Civil society outlines the difficulties facing it

Civil society is increasingly finding it harder to operate and face threats for simply doing their work, according to a paper from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

The ‘Civil society space: views of organisations’ conference paper summarises the outcomes of a consultation FRA held with its civil society network, the Fundamental Rights Platform, about their experiences. Nearly 140 organisations gave their views.

Civil society organisations are an essential part of a well-functioning democracy. They help ‘give a voice’ to people on issues that matter to them, and offer assistance. They also help monitor governments’ and parliaments’ activities, and hold authorities to account for their actions. Their direct contact with people also makes them an invaluable source of practical hands-on advice to policy makers.

However, to play this role they need a safe and enabling environment. This paper reveals that this is often not the case: over half of the organisations that responded report that they perceive the general situation is worsening for civil society.

The same proportion also says that they face threats or attacks because of their work. This can take the form of verbal and online threats, physical attacks, damage to their property as well as negative media campaigns and threats to their security online.

The vast majority of organisations say they have been affected by legal changes. Typically, this relates to taxation, freedom of expression and assembly and transparency or lobbying laws.

Financing was also difficult. Three quarters report facing obstacles in resourcing or funding. Organisations point to a lack of core funding, which is crucial for them to operate generally beyond project-financed work. In addition, almost a half would welcome funding for education or awareness raising campaigns.

A final challenge that almost all experienced relates to public consultations. They rarely receive feedback on the outcomes of a consultation or on the impact of their contributions. Being not given enough time to properly provide input was also an issue.

This paper was produced for the European Commission’s annual Fundamental Rights Colloquium on ‘Democracy in the EU’. The colloquium takes place in Brussels from 26 to 27 November.

It complements FRA’s January 2018 report on ‘Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU’ by providing first-hand evidence from civil society organisations of the difficulties they face.

The consultation confirms earlier findings and recommendations from FRA’s report.

It also includes key recommendations from the Fundamental Rights Forum 2018.