WARSAW, Poland, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- A European effort to fund pro-democracy groups was introduced to Polish activists this week by its new director, Polish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Jerzy Pomianowski.
Pomianowski, appointed by the European Union last month to lead the new European Endowment for Democracy, told a gathering of Polish pro-democracy non-governmental organizations in Warsaw Tuesday they will play a big role in determining how the EED spends its money in promoting political freedom and human rights in the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe.
"Polish NGOs are a natural base for EED's future activities on account of their experience relating to the Polish systemic transformation and their support for democratic changes in the EU's Eastern Neighborhood, especially in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova," he said.
"The EED will certainly tap into their expertise."
The European Union and its member states launched the political project in October as a private foundation under Belgian law and three months later awarded it an $8.1 million grant. Several other EU members along with Switzerland have pledged up to an additional $10.5 million for its activities.
The EED is expected to become operational later this year with a charge of making direct grants to pro-democracy activists and organizations "struggling for democratic transition in the European neighborhood and beyond," using a "flexible" process.
The fund was proposed by Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski shortly after the Dec. 19, 2010, violent suppression of mass rallies and arrests in Belarus as protesters took to the streets to denounce what they called the fraudulent re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Polish presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2011 contributed to speeding up work to establish the EED.
Pomianowski said Tuesday Polish NGOs such as the Solidarity Fund PL, which provides aid to countries "undergoing transformation in the direction of market economy and private entrepreneurship," will help steer the EED's priorities.
The goal, he said, is to fill funding gaps for pro-democracy groups that are too new or low-profile to land assistance through traditional EU processes.
The new fund, he said, will "provide donations to entities that have been somewhat forgotten or underestimated by other entities that support democratic change in the world, in the form of funding that is key to securing the start-up of an organization or just a group of persons interested in democratic transformation."
Pomianowski this month told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle one main focus for the EED under his watch will be so-called "unregistered groups" in countries such as Belarus, which hasn't permitted the legal creation of new NGOs for many years.
The European Union, he said, currently has "limited funding options for unregistered political groups, or civic groups that have a political goal. Relatively little attention is devoted to these emerging leaders.
"If they haven't been around long enough to actually achieve success, they escape observation and the possibility of support. This is an area where the fund may be able to provide flexible financial support mechanisms."