(CN) - The European Endowment for Democracy appointed a Polish politician to serve as its first executive director Wednesday, and it adopted a $16.8 million budget.
Jerzy Pomianowski, the new chief, serves as state secretary of Poland.
EU heads of state have defined the endowment as a "political objective." They established the group as a private law foundation under Belgian law last year.
Its main purpose is to provide direct-grant funding to "pro-democracy activists and organizations struggling for democratic transition in the European neighborhood and beyond," according to the group.
Nine ministers of European Parliament and EU foreign secretary Catherine Ashton make up the endowment's board.
Switzerland also joined the board and pledged to fund over half of the group's initial budget.
Ashton credited "Europe's commitment to advancing democracy" as the idea that motivated creation of the endowment.
"Not only does this benefit the people who aspire to freedom and who champion democratic transitions worldwide; it is also in our own European interest," Ashton said in a statement.
She added that "2013 will be a crucial year for democratic transitions, in particular in the EU's neighborhood."
Helping in this area, the endowment will work "directly with those in the field, who are striving for democracy," and it will offer "flexible, non-bureaucratic and dedicated procedures that are tailored to the needs and demands on the ground."
Stefan Fule, the EU's commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood policy, agreed.
"I see the Endowment for Democracy as a strengthened effort, supporting democratization and peaceful forces that work for democratic changes to happen, supporting the actors of change in our neighborhood, the emerging players that face obstacles in accessing European Union funding," Fule said in a statement. "With this new initiative we are sending a clear message of solidarity to the peoples of the neighborhood, assuring them that their democratic aspirations and their fight for human rights will be heard and supported by the European Union. The European Union can also bring its experience and know how to help them address the challenges of transition from authoritarianism to democracy."
Headquartered in Brussels, the group expects to be fully operational by mid-2013.
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