29 July 2020

Threats, attacks and lack of funding for many civil society organisations in the EU

EU Fundamental Rights Agency issued a worrying report

Verbal threats, physical attacks, and lack of funding are some of the main challenges for civil society organisations working on human rights in the European Union. Moreover, almost half say that the situation in their country has deteriorated in the last year. These findings come from the second annual consultation, carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights among civil society organisations across the EU.

On 22 July 2020 the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) issued an alarming report on the state of civil society organisations in Europe in 2019, titled “Civic space – experiences of organisations in 2019.

The report reflects the views and experiences of 205 civil society organisations who participated in the survey. It shows that many of them continue to face challenges in their daily work:


·       Almost half of national and local civil society organisations say that the situation in their country has deteriorated

·       More than half say they faced verbal and online threats and attacks, including hate speech, as well as negative media reports about them

·       One in five say they experienced a physical attack, targeting either one of their employees/volunteers or their office building

·       The majority has difficulties accessing or participating in public consultations, mainly due to short deadlines or lack of feedback from the authorities

·       Many face challenges arising from regulatory frameworks, such as provisions on freedom of expression, assembly and data protection

·       Availability of, and access to funding is a problem for most civil society organisations. The proposed EU Justice, Rights and Values Fund could assist their finances.


Civil society is an essential component of the democratic system. The quantity, quality and intensity of obstacles affecting civil society’s ability to carry out their work provide an indication of a country’s general state of fundamental rights, democracy and rule of law. Civil society organisations need a favourable operating environment, which would allow them to work without arbitrary or unjustified restrictions. According to the report, challenges for the civic space often arise from regulatory frameworks, in particular from provisions on data protection, civil dialogue, transparency and lobbying, charitable status, political campaigning, taxation as well as on money laundering and counter-terrorism. Furthermore, limited access to public and private funding remains a challenge.

They also criticise the application and reporting procedures as burdensome. Respondents indicate that funding is not sufficient for the type of activities they carry out, and point to the lack of core funding for their infrastructure. The proposed EU Justice, Rights and Values Fund could potentially provide critical funding for a wide range of areas.


A better overall operating environment is also a relevant issue for the European philanthropy sector, which could be more effective if it enjoyed better regulatory measures and better protection mechanisms. The Philanthropy Advocacy secretariat is currently conducting research in 40 European countries on the impact of EU legal and fiscal regulations on the operating environment for foundations, such as anti-money laundering legislation and data protection rules.


The results of this large-scale survey will be published in the form of country profiles at our website in the third quarter of 2020.