Paper points 57 to 81 and 101 to 108).

4. Supporting and strengthening the international and regional frameworks for the protection and promotion of human rights, justice, the rule of law and the promotion of democracy (Strategy Paper points 82 to 84 and 109 to 112).

5. Building confidence in and enhancing the reliability and transparency of democratic electoral processes, in particular through election observation (Strategy Paper points 85 to 91 and 113 to 116)."

Evolution of the EIDHR

Since its introduction – and in particular with the switch from EIDHR I to EIDHR II – a number of trends have been evident in the respective policy documents:

First, emphasis on democracy vis-à-vis human rights: While human rights and democracy promotion are interlinked, it is possible to notice a stronger imperative on democracy in the Strategy Papers since 2007 (Herrero 2009: 26).

Second, a move from targeted “macro-” to smaller “micro-projects”: As opposed to macro-projects, the micro-projects are managed in-country and require less funding per project. The role of micro-projects, now carried out under the name of Country-Based Support Scheme (CBSS), has become increasingly more prominent (Herrero 2009: 15). This goes along with a more decisive focus on civil society (id.: 26) as the “ultimate beneficiary” of the instrument (Řiháčková 2008: 15). Along with the first point, this enhances the significance of Objective 2 (as described above).

Third, and related to the previous points, the role of EU delegations has become more and more essential. This is because they are responsible for implementing the CBSS under Objective 2. Fewer projects are managed centrally by the European Commission while in-country Calls for Proposals (CfPs) by the local EU delegations have become pre-eminent. This is because delegations are better informed about the situation in their respective countries (Řiháčková 2008: 18). Since 2007, a majority of the EIDHR budget goes to projects carried out under Objective 2 (FRIDE 2010: 2).

Fourth, expansion of objectives: Although the general priorities of EIDHR I are similar to those of EIDHR II (Řiháčková 2008: 14), the number of sub-priorities almost doubled in 2007, from 12 to 21 (Herrero 2009: 13). Somewhat contradictorily, this went along with a declared intention to tighten the thematic approach in favor of democracy (Řiháčková 2008: 15).

Fifth, expansion of geographical scope: In 2002, when micro-projects were established in countries such as Georgia, they covered 29 states (Řiháčková 2008: 16). Since 2007, micro-projects are carried out under the Country-Based Support Schemes. By 2013, 107 countries were targeted through CBSSs (EC 2013: 3).

Sixth, more flexible funding: Unregistered NGOs are now eligible for funding, and the range of actors defined as “civil society” has been widened (Řiháčková 2008: 13). The NGOs still have to get part of the funds for any EIDHR-sponsored project from other sources, but the minimum mandatory co-financing rate is now more variable, with the delegations deciding on a range from 20% down to 5% (Řiháčková 2010: 13f). Since 2009, the Commission is encouraging re-granting in order to delegate smaller sums to “civil society actors working under constraints” (id.: 14). The maximum size of grants awarded through micro-projects/CBSS has been increased, up to € 300,000 (Herrero 2009: 16).

EIDHR Challenges

The EIDHR’s most consistent and decisive commitment over time has been shown in the field of election monitoring, as outlined in objective 5 (Herrero 2009: 27f). The fact that the EU’s election observer missions are funded through EIDHR has been criticized by the member states (id: 36) as well as civil society stakeholders (id.: 42). The Commission argues that it is necessary to fund election observer missions through EIDHR to guarantee their full autonomy (id.: 36). But, seeing that the EU doesn’t send election observer missions without government consent, funding them through EIDHR seems counter-intuitive (Řiháčková 2008: 30).

While the number of EIDHR target countries and priorities has increased massively, the total budget allocated to the instrument has grown rather modestly (Herrero 2009: 13). The budget for 2002 was at about € 100,460,000, with 29 target countries (Řiháčková 2008: 16). In 2013, € 128,165,000 were available for projects in 107 countries (EC 2013: 9). Despite its global reach, the EIDHR’s total budget for the 2007-2013 period amounted to just over € 1 billion. This amount pales compared to regional instruments such as the European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument (ENPI), with a budget of € 12 billion for the same period (FRIDE 2010: 1).

