7 December 2020

European Democracy Action Plan – a step in the right direction, but more needs to follow

Last week, the European Commission presented its European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP) with a view to empowering citizens and building more resilient democracies across the EU.

The PA Secretariat earlier this year submitted its comments to the EDAP consultation, in addition to our co-signing of a joint Civil Society Europe contribution and our contribution to a more in-depth analysis on the issue by the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD). In each of these contributions, we called for recognition of and support for civil society, including philanthropic organisations. We also asked for further strengthening the civil dialogue of Article 11 TEU to ensure that civil society actors, including philanthropic organisations, are involved in shaping EU policies. We also underlined the importance of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

PA reads the EDAP with great interest and welcomes its clear commitment to democracy, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. The EDAP recognizes the importance of relevant EU structural and investment funds, particularly the proposed Rights and Values programme for the period 2021-2027, to support and reinforce civil society capacity and include civil society organisations as partners with the public sector at different levels.

We also appreciate that the EDAP commits to fighting the abuse of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) against investigative journalists and legitimate civil society actors. Finally, the EDAP promises to increase its efforts to strengthen media literacy and empower citizens to make informed decisions through supporting civil society. The EU will also support initiatives aimed at helping civil society actors to participate in public debate and strengthen cooperation across civil society at the European level. As EPD indicates, our horizontal demands on the EDAP’s broadened scope, use of various tools, inclusive and clear implementation process and a positive narrative were largely met.

However, as our other partner, ECNL, rightly points out, the EDAP is silent on recognition of civil society as a pillar of democracy and on the deterioration of civic space within the EU. It forgets that improving public participation, increasing the capacity of civil society and strengthening democracy cannot be done without an enabling environment for civic space. Therefore, we welcome the EDAP as a positive and necessary step to tackling some key challenges to democracy, but nevertheless, the need for our continuous engagement around a broad range of civil society issues with the European Commission remains unchanged.