27 September 2021

Philanthropy Advocacy welcomes the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)´s second report on Protecting civic space in the EU

Philanthropy Advocacy welcomes the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) ´s second report on Protecting civic space in the EU building on the previous one from 2018. You can also have a look at the promotional video here.

The report 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.

The report recognises the fundamental role that civil society plays in European democracy at local, national and European level. However, the research underscores that the situation varies considerably across Member States. Yet it also shows that the situation in 2020 was generally more difficult than in previous years, often due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this reality, the research also points to some positive developments.

PA full supports the following recommendations emanating from the FRA report, as they are fully echoing the asks included in our European Philanthropy Manifesto:

  • Key findings and opinions. FRA in its recommendations calls on the EU institutions to:
  • Monitoring civic space, closely involving civil society actors and making use of the tools developed for strengthening civic space outside the EU, including the CSO meter;
  • Ensuring that EU legislation, its transposition and application are in line with the commitment to support civil society and do not unduly restrict fundamental freedoms, by closely consulting CSOs throughout the legislative process;
  • Contributing to civil society’s access to funding by monitoring the disbursement of European funding and take steps against undue restrictions to resources, including foreign funding; this chapter also refers to lack of or poor implementation of the non-discrimination principle in national tax laws established by the European Court of Justice, which remains a significant barrier to cross-border philanthropy as also revealed by our own mapping and practical experience.
  • Improve civil society participation in the EU policy-making process by establishing “an EU policy framework allowing for an open, transparent and regular dialogue between EU institutions and civil society at EU, national and local levels” (article 11 of TEU);
  • Monitoring harassment and attacks against civic actors and calling out Member States failing to protect them.

The report itself is further divided into following sections:

  • Overall challenges and opportunities for civil society across the EU
  • Strong and active civil society: General developments
  • Regulatory environment
  • Access to and use of funding
  • Access to and participation in decision making
  • A safe space for civil society

The FRA report covers all key components of enabling environment for civil society, including philanthropy, such as legislative frameworks, need for risk based and proportionate anti-money laundering legislation, participatory democracy, Conference on the Future of Europe or funding of civil society organisations.

The chapter on regulatory environment includes as an example of promising practice our joint publication with ECNL, How to use EU law to protect civic space, which aims providing practical guidance for CSOs to advocate and litigate using EU law to protect their rights and civic space in the EU.

The report itself is accompanied with country reports, which constitute background material for a comparative report for the project “Fundamental Rights Platform and cooperation with civil society.