Civil Society Europe published today its response to the European Commission annual report Rule of law stakeholders consultation which has been prepared by its civic space working Group.
Since a few years we assist in the EU to a worrying trend of restrictive measures in a number of Member States which is negatively affecting civic space and the ability of civil society actors to carry out their legitimate tasks. Civil society represents constituencies from a wide range of sectors; its organisations contribute to enhancing and promoting the effective access to civic, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights for many as well as mobilise through campaigning, advocacy and judicial proceedings when these are not respected.
In times of crisis, civil society organisations and activists are often among the first to inform public opinion, advocate and take action for the respect of the rule of law in national and international fora, and therefore are themselves often one of the first targets of those who aim to undermine the rule of law. Civil society actors also play an essential role in improving and protecting a free and pluralist media environment through education, training and watchdog functions. CSOs have crucial expertise dealing with vulnerable groups, thus are key actors in promoting fair laws.
A shrinking and threatened civic space with legal or practical restrictions to the freedom of assembly, association and expression and the right to participation is an important indicator of a weak rule of law environment.
In CSE contribution you will find some trends concerning particularly civic freedoms and the right to participation which we identified across the EU since the beginning of 2019 as well as recent developments linked to the Covid-19 crisis that are impacting adversely civic space.
Finally the following recommendations are addressed to the EU: including systematically within the annual rule of law review a comprehensive assessment of the civic space in each Member State, Involving civil society organisations closely in all elements of the review cycle, ensuring that national authorities organise an open and meaningful dialogue with CSOs, making sure that when deficiencies on civil society freedoms and civic space are identified, they are addressed with the whole array of tools available at EU level, developing an enabling civic space by creating at EU level a solid framework for civil dialogue and participation and identifying challenges and opportunities in legislation and policies, ensuring that adequate public support and funding is granted to civil society and rights groups. To conclude crisis support to the civil society sector should also be part of recovery measures in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Please find here our response to the annual rule of law stakeholders consultation