30 November 2021

Civil Society Organisations including philanthropy call for an EU Civil Society Strategy

At a conference, organised by the Diversity Europe Group of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in partnership with Civil Society Europe and with the support of the EESC’s Liaison Group and Associational Life Category, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and their umbrella organisations reiterated their call for an EU Civil Society Strategy and the creation for European Statutes. Appropriate follow-up to the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) and a regular and structured dialogue with CSOs were considered key aspects to rebuilding citizens’ trust in politics and strengthening European democracy.

Participating organisations and individuals showed determination to strengthen their cooperation in order to prevent a further shrinking and shifting of the civic space and to make the case for effective civil dialogue. Against a backdrop of increasing political and economic challenges to CSOs, funding, especially for small organisations, effective legal protection, capacity-building and recourse to existing EU complaints procedures will be crucial. Participants called on the European Institutions for support.

In her video message, Vera Jourová, European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, highlighted the key role of civil society organisations in upholding the common values on which the EU is founded and outlined funding opportunities to empower them.

EESC president Christa Schweng drew attention to the authoritarian shift and the threats posed to fundamental rights and the rule of law in some Member States, she also reiterated the Committee’s call for an adequate follow-up to the CoFoE through an online dashboard. The EESC president also outlined the role of EESC’s Liaison Group to engage with CSOs, also in the context of the CoFoE.

During the conference two reports on civic space were presented.

Filip Pazderski from Institute of Public Affairs presented the first results of the EESC study on ‘The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on fundamental rights and civic space‘ (European Civic Forum, Civil Society Europe, European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law, Institute of Public Affairs). The survey confirmed that the most deteriorations in CSO´s work took place due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the funding, in particular, the restrictions affected foremost the freedom to assemble, access to national support, access to policy makers, and funding.

Linda Ravo from Civil Liberties presented the study ‘Civil dialogue in Europe and at National level’ (European Civic Forum and Civil Society Europe). The study revealed that the lack of structure, regularity, transparency and inclusiveness are seen as negatively affecting current practices of EU civil dialogue. On the other hand the results of the study have shown the need for sufficient investments to promote civil society participation and active engagement, for conceptualizing civil dialogue in light of EU fundamental rights & values and urge for inclusiveness and equal participation of all diverse groups within society. The study in its conclusions encourages the EU to be more proactive in supporting organised civil society to make use of, ideally improved, tools to participate in EU policy making.

One of the speakers during the day, Rupert Strachwitz from Maecanata Foundation, a member of the European Foundation Centre, presented some reflections from the report   “Understanding Civil Society in Europe”. Rupert made the point that despite the numerous differences from country to country with regard to function, status, relationship with the state and market, and more, civil society is not a recent phenomenon or short-lived fashion, but belongs to European cultural traditions, has well established structures, and will remain a decisive factor and driving force in the development of Europe.

Hanna Surmatz from the PA Secretariat stressed the case for the EU civil society strategy and need for structured dialogue between the EU and organised civil society including philanthropy in line with Article 11 of the EU Treaty. She also emphasized the need for national laws to be aligned with the EU law and for overcoming barriers to cross-border philanthropy and public benefit action, see PA manifesto.