EDITO: Reflecting on 2023, preparing for the next five years

02 May 2024 | Op-Ed

Last week, ECF members and staff gathered in Marseille for our General Assembly. There, we discussed many topics, including reflecting on our achievements and lessons from 2023 and looking ahead to the European elections and beyond!

2023 was indeed an active year, with several extremely important EU policy dossiers to follow: the draft European Cross-Border Association directive, the Defence of Democracy package, the Artificial Intelligence Act, and the follow-up of the annual Fundamental Rights Report, to name just a few. All these will have lasting impacts – positive or negative – on European civic space, and thus required constant attention and active advocacy.

But 2023 was also a year of crises, such as the war in Ukraine that continues to sow death and destruction, or the dramatic escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine, and its impacts in Europe, to which ECF also had to respond.

Today, European leaders are proclaiming a state of “war economy”, they say we need to “prepare citizens for war”, and many European states are talking again about compulsory military service, while military spending and investments are increasing. It is in this worrying climate that we approach the European elections.

In many European countries, the extreme right is on the rise, hoping to enter Parliament and the European institutions in the next EU elections. The political majority leading Europe is moving to the right in an attempt to normalise the reactionary offensive. There have been backtracks on the Green New Deal, and immigration agreements with Mediterranean and African regimes to prevent the arrival of migrants. The nightmare of austerity, with its cuts to public services, has returned to the negotiating table of the new Stability Pact.

At the same time, the European Council is currently working on its strategic agenda for 2024-2029 and as we can read from the leaked working draft, it is a bleak picture, and one full of dangerous political choices ahead of us. All the more reason why the fight to keep European civic space open and alive is crucial. We must stand against all criminalisation, repression, restriction, and limitations.

European democratic civil society has an enormous responsibility: this is the time when all positive energy must be used to reverse the course. For a just peace, for the rights of all, for climate justice and for democracy and participation – all of which are possible, necessary, and indispensable to guarantee us peace and a common future.