Other Group

European Council on Foreign Relations

Website:

ecfr.eu/

Headquarters:

ECFR Deutschland GmbH, Unter den Linden 17

Location:

Berlin, Germany

Type:

Foreign policy think tank

Founded:

2007

Director:

Mark Leonard

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is an international affairs think tank with offices in multiple cities across Europe. Founded in 2007, the council focuses on strengthening European and international bilateral relations and has attacked European governments that have resisted European Union (EU) mandates. The council supports having larger EU member states such as Germany and supranational bodies such as the European Parliament pressure non-compliant member nations through political and financial sanctions. [1] [2]

The ECFR was initially financed by the Open Society Foundations of George Soros, the Hungarian-born financial-industry billionaire whose Open Society Foundations have played a leading role in promoting left-of-center political, economic, and cultural values in Europe and the broader Western world. [3] Like ECFR, Soros has supported using German and EU power against European nations opposed to a left-of-center agenda on international migration and endorsed the idea that the continent must accept supranational governance. [4]

Ideology

George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations were among the initial funders of the European Council on Foreign Relations, [5] has described the council as the institution best positioned to “save Europe” from what he calls “an existential crisis” in which “everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.” Soros considers the main challenge to the continent—and the main threat which the ECFR allegedly must confront—to be the growing dissatisfaction with the EU in some of its member states, as well as the rise of right-leaning movements for national sovereignty and traditional values in those states. To help the EFCR achieve its objectives, Soros has closely aligned the priorities of his Open Society Network with those of the Council. In a 2018 address, he indicated that the two organizations would work together. [6]

Major Initiatives

While the European Council on Foreign Relations primarily works to influence the actions of European governments, particularly those of European Union member states, its lines of effort include addressing issues in other parts of the world which directly or indirectly affect affairs on the continent. The council’s “European Power” and “Wider Europe” projects aim to bolster the political influence and geographical reach of the EU. The ECFR also aims to grow ties between the EU and Africa, increase Europe’s involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, and encourage European powers to build relationships with regional competitors to the People’s Republic of China, such as Japan and India. [7]

Target Nations

Within the European community of nations, the European Council on Foreign Relations is particularly focused on countries that present either a challenge or an opportunity for further expanding the power of the European Union. The council frequently criticizes the right-leaning governments of Poland and Hungary for opposing EU regulations that have the potential to overrule those nations’ laws. ECFR has recommended pressuring and isolating these nations by withholding funding from them to inflict “palpable economic costs” on their populations and create popular discontent with non-compliant governments. [8]

To place additional pressure on Hungary, ECFR asserts that its government and the ruling Fidesz party of right-leaning prime minister Viktor Orban undermines democracy. ECFR has also criticized the Orban government for its hesitation in supporting sanctions against Russia due to their potential impact on Hungary’s own population. [9] [10] At the same time, the council’s own research has suggested that Orban and Fidesz enjoy genuine and widespread public support: its 2021 survey found that Hungarians felt a greater degree of personal freedom than residents of most other European countries, even in the context of restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. [11]

Outside the EU, the primary focus of the ECFR’s European integration agenda has been Ukraine, especially after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The council has criticized the continent’s power players for allegedly not providing sufficient support to Ukraine, despite acknowledging the hundreds of millions of euros in military aid which Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and other countries have sent since the start of hostilities. ECFR has also called for the EU to provide backing to Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova, as well as Russia’s central Asian neighbor, Georgia. However, the council simultaneously criticizes Georgia for not being sufficiently supportive of the European political agenda and recommends that the EU use security cooperation to achieve ideological ends. [12]

Reach and Impact

The European Council on Foreign Relations employs more than 80 personnel from over 25 countries, and maintains offices in seven capital cities across the European continent:

  • London, U.K.
  • Paris, France
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Rome, Italy
  • Warsaw, Poland
  • Sofia, Bulgaria

The council claims more than 300 members representing influential European institutions, including at least 19 heads of state, more than 40 top corporate executives, more than 100 government officials and foreign ambassadors, several dozen leading activists and influencers, and a number of academics. [13]

Leadership

Mark Leonard is the co-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He is also a contributor to the publication Project Syndicate, another Open Society Foundations initiative. Leonard previously worked at several European and American world affairs think tanks. Additionally, he spent time as a visiting scholar at the Academy for Social Sciences in Beijing, China. [14] [15]

