Friedrich Ebert, a social democrat of humble origins and Germany’s first democratically elected president, had risen to hold the highest office in his country despite considerable opposition from his political adversaries. He assumed the burden of presidency in a country which was crisis-ridden following its defeat in World War I. His own personal experience led him to propose the establishment of a Foundation with a threefold aim:
- to further a democratic, pluralistic political culture by means of political education for all classes of society;
- to facilitate access to higher education for gifted young people by providing scholarships;
- to contribute towards international understanding and co-operation wherever possible to avert a fresh outbreak of war and conflict.
The Foundation, which was banned by the Nazis in 1933 and re-established in 1947, continues today to pursue those aims and has developed extensive programmes in the following areas:
The FES spends approximately half of its annual budget on international activities. Its partners come from politics, business, associations, trade unions, academia, and also from the communication sector and cultural institutions.
The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung sees its activities in the developing countries as a contribution to: - promoting peace and understanding between peoples and inside the partner countries, - supporting the democratisation of the State and society and strengthening the civil society, - improving general political, economic and social conditions, - reinforcing free trade unions, - developing independent media structures, - facilitating regional and worldwide cooperation between states and different interest groups and - gaining recognition for human rights.
In addition, the FES maintains offices in 33 countries of Western Europe, Central and South-East Europe, the CIS-countries, and also in the USA and Japan. It fosters the dialogue between democratic forces with the aim of bringing about a balance of interests, resolving conflicts and drawing up policy options. It co-operates in this process with partners from various societal groups and organisations, such as trade unions, political parties, educational and research institutions, public administrations, and also city and local governments.
In the reform states in the eastern part of Europe, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is involved in supporting the process of democratisation, the transition to a market economy and the establishment of a civil society, in particular in the fields of labour market, social, environmental and media policies. It supports these countries in the process of accession to the EU.
Furthermore, the FES contributes to both the internal German and international debates with its journals and publications.
It is the aim of political education by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung to assist the citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany in responding to the changes in politics and society and thus to enable them to take part in a critical and proactive manner.
The corresponding activities which focus, amongst other things, on creating a well-balanced relationship between east and west Germany, take place in two conference centres, its academies and 13 regional offices.
The wide range of subjects and questions includes all fundamental issues concerning democracy, international relations and day-to-day politics.
Research and Consulting
The practice-oriented research and consulting activities of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung take place at the locations in Bonn and Berlin. Its centralised discussion circles on economic, technological, labour and social policies, and also on social and contemporary history focus on topics which will be pivotal in shaping our society in future. The content and orientation for these activities are provided by the report of the Future Commission of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
At the same time, the political and academic dialogue on problems of foreign and security policies is promoted. Analyses and potential solutions drawn up at symposia, special-subject conferences and discussion forums are made available to a wider circle of experts from politics, business and academia and to interested citizens by means of a large number of publications.
Research on social and contemporary history is dedicated to the historical context of social democracy and trade unions. The Archives of Social Democracy and the library of the FES in Bonn preserve "both the unprinted and printed memory of the labour movement". The Karl-Marx-House and its study centre in Trier are also part of the historical research activities.
In its graduate and post-graduate programmes the FES supports students and academics with outstanding qualifications from Germany and abroad for whom an academic education is not only a first step in their professional career but expresses their commitment to democracy, the State and society.
In its supplementary seminar programme the FES aims at building bridges between science and its practical application and at creating a better understanding about the purpose and the nature of democracy and social policy.