Civil Society is a crucial actor for an inclusive society and a functioning democracy and intervenes when rights and rule of law are in danger. Yet, even in the European Union, civil society organisations and rights defenders are subject to restrictive laws and funding frameworks, limited participation, intimidation and harassment amongst other restrictions. The European Civic Forum and CIVCUS Monitor’s annual reports – to be published in March – showcase a deterioration of civic space but also important stories of resilience. Join us in Brussels or online on 22 March for a policy debate!
The European and national institutions have an important role to play to guarantee, safeguard and expand the space for civil society to operate and thrive, in order to defend democracy and the rule of law. The European Commission’s rule of law report is a key mechanism for civil society to raise concerns at the EU level. Additionally, the 2022 European Commission’s report on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU which focused on civic space highlights the need to protect, support and empower CSOs and rights defenders. However, the success of these tool lies in the commitment to turn the findings into prompt and effective actions to respond to the challenges identified. For this reason, in June 2022, over 300 civil society organisations called on the President of the European Commission to develop a European Civil Society Strategy.
The upcoming review of the European Democracy Action Plan and the upcoming Defence of Democracy package provides a crucial moment for European institutions to strengthen the ability of civil society actors to act as democratic antibodies at national and EU level and empower their participation in the EU policymaking processes.
In light of the above, the European Civic Forum (ECF), Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS will host a policy dialogue involving key EU policy and decisionmakers, regional and national civil society organisations titled “Protect Civil Society, Defend Democracy,” on 22 March 2023. The aim of the event is to present the findings of annual civic space reports and studies in the framework of the rule of law consultation and engage in a discussion on how to defend civil society and its role in society and democracy. The approach for this policy debate will be horizontal and participative, with diverse speakers (including MEPs, Commissioners and civil society actors). The event is part of the campaign for a European Civil Society Strategy.