What is the Defence of Democracy Package?
The European Commission’s Defence of Democracy package aims to “strengthen resilience to covert foreign interference and encourage civic engagement in our democracies”.
As part of the package, the Commission intends to introduce a directive for “common transparency and accountability standards for interest representation services directed or paid for from outside the EU” – a move which has alarmed NGOs, academics and journalists.
It will also put forward recommendations for tackling covert foreign interference from outside the EU, securing resilient electoral processes, and promoting civic engagement.
We support the package’s aim to “nurture, strengthen and protect” democracy, and its recognition of the role of civil society in contributing to democratic resilience.
However, we are concerned that the framing of the package fails to target the root causes of democratic challenges and instead focuses at length on tackling “covert foreign interference” as the major cause for the weakening of democratic institutions and processes.
The proposed foreign interference law – why it is a threat to democracy.
The proposed ‘foreign interference’ directive has raised concerns among civil society across Europe.
The law would introduce ‘transparency and accountability standards’ for civil society organisations, requiring them to disclose funding from outside the EU and creating a register of organisations that receive such funding.
While at first glance this doesn’t seem so threatening, the proposal echoes other proposed ‘foreign influence legislation’ that has had negative consequences, narrowing space for civil society to perform its functions and silencing critical voices.
Furthermore, this directive is similar to legislation that the EU has itself opposed in the past, undermining the EU’s credibility to speak out against attacks on democracy abroad.
As a result of our efforts, the European Commission accepted our demands for an impact assessment, and delayed publication of the package. However, we’re clear that any such law, regardless of safeguards, can and will be weaponised by anti-democratic actors.
What should the EU do instead?
Instead of focusing on ‘foreign interference’, the EU should focus on creating internal democratic resilience.
Democratic resilience requires good inputs – mechanisms for diverse voices to express their needs – and good outputs – policies that deliver on them. This is what European democracy is lacking today.
So rather than focus on foreign interference – and thus play into narratives used by anti-democratic forces, we should focus on improving things closer to home. That means empowering civil society, which in its diversity gives a platform for people to express their needs and wishes.
Ahead of the 2024 European elections, a coalition of civil society organisations has launched the Civil Society for EU campaign, which calls for a Civil Society Strategy – to protect and expand Civic Space – and a Civil Dialogue Agreement, to put civil society on a fair footing. Learn more about the campaign in our manifesto!
Our response to the European Commission Call for Evidence
In April, we published our submission to the European Commission’s Call for Evidence for the Defence of Democracy package.
Joint NGO statement: Why we are against an EU FARA
In May, 230 civil society organisations wrote to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urging a rethink of the proposed directive on foreign interference.
Joint MEP Letter to Commission: #DontTouchMyNGO
48 MEPs from four different political groups write to President von der Leyen, urging a rethink of the proposed foreign interference directive.
Op-ed: Foreign interference is not the biggest threat to democracy.
Writing for Euronews, ECF co-presidents Raffaella Bolini and Jean-Marc Roirant explain why to defend democracy we need to protect civil society.
Civic Space Report 2023: Fighting for Democratic Empowerment and Resilience
The 2023 edition of our annual Civic Space Report demonstrates that while civil society remains the bedrock of democracy, it is under increasing pressure across the EU.
The European Civic Forum has responded to the latest European Commission consultation on the Defence of Democracy package. The European Commission...
On 6 July, the European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova organised a second meeting with CSOs to discuss challenges and concerns regarding the...
EDITO: As elections loom, civil society secures a partial victory on the foreign interference directive.
With the elections looming, the institutions are eager to finalise work on the remaining major legislative files.
However, the Defence of Democracy package, originally expected in June, has been delayed following widespread alarm at its proposed foreign interference directive.
The European Commission is set to publish its proposed Defence of Democracy package, following a short and limited Call for Evidence. In our...