10 Years European Forum

Thu 2 Jan 2003

The changing role of political foundations
in the building of (Social-)democracy

Background
Over the past ten years numerous political foundations have been created with the purpose of building (social-)democracy and political parties in the former communist countries. In Western Europe some already existing foundations started to work in the new democracies of Eastern Europe and new foundations were created in other countries. Most of them depend on state funding or in rare cases make use of European Union funds. In the case of Central and Eastern Europe the newly established political foundations mostly depend on international donors. In the field of NGO’s and the building of civil society, political foundations have always played a specific role. Due to the fact that most NGO’s, as a principle, do not work directly with political parties, the political foundations had a pioneer role to play in the building of party political culture in general and social-democracy in particular. The social-democratic foundations in Western Europe have always had an international mission. The European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, founded in 1993 has a threefold task:

1) To structure and coordinate the work of the political foundations in Central and Eastern Europe
2) To take the initiative in the field of policy development
3) To initiate assessments and projects in countries where (social) democracy was still weak.

This work is still necessary, however there has been a geographical shift from Central Europe to Eastern Europe, or to be more precise; from the countries soon to enter the European Union to those that will be the new bordering states of the EU in the so-called wider Europe.

The EU enlargement and the geographical shift will change the way the political foundations work. There are a number of challenges that the political foundations face when “going East”:

Further to the East means:
- less democratic and less transparent
- less developed political parties culture
- more ethnic diversity and potential conflicts
- less contacts and lack of reliable information
- more practical problems

The role of the political foundations from the Central and Eastern European countries will be of crucial importance. They are often more capable in grasping the problems that political parties in the wider Europe face as they have experience in facing and overcoming repression and building democratic political parties. More and more these foundations will become internationally active themselves. As a result they will become crucial partners in the building of (social)-democracy in the wider Europe.

Conference 10 years European Forum
The changing role of the political foundations will be addressed in a conference in Slovenia in June 2003. The conference will consist of plenary sessions and small working groups with the aim of determining what the Eastward orientation will mean for the work of the foundations and of the European Forum.