International and regional human rights organisations – including the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, different entities of the Council of Europe, as well as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/ Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) – emphasise the important role of civil society in safeguarding and promoting human rights and democracy.
In the European Union, civil society plays an important role in bringing to life the values shared between the EU and its Member States specified in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). They make a substantial contribution to the implementation of EU policies in the area of human rights. The key role of civil society is also reflected in the EU Treaties. Relevant EU policy documents, including strategies and action plans, similarly underline its importance.
Article 11 (2) of the TEU and Article 15 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) consider civil dialogue and civil society participation as tools for good governance. This is also the case in relevant EU policy documents, such as the EU Strategy to strengthen the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (‘EU Charter’), the European Democracy Action Plan, and sectorial action plans on anti-racism, LGBTQI+ equality, Roma inclusion, children’s rights, disability, victims’ rights, women’s rights or migrant integration.
Yet civil society organisations face diverse challenges across the EU. This report presents findings by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on a range of such challenges. The findings are based on research conducted by the agency’s research network, Franet, in 2020; two separate online consultations undertaken with civil society organisations in 2020; and on desk research.
FRA’s report on Protecting civic space in the EU outlines relevant legal and policy developments that have an impact on activities of CSOs working on human rights across the EU. It also presents relevant promising practices. In addition, the opinions presented below outline ways to foster a more positive working environment for civil society.
Overall, the research underscores that the situation varies considerably across Member States. 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.
In this report: