Institutions and civil society are crucial to growth and development. Democratic, strong and inclusive institutions guarantee the rule of law, economic development and fundamental rights for every citizen. It is thus crucial to support individuals, movements and organisations – that is civil society -that work to strengthen institutions. This has been precisely the guiding principle of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom for the past 50 years. For the past half a century, the Foundation has been fostering institutions based on the rule of law, engaging civil society and supporting democracy worldwide.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of international politics of the Foundation, leading figures in Europe have been looking back and ahead: What is the basis for successful development cooperation? How important is the economic and political success of development cooperation for the EU member states? How important to the EU are civil society actors in the context of cohesive development cooperation? And what impact will the current cutbacks in the budgets for development cooperation have on developing countries?
Dr. Irmgard Schwaetzer, member of the Board of Directors of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and former Federal Minister, Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank, Markus Löning, German Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, and Hans van Baalen MEP, president of Liberal International, discussed the achievements of the Foundation and of democracy support in general from different perspectives. When the Friedrich Naumann Foundation started to engage internationally, back in 1963, the idea of institutionalized cooperation with opposition forces by publicly-funded, but ultimately non-governmental, independent institutions which are committed to the protection of human rights, democracy, rule of law and market economy in developing countries, was an absolutely new and quite controversial.
Back in the 1960’, when the Foundation started to support journalists and political leaders in Tunisia, there were no mobile phones, no computers and no internet. In spite of technological challenges in those days, the Foundation progressively extended its network of partners and the scope of its international work. Currently, the Foundation is active in 70 countries, with seven regional offices and 47 project offices.
The speakers underlined, that past successes and current challenges confirm the need for long-term engagement. Democracy and freedom are not only built with revolutions and elections. Fostering pluralism through the strengthening of all actors, especially civil society, as well as the setup of democratic institutions, require a long-term presence and cooperation with democratic actors.
German Human Rights Commissioner Markus Löning vividly pointed out that the rule of law is crucial for development but that economic freedom and civil rights are two sides of the same coin. The European Union must never forget to address the later in its international relations and negotiations, while at the same time it should also address Human Rights issues inside the Union.
In the last 50 years, the Foundation carried out projects and programmes with over 800 partner organizations in more than 100 countries have made substantial contributions to the democratization and transformation of authoritarian regimes. Like Werner Hoyer put it “this is a hell of an achievement!”.
Closing the event FNF-Regional Director Hans H. Stein reminded the audience of Pericles’ wisdom: The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage. “We should always keep that in mind and speak up in the name of freedom. Everyday, and wherever we are.”