European Interest

Civil society: Parliament calls for EU rules and strategy to counter threats

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Russian bombardment on the outskirts of Kharkiv.

MEPs adopted proposals to recognise the crucial role of civil society for democracy, calling for a Commission strategy and common rules across all member states.

Following a plenary debate on Monday that took stock of the role of civil society in dealing with the challenges and threats stemming from Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, MEPs voted on Tuesday in favour of proposals to counter the crackdown on civil society in Europe, with 526 votes for, 115 against, and 54 abstentions.

The global clampdown on civil society is swiftly becoming more severe, with some member states introducing restrictive laws. In its 2020 report, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that 57% of national and local organisations said the situation had “deteriorated” or “greatly deteriorated” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parliament’s proposals revolve around three key areas:

  • an enabling regulatory and political environment free from chilling effects, threats and attacks;
  • sustainable and non-discriminatory access to resources; and
  • civil dialogue and participation in policy-making.

Parliament underlines the continuous deterioration of civil society-related freedoms (also in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic), as well as the obligation of the EU and its member states to ensure an enabling environment for civil society organisations (CSOs). It condemns physical and verbal attacks against CSO representatives while stressing that those who work on migration in particular should not be criminalised. It also deplores “the outsourcing by public authorities of public service missions to CSOs” and voices concerns over the emergence of government-organised non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The report calls for a ‘European civic space index’ and a comprehensive civil society strategy, which should include, among other points, common minimum legal and administrative standards for CSOs across the EU and a statute of European cross-border associations and non-profit organisations. European Union funding should be more flexible and made available to more organisations.

“Civilian helpers at our borders with Ukraine are asking us to support their work, while they are out there representing justice and a more humane approach, in line with the EU’s core values,” said Rapporteur Anna Júlia Donáth (Renew, HU). “They are asking us to defend them, so they can do their job undisturbed, and to protect them from oppressive governments who persecute them based on Russia’s example. In light of the war in our neighbourhood, Parliament’s call to set up a framework to protect European civil society is ever more important,” she added.


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