Defence of Democracy Package: ECF Responds to the latest European Commission Consultation

03 October 2023 | Defence of Democracy, Position

The European Civic Forum has responded to the latest European Commission consultation on the Defence of Democracy package. 

The European Commission is currently engaging in a consultation on the Defence of Democracy (DoD) package which aims to bring together legislative and non-legislative measures, to “strengthen resilience to covert foreign interference and encourage civic engagement in our democracies”.

As part of the consultation, the European Commission sent out a questionnaire to targeted stakeholders in preparation of an impact assessment to support the package. The Commission proposes questions along three possible policy options to capture “transparency of interest representation activities carried out on behalf of third countries and impacting the formulation or implementation of policy or legislation or decision-making processes in the EU.”

We welcome the Commission’s decision to postpone the package in order to conduct an impact assessment following a letter to President Von der Leyen, sent by 230 civil society organisations, expressing concerns over the package and the legislative process. We also welcome the Commission’s willingness to listen to and engage in a dialogue with civil society on the legislative proposal and safeguards for civil society. We remain committed to engaging with the Commission on this policy file to ensure that there will be no negative impacts on civic actors, and that the adopted measures are conducive to strengthening European democracy.

However, we remain concerned that the legislative proposals to regulate “transparency of interest representation activities carried out on behalf of third countries” are not fit for the purpose of defending democracy or for tackling foreign interference. On the contrary, they will have negative consequences on democracy, including on freedom of association, expression, participation, media freedom and academic freedom, outweighing the potential benefits by increasing the risk of weakening democratic resilience.

In identifying and linking covert foreign interference with foreign funding (‘high amounts of money from a third country”), the proposed measures are conducive to creating a negative presumption and stigmatising CSOs who receive foreign funding. The negative impacts of foreign funding legislation on civil society have been well-documented, including in countries like the US, and the UK, and Hungary in the EU. On the contrary, there is little evidence of the potential effectiveness of the tool for the intended aim of increasing transparency of malign foreign influence (it is obvious that those with negative intentions will find other tools to get the support they need as soon as a mechanism of registration will come into effect).

This is why we continue to call on the Commission to refrain from introducing any new policy or legal measure which seeks to target foreign funding for not-for profit entities who act in the interest of public/common good.