Renew Europe leads report on the protection of civil society from undue governmental influence

Author: Caroline Rhawi

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Increased threats, harassment and smearing against Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has limited civic space's capacity to operate in the last years. Recently, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that up to 60 per cent of CSOs have experienced a deterioration of the situation since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To counter this development, Anna Donáth's (Hungary, Momentum) report on the Shrinking Space for Civil Society, expected to be adopted this week by the European Parliament, sets out a number of proposals to preserve and strengthen civic space at local, regional and national level throughout the EU.

Anna Donáth, Member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and rapporteur on the report on the Shrinking Space for Civil Society, says:

"We have seen time and time again how crucial it is for our democracies with a nurturing and safe environment for civil society organisations. CSOs step up whenever the fabric of our democracies is under threat or whenever there are gaps in the services the state should offer. Just think about how important their work is right now, helping hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Ukraine. Looking after them, feeding them, helping them to find shelter.

This report is coming out at a crucial time when we must ensure that the environment CSOs operate in are free from harassment and stigmatisation and make sure that laws and policies are not put in place by governments to shrink the space they work in."

The report stresses that for Civic Space to thrive, it must be an environment free from undue interference and intimidations by both state and non-state actors. The Commission is asked to adopt a comprehensive Civil Society Strategy, which should include minimum legal standards, a statute of European cross-border associations and non-profit organisations, and developing flexible access to Union funding.

The report also asks for the creation of a European Civic Space Index, and for the inclusion of a dedicated chapter on civic space, including country-specific recommendations, in the European Commission's annual Rule of Law reports.