28
July
2020

Civic space – experiences of organisations in 2019

This paper presents key findings from FRA’s second
consultation of its Fundamental Rights Platform,
focusing on the experiences of civil society
organisations (CSOs) working on human rights.
FRA started an annual consultation with organisations
participating in its platform in 2018.
Overview

The second consultation, again conducted online, provides a snapshot of the situation in 2019. It shows that many of the CSOs that FRA cooperates with continue to face challenges in their daily work.

FRA started an annual consultation with organisations participating in its Fundamental Rights Platform (FRP) in 2018, focusing on the challenges they experience in their daily work. The consultation followed the publication of FRA’s 2018 report on Challenges facing civil society working on human rights in the EU, which highlighted different areas of concern, based on data collected by its FRANET research network and expert interviews.

The second FRP consultation, again conducted online, provides a snapshot of the situation in 2019. This paper summarises the key findings reflecting the views and experiences of 205 CSOs who participated in the second survey. (The agency invited all 742 organisations in the platform database to do so.) The paper reports aggregate figures, given that the response rate per country would not allow for a representative representation of country data.

Key findings

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are an essential component of the democratic system. They are engaged in a wide range of social and human rights issues, advocating rights-compliant legal and policy responses and holding those in power accountable. The quantity, quality and intensity of obstacles affecting CSOs’ ability to carry out their work provide an indication of a country’s general state of fundamental rights, democracy and rule of law.

Many of the human rights organisations that FRA cooperates with continue to face challenges in their daily work, the agency’s second consultation of its Fundamental Rights Platform shows. The findings underline the continued relevance of the opinions FRA formulated in its 2018 report on civil society, which EU institutions and Member States should consider.

  • Only one in 10 respondents – from civil society organisations working at national and local level, as well as at the EU or international level – say that the situation ‘improved’ or ‘strongly improved’ in 2019.
  • Among respondents from civil society organisations working at national and local level, almost half say that the situation in their country ‘deteriorated’ or ‘strongly deteriorated’. The rest of such respondents believe that the situation ‘stayed the same’.
  • The responses from organisations working at the EU or international level were slightly more positive. Under half say the situation ‘remained the same’. However, over a third of such organisations believe that the situation ‘deteriorated’ or ‘strongly deteriorated’.
  • More than half of the respondents 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.
  • Many respondents participated in public consultations during 2019, but the majority had difficulties accessing such consultations and with the participation process. The main persisting challenges appear to be short deadlines, as well as a lack of accountability by, and feedback from, the authorities conducting the consultations.
  • Challenges also arise from regulatory frameworks, in particular from provisions on freedom of expression and assembly, as well as data protection regulations, and legislation on consultation/participation. Often, the unintended (side-) effects of laws create practical challenges.
  • Inadequate resources and limited access to funding remain challenges. Respondents indicate that insufficient funding is available for the type of activities they carry out, and point to the lack of core funding for their infrastructure. They also criticise the application and reporting procedures as burdensome.
  • The prevalence of short-term, project-based funding makes it difficult for CSOs to plan and operate sustainably in the long term. Adequately resourced, the proposed EU Justice, Rights and Values Fund would be an important initiative in this regard.