Civic space

“Civic space is the environment that enables people and groups – or ‘civic space actors’ – to participate meaningfully in the political, economic, social and cultural life in their societies. Vibrant civic space requires an open, secure and safe environment that is free from all acts of intimidation, harassment and reprisals, whether online or offline. Any restrictions on such a space must comply with international human rights law.” (UN Guidance Note on Protection and Promotion of Civic Space).


As part of the EU’s fundamental rights landscape, civil society organisations play a vital role in supporting the implementation of the fundamental values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The operational space of civil society organisations dealing with human and fundamental rights is relevant for the capacity of Member States to respect, protect and fulfil fundamental rights. Over the last few years, civil society organisations in FRA’s Fundamental Rights Platform (FRP) have voiced increasing concern about the legal, political and practical challenges affecting their work:

  • Regulatory environment: (changes in) legislation that affect civil society organisations’ work
  • Finance and funding: availability and accessibility of 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 civil society organisations
  • Capacity and resilience of organisations

These challenges are often cumulative, putting pressure on civil society organisations and human rights defenders. The COVID pandemic has further exacerbated challenges.

FRA’s work on civic space

FRA has been working on civic space issues in the EU since 2016, by collecting evidence and publishing reports which raise awareness about the challenges and risks for civil society organisations across the EU, while also highlighting promising practices and suggesting ways forward. Since 2018, FRA has consulted FRP organisations online every year about the experiences and challenges they face in their work.

FRA reports related to civic space issues:

FRA civic space consultations:

FRA also publishes regular updates on NGO ships involved in search and rescue in the Mediterranean and criminal investigations.