Carl Bildt is the former prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden. He is a member of the ECFR board of trustees and a co-chair of the organization’s internal council. Bildt oversaw Sweden’s entry into the EU and implemented major economic reforms during his time in office. He was also the chairman of the Global Commission on Internet Governance and he worked with the World Health Organization on COVID-19 policy. [16]

Ivan Krastev is a member of the ECFR board of trustees and the chairman of the Center for Liberal Studies, a left-leaning world affairs think tank based in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is also a member of the Open Society Foundations global advisory board. Krastev previously worked as the editor-in-chief at the Bulgarian edition of Foreign Policy magazine, and he has contributed to other publications including the New York Times and Politico. [17]

Financials

The European Council on Foreign Relations receives approximately two-thirds of its funding from various international philanthropic organizations, including some of the world’s most influential left-leaning grant makers. In addition to the Open Society Foundations, these include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Italian affiliate of the Aspen Institute. Just over one-fourth of the council’s funds come from government agencies, including the foreign ministries of numerous European governments, as well as the German ministry of defense and France’s secretariat-general for national defense and security. The ECFR also accepts money from major corporations, most notably American tech giant Google, as well as several European telecommunications firms. [18]

References

  1. “About ECFR.” European Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/about/ ^
  2. Piotr Buras and Lucas Guttenberg. “How the EU should turn the tables on Hungary and Poland.” European Council on Foreign Relations. December 1, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/article/how-the-eu-should-turn-the-tables-on-hungary-and-poland/ ^
  3. Pautz, Hartwig, and Dieter Plehwe. “The Role of Think-Tanks in the EU Policy Process Remains Largely Uncharted Territory for Political Scientists.” European Politics and Policy (EUROPP). London School of Economics, October 23, 2014. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2014/10/13/the-role-of-think-tanks-in-the-eu-policy-process-remains-largely-uncharted-territory-for-political-scientists/. ^
  4. “George Soros.” European Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/profile/george_soros/ ^
  5. Pautz, Hartwig, and Dieter Plehwe. “The Role of Think-Tanks in the EU Policy Process Remains Largely Uncharted Territory for Political Scientists.” European Politics and Policy (EUROPP). London School of Economics, October 23, 2014. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2014/10/13/the-role-of-think-tanks-in-the-eu-policy-process-remains-largely-uncharted-territory-for-political-scientists/. ^
  6. George Soros. “Remarks delivered at the European Council on Foreign Relations.” GeorgeSoros.com. May 29, 2018. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://www.georgesoros.com/2018/05/29/remarks-delivered-at-the-european-council-on-foreign-relations/ ^
  7. “About ECFR.” European Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/about/ ^
  8. Piotr Buras and Lucas Guttenberg. “How the EU should turn the tables on Hungary and Poland.” European Council on Foreign Relations. December 1, 2020. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/article/how-the-eu-should-turn-the-tables-on-hungary-and-poland/ ^
  9. Tibor Dessewffy. “Orban’s integrity office: Everything is legal but nothing is democratic.” European Council on Foreign Relations. September 30, 2022. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/article/orbans-integrity-office-everything-is-legal-but-nothing-is-democratic/ ^
  10. George Soros. “Remarks delivered at the European Council on Foreign Relations.” GeorgeSoros.com. May 29, 2018. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://www.georgesoros.com/2018/05/29/remarks-delivered-at-the-european-council-on-foreign-relations/ ^
  11. Ivan Krastev, Mark Leonard. “Europe’s invisible divides: How covid-19 is polarising European politics.” European Council on Foreign Relations. September 1, 2021. Accessed October 2, 2022 https://ecfr.eu/publication/europes-invisible-divides-how-covid-19-is-polarising-european-politics/ ^
  12. Gustav Gressel. “In Europe’s defence: Why the EU needs a security compact with Ukraine.” European Council on Foreign Relations. September 30, 2022. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/publication/in-europes-defense-why-the-eu-needs-a-security-compact-with-ukraine/ ^
  13. “About ECFR.” European Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/about/ ^
  14. Leadership.” European Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/leadership/ ^
  15. “What we do.” Project Syndicate. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://www.project-syndicate.org/about ^
  16. “Leadership.” European Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/leadership/ ^
  17. “Leadership.” European Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/leadership/ ^
  18. “Our funding.” European Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed October 2, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/donors/funding/ ^
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