A survey of civil society organisations in Europe conducted  in early 2016  by Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS shows evidence of a shrinking civic space in Europe.

The survey aimed at assessing civil society’s perception and confidence in key civic space freedoms such as freedoms of assembly, association and expression; as well as their views on key challenges and wider political trends.

“While considered less of an issue for Europe, compared with the majority of the other parts of the world, evidence shows that the operating contexts for civil society are becoming more challenging also in EU member states” says Jean-Marc Roirant, Civil Society Europe Chair.

An array of 300 diverse associations and NGOs active in diverse fields such as human rights, non discrimination, culture, social policies, health, education, environment, development cooperation, gender equality and sports have taken part in the survey.

58,7% of the respondents consider that there is a tendency for deterioration in conditions for civil society, despite existing effective legal framework for civic freedoms in EU countries. In particular for 52% participants in Eastern Europe, conditions for civil society in their country are poor.

Main areas of concern are the decrease in financial support, the increased conditionality of funding that limits advocacy activities, the lack of effective and adequate consultation mechanisms and the development of measures and legislation in the area of security, and surveillance that have a chilling effect on civic space.

In terms of the political environment, 84% of respondents see an increase of nationalism and of discrimination against immigrants and ethnic minorities in Europe, and over 63% believe that recent political developments have increased polarisation between sections of society.

Finally for 73.6% government support to civil society promotion of human rights and democratic values is insufficient and over two thirds of respondents would like the EU to do more to guarantee civic space in their country.

These findings are complemented with evidence from the updates on civic space in European Union countries provided to the CIVICUS Monitor – ‘Tracking Civic Space’ and developed by CSE members Solidar and ENNA (European Network of Civil Society Associations) in cooperation with Civil Society Europe. The Monitor is a research tool created by CIVICUS to measure civic space developments at a global scale on a regular basis. 

These reports comes just a couple of days after the adoption by the European Parliament of a proposal for a Union Pact for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights and an annual European report analysing all EU countries including on civic freedoms, and shows the need for a EU wide debate on this issue together with civil society.

Civic Space in Europe Survey Report

Civic Space in the EU – Civicus Monitor

About Civil Society Europe:

Civil Society Europe (CSE) brings together 28 European networks of civil society organisations (CSOs) working towards dialogue on European policy around the shared values of Equality, Solidarity, Inclusiveness and Democracy. Our main objectives: to facilitate and enable horizontal and vertical dialogue between European civil society organisations and policy-makers; and to help strengthen CSOs in their activities and relations with the institutions.

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