16 March 2023

Philea welcomes Swedish Presidency Council recommendations on fundamental rights and civic space

The European Council approved its conclusions on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on 10 March 2023. Philea welcomes the clear recognition in the conclusions of the role of the civic space in protecting and promoting fundamental rights in the European Union.

Although Council conclusions are not legally binding, they do carry significant political weight. In fact, all EU Member States have agreed to them. Through its conclusions, the Council makes its views known and, with the backing of all EU Member States, suggests a line of action. The recommendations send a timely message to the Member States and the European Commission on the importance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders. In the conclusions, these actors are qualified as an “indispensable element in the system of checks and balances in a healthy democracy”. The Council also emphasises that “unjustified restrictions to their operating space can present a threat to the rule of law.”

Council suggestions are aligned with Philea’s Manifesto

The recommendations largely mirror our European Philanthropy Manifesto. For example, as the Manifesto already highlighted in 2019, the Council invites Member States to “safeguard and promote an enabling environment for CSOs”. In a reference to the EU Fundamental Rights Charter, the conclusions recall the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (article 12), as well as freedom of expression and information (article 11). The conclusions also reiterate the importance of civil dialogue (article 11 TEU) and ensuring meaningful participation of CSOs when developing policies. The Member States are specifically invited to “protect the civic space by ensuring that no unnecessary or arbitrary restrictions are adopted, such as registration requirements and tax regimes that specifically target the civic space in an unfavourable manner”. The Council finally also addresses the European Commission, inviting it to protect, support and empower CSOs and human rights defenders. The Commission should do so inter alia by “maintaining an open, regular, transparent and inclusive dialogue” and by supporting CSOs through “adequate and accessible funding”.

How did the conclusions come about?

The Council conclusions are a follow up to the Council Conclusions of 5 March 2021 on strengthening the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union. They build on the European Commission “2022 Annual Report on the Application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: A thriving civic space for upholding fundamental rights in the EU” as well as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights 2022 report “Europe’s Civil society – still under pressure”. Coincidentally (or perhaps on purpose), the Commission report was issued on the same day, 6 December 2022, when Philea brought together policymakers and philanthropic organisations from across the EU institutions for the 2022 edition of EuroPhilantopics in Philanthropy House, Brussels. At the closing of this meeting, the floor was given to the director of Nyt Europa to introduce its exhibition hosted at Philanthropy House “Art of Fundamental Rights”.

During the EESC Civil Society Days held at the beginning of March 2023, Philea co-organised a session in which Ingrid Bellander Todino of European Commission DG Justice referred to these Council conclusions as a key initiative to support civic space. One civil society representative present clearly welcomed the initiative, but also inquired about how civil society was engaged in the drafting process.

What are the next steps?

The Swedish Council Presidency is preparing its Conference on the institutional protection of fundamental rights in times of crisis, which will take place in Lund, Sweden, from 20-21 April 2023. The European Commission is also preparing deeper-dive events on protection, participation and funding.

In light of these new developments, Philea is preparing to engage its constituency in a revamping of the European Philanthropy Manifesto, which will be presented at the next annual EuroPhilantopics at the end of 2023 ahead of the elections to the European Parliament in Spring 2024. Philea is also collaborating with wider European civil society on the matter.


Hanna Hanses
Policy Manager