In January 2011, Polish Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, tabled a proposal at the EU Foreign Affairs Council for the establishment of a new European initiative, the European Endowment for Democracy, with a view to gaining support to launch the Endowment as part of the revision of the EU Neighbourhood Policy. The idea was to establish an institution that would complement EU democracy support instruments, while filling the gaps by offering more flexible and less bureaucratic assistance.
This became the flagship initiative of the Polish Presidency of the Council of the EU during the second half of 2011. The initiative received political backing from the then EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, as well as then EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle, and was later incorporated into a joint communication by the High Representative and the European Commission on A response to a changing Neighbourhood. This work culminated in the Council Conclusions of December 2011, and the Declaration on The Establishment of a European Endowment for Democracy. In March 2012, the European Parliament also formally expressed its support through its recommendations to the Council on the modalities for the possible establishment of a European Endowment for Democracy.
After the finalisation of the EED Statutes by the European Member States and EU Institutions, the first Board of Governors meeting took place on 13 November 2012, with EED Secretariat operations getting underway in July 2013. The Endowment is based on a partnership between EU institutions, the Commission and the Parliament, and member states.
Initially the EED mandate extended only to countries in the EU neighbourhood. However, in 2015, EED Board of Governors adopted a decision to extend the remit of EED’s activities to “neighbours of the neighbours”. These include: Bahrain, Chad, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, & United Arab Emirates, as well as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan.
In 2018, EED further expanded its operations to the Western Balkans - Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.