In making sure different funding instruments don’t overlap and supported projects within a country complement each other, the delegations have an important oversight function (Herrero 2009: 37). Yet while the principle of complementarity with other instruments is at the core of the EIDHR, there is no document that outlines how complementarity should be worked toward in practice (id.: 35ff). Stakeholders criticize a lack of understanding of the relevant policy issues among the delegations, which stems from the bureaucratic nature of their work (Herrero 2009: 41). It’s especially remarkable that many delegations request rather small budgets due to lack of staff to manage more projects (Řiháčková 2010: 7). In consequence, funds available for EIDHR are not spent entirely (Herrero 2009: 13).

Regarding Calls for Proposals (CfPs), the EU delegations are able to select priorities most important for the host country based on Annual Action Plans (Herrero 2009: 29). However, closer analysis has shown that the conceptual substance of the CfPs is mixed at best. Some deem a one-sentence description enough to clarify the goals; many CfPs are carbon copies of the current Strategy Paper issued by the Commission. Few delegations have demonstrated substantial effort to tailor them to country-specific conditions (Herrero 2009: 31f). Because the Strategy Papers list a broad diversity of human rights goals (EC 2010), many CfPs focus on these fields, thus somewhat undermining the fact the idea of democracy assistance as the main focus (id.: 34).

From the NGO's side, applying for EIDHR funding is seen as difficult and time-consuming to a degree where it curtails the day-to-day activities. Even staff at the delegations admits that the corresponding forms and procedures could be simplified (Řiháčková 2010: 9). The CfPs and application forms are available exclusively in English, which curtails the access of grassroots NGOs to the application procedure (Řiháčková 2008: 26). The regular time frame for the selection process has been reduced to about half a year, yet it could still be improved (Řiháčková 2010: 9).

There is no set framework for dialogue between the EU delegations and local civil society actors for debating priorities within the CBSS. Consultations are typically arranged ad hoc, by inviting a set of well-established NGOs. Consultations are held in English, and grassroots organizations are barely represented in these meetings (Řiháčková 2010: 8). Overall, there is little dialogue with civil society representatives apart from financial issues. Consequently, they are seen as petitioners rather than as experts in their field with valuable knowledge (Herrero 2009: 43).


Charniakovich, Aliaksandr 2013: Levers for Change. The EU and Civil Society in the Eastern Neighbourhood. FRIDE Policy Brief No 154. Available here (26.08.2013).

EC (European Commission) 2010: European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Strategy Paper 2011-2013. C(2010)2432, 21.04.2010. Available here (28.08.2013).

EC 2013: Annual Action Programme 2013 for the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) to be financed under Budget Line 19 04 01 of the General Budget of the European Union. Available here (29.08.2013).

FRIDE 2010: Democracy Assistance Factsheet. European Commission. FRIDE. Available here (27.08.2013).

Herrero, Sonia 2009: A Decade of Democracy Promotion Through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights. EPD (European Partnership for Democracy) Working Paper 1/2009. Available here (27.08.2013).

Jorjoliani, Gia / Muskhelishvili, Marina 2009: Georgia’s Ongoing Struggle for a Btter Future Continued. Democracy Promotion Through Civil Society Development, in: Democratization 16 (4), pp. 682-708.

Řiháčková, Věra 2008: EU Democracy Assistance Through Civil Society – Reformed? The Design of the Community Financial Instruments for the First Half of the Financial Perspective 2007-2013. PASOS (Policy Association for an Open Society). Available here (26.08.2013).

Řiháčková, Věra 2010: Walking the Tightrope of Democracy Aid. The Long and Winding Road Towards ‘Flexible’, Well-Targeted EU Funding for Democracy and Human Rights. PASOS Policy Brief No 3. Available here (26.08.2013).

*Note: If you think about that a bit, you'll probably understand why leaders in non-democratic countries such as Russia typically portray NGOs as foreign agents, or enemies outright

This is a condensed version of a policy paper on Democracy Assistance through the EIDHR in Georgia (the nation of Georgia) which I wrote a few years back. I removed the parts about Georgia, the abstract and my policy suggestions, included the block quote about the five priorities, and made some edits for understandability, etc.

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