EDITO – 2023 must be the year of civil society mobilisation

26 January 2023 | Op-Ed

Happy new year from ECF! 2023 is already shaping up to be a busy year as we take forward our campaign for a European Civil Society Strategy: to reverse the trend of shrinking civic space and to protect civil society’s essential role in defending and expanding democracy.

At European Civic Forum, we are kicking off the new year with a new visual identity, a refreshed website, and some new faces. In December, Aarti Narsee joined our team as Policy and Advocacy Consultant. Her experience gained over several years working at Civicus Monitor is already proving an important asset in our civic space work. And this month, we welcomed Kerttu Willamo as our new Policy and Capacity Building Officer. Kerttu will be using her human rights experience to support us as we expand our work to include digitalisation and artificial intelligence – a vital frontier in protecting our rights.

2022 was in many ways a year of civil society consolidation, beginning with a burst of momentum in our calls for a Civil Society Strategy and ending with a pan-European convening, organised by ECF in cooperation with Civil Society Europe. Over two days, we brought together over 100 representatives of CSOs, foundations, EU and international institutions with the aim of co-creating a strategic approach for an open civic space in Europe.

Now, we must make 2023 the year of mobilisation. The outputs from December’s convening will be used as a springboard as we transition into a focused campaign ahead of the 2024 European elections. Putting civil society and civic space front and centre in these elections is vital to ensure inclusive, value-based and rights-based narratives in the political debates. It is also equally important to trigger stronger mandates and responsibilities within the European Commission and Parliament regarding dialogue with and action to support civil society. Stay tuned for more on how this process will unfold!

At the same time as looking to the future, we remain focused on the tasks at hand. February will see the launch of a new Civil Society Europe Working Group to follow up on the Conference on the Future of Europe, and in the coming months, we will learn more about the European Commission’s Defence of Democracy package. The package is an encouraging sign that the Commission is beginning to listen to our calls for action to protect civic space. We will be working hard with Civil Society Europe to ensure that it is not a missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, ECF’s annual Civic Space Report will be published alongside CIVICUS Monitor’s annual report. To complement these developments, on 22 March, ECF and Civil Society Europe will host a policy debate in Brussels on the topic: “Protect Civil Society, Defend Democracy”. Register now!

Another important area of focus will be the EU Artificial Intelligence Act, which is shaping up to be one of the most important pieces of legislation in years. With the help of ECNL, we are building up our capacity and that of our members to advocate on this issue, to make sure that technology which threatens civic space and fundamental rights does not escape strict regulation.

Reversing the trend of shrinking civic space and protecting civil society is vital to defend democracy. 2022 showed that civil society was ready to come together on this issue; in 2023 we must build on this work and take our campaigning to the next level.