Protecting Civic Space in the EU

European Agency for Fundamental Rights
| Oct 04, 2021

This report 'Protecting Civic Space in the EU' published in September 2021 by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights looks at "recent developments in the EU regarding different aspects of the environment in which CSOs operate – also referred to as the ‘civic space’. Focusing on CSOs that work on human rights, it considers overall challenges and opportunities, the regulatory framework, access to funding, participation in decision making processes, as well as threats and attacks against both organisations and their staff."

"Civil society organisations across the European Union are impressively diverse. They provide services, engage communities, raise awareness, advocate on behalf of others, gather information and data, and hold authorities to account. Whether active at the local, national or regional level, they often play a crucial role in safeguarding human rights. But are we doing enough to ensure they can do their work?

...The EU Fundamental Rights Agency first highlighted the various hurdles encountered by civil society organisations in its 2018 report on Challenges facing civil society working on human rights in the EU.

Since then, it has taken regular temperature checks on this important issue, including through its Fundamental Rights Platform, which brings together myriad organisations from across the Union. The findings presented here are based on EU-wide research, and on two online consultations, carried out in 2020.

Not surprisingly, Covid-19 looms large. More than half of national or local organisations say that their situation deteriorated compared with previous years. Measures imposed to curb the pandemic were often vital to protect human health, but also interfered with various rights, especially to peaceful assembly and association.

Accessing funding has always been challenging. The health crisis made this harder, too, often prompting the diversion of much-needed funds. Opportunities for CSOs to both access and participate in decision-making remained patchy overall; authorities’ tendency to introduce changes using fast-track or emergency legislative procedures sometimes further reduced such opportunities.

Meanwhile, harassment remained a concern, particularly online. Smear campaigns continued to create a climate of hostility, especially for organisations working with minority groups and migrants, and on women’s and LGBTI people’s rights.

Yet not all news was grim. Revamped financing and taxation frameworks brought relief in a number of countries, and several Member States set up targeted support schemes to counter the effects of Covid-19. Others took steps to systematically include civil society in procedures previously inaccessible to them.

We hope that, by highlighting both problematic and positive practices, this report encourages policymakers at all levels to make choices that foster a more conducive working environment for civil society across the EU, helping to realise human rights for all." [Michael O’Flaherty, Director]

Read the full report here.

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