While the importance of civil society in fostering and protecting the EU values and advancing European policies is reflected in a wide variety of EU policies and strategies, experts stress that the European institutions tend to view civil society as an ally to implement EU policies, rather than a partner or a sector in itself. This is seen as an important reason why the EU approach to addressing the sector and the challenges it faces remains reactive and piecemeal, lacking a comprehensive vision.
The EU Civil Society Strategy should genuinely and unequivocally recognise the EU’s commitment to protect, nurture and support civil society and civic space.
As called for by the European Parliament own-initiative draft report on shrinking civic space in the EU, to be debated on Monday 7 March in the Plenary, the EU Civil Society Strategy should “genuinely and unequivocally recognise the EU’s commitment to protect, nurture and support civil society and civic space. It should integrate all existing tools and complement them with new ones to fill existing monitoring, prevention, support and protection gaps”. The goal of such a strategy would be to identify civil society organisations as key actors for the European institutions and European market, defining the sector at the European level, and setting political priorities to develop its capacities and support it when facing attacks.
The European civil society strategy should recognise and be based on the five principles
- Recognise and speak up for civil society;
- Secure an enabling environment for civil society;
- Monitor, document and analyse challenges faced by civil society;
- Protect civil society from attacks;
- Take legal actions to uphold the role of CSOs.
The strategy should be grounded on Article 2 and 11 of the TEU and define civil society and civic space, recognise the diversity of not for profit actors in terms of structures, modus operandi, scope and actions.
The Strategy should also be a political tool for the European Commission to use its powers under the Treaties to propose EU legislation filling gaps and addressing challenges affecting civil society actors across the EU (e.g. on SLAPPs or regulatory standards), providing guidance on how to use existing EU rules to better protect civil society (e.g. rules on hate speech and crime and internal market freedoms), to use its enforcement powers against Member States which unduly restrict civic space in violation of EU laws and to regularly engage in dialogue with the sector.
The issue of civil society and civic space is gaining traction and relevance at the European level also thanks to the work of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the European Parliament and the long term campaigning of European networks and national organisations. Additionally, methods developed and work done regarding civil society in external relations may provide a good starting point.
All interested CSOs and civic actors shall therefore call for the adoption of an #EUCivilSocietyStrategy by urging MEPs to adopt the report debated at the European Parliament today. Join the social media campaign to call for this.