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Civil society space

A growing number of civil society organisations active in human rights across the EU have reported to the FRA that it has become harder for them to fulfil their role to contribute to protecting, promoting and fulfilling human rights inside the EU. In particular, they point to their increasing difficulties to speak and operate due to legal and practical restrictions on their activities, including due to increased difficulties in accessing funding. In the framework of its cooperation with civil society, FRA therefore initiated a project on enabling and protecting civil society space.


FRA report on challenges for civil society

FRA published a report on “Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU” on 18 January 2018. The report looks at the challenges facing CSOs in the EU in four categories, which broadly mirror the conditions elaborated by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights necessary for creating and maintaining civil society space. Challenges falling into these categories can be observed – to differing degrees – across the EU. These challenges are often cumulative, putting significant pressures on CSOs.

  • Regulatory environment: (changes in) legislation that affect CSOs’ work;
  • Finance and funding: hurdles to accessing, and ensuring the sustainability of, financial resources – including long-term support and immaterial resources;
  • Right to participation: difficulties in accessing decision-makers and providing input into law- and policymaking;
  • Ensuring a safe space: attacks on, and harassment of, human rights defenders, including negative discourse aimed at delegitimising and stigmatising CSOs. 

The FRA report provides an overview of evidence collected, and also points to the many areas where data on civil society space is either non-existent or patchy. It makes suggestions where more research as well as concrete action is needed to understand and address better the factors that enable or hamper civil society activity inside the EU. The report raises awareness about the challenges and risks for civil society organisations across the EU, but also about promising practices.

Consulting the FRP about experiences on civil society space

Building on its report, FRA consulted civil society organisations about their own experiences, in the key areas as identified. While the report brought together official data, this consultation collected information about the real-life experiences of organisations. All organisations that are registered in the FRP database were invited to contribute through the online questionnaire (available for download in English and in French (pdf, 602.24 KB)) which was open during September 2018.

Outcomes were summarised in a paper, which was published on 26 November 2018 when it was presented at the European Commission’s Colloquium on Fundamental Rights.

FRA cooperation with foundations and funders

FRA has also intensified its cooperation with funders and foundations active in social change and human rights .