What is Civic Space?
What is civic space? Put simply, civic space is the political, legislative, social and economic environment which enables citizens to come together, share their interests and concerns and act to influence and shape their societies. Civic space enables people to pursue multiple, at times competing, points of view both indivudally and collectively.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova (right) speaks at a civil society convening in December 2022, alongside ECF Secretary General Alexandrina Najmowicz and ECF Vice President Jan Robert Suesser.
How we assess civic space
European Civic Forum powers Civic Space Watch – a platform which monitors developments in civic space in Europe. We base our analysis on five elements that we believe are crucial for an open and vibrant civic space:
1. A conducive political, cultural and socio-economic landscape: the historical legacy on political culture, together with socio-economic structures and contingent events profoundly shape the public’s understanding of the role of civil society and the values it embodies, the activities it pursues, thus influencing public trust and support.
2. The respect of civic freedoms: a supportive legal and regulatory framework for civic freedoms, in particular freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and its effective implementation ensure the full-stretching, correct functioning and protection of civil society space. Governing bodies have the duty to protect the civic space, refrain from, investigate and discipline actions, laws and statements that threat civic freedoms.
3. A supportive framework for CSOs’ financial viability and sustainability: supportive legislation on funding, including foreign and international funding, and availability of sufficient and predictable resources are crucial to civil society’s capacities, independence and long-term strategic planning.
4. The dialogue between civil society and governing bodies: governing bodies must pursue policies and narratives that empower citizens and their organisations to be meaningfully engaged in the public debate and policy-making.
5. Civil society’s responses to challenges to democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights.
Civic Space Watch
Civic Space Watch collects findings and analyses from actors in Europe on the conditions for civil society to operate, capturing national and trans-European trends in civic space. Through ongoing monitoring of social media and regular contact and interviews with a strong network of members and partners on the ground, we strive to provide easy access to resources and improve information sharing within civil society across Europe with, policy-makers and the media.
Civic Space Report 2023: Fighting for Democratic Empowerment and Resilience
Civil society is a cornerstone of democracy and rule of law. In the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine we are reminded that with few means and little power, in the context of conflicts, pandemics or natural disasters, civil society organisations and volunteers help people in need. They are often the first ones to arrive and the last ones to leave. They advocate for the common good and to ensure laws are not driven by corporate interest and for-profit pursues.
But across the EU, NGOs, associations and movements are experiencing pressures and challenges faced with the erosion of democratic processes and breaches of the rule of law.
In our Civic Space Report 2023, we highlight similar trends and patterns of deterioration of civic freedoms emerging across Europe.
How can we protect and expand civic space?
Civic space is shrinking across Europe. To reverse this trend, we need a European Civil Society Strategy to protect and expand civic space in Europe. Find out more below!
Check out the video from our recent Civic Space convening!
Read more about our convening of representatives of CSOs, donors and international institutions, including our recommendations to the European Commission!
Towards Vibrant European Civic and Democratic Space
The case for a strategy
Civic Spaces, Episode 1: Strategising for an open civic space
Listen to Episode 1 of Civic Spaces, where we discuss the need for a Civil Society Strategy!