Freedom of association?

Freedom of association is the citizens’ right to associate with others who share similar priorities and concerns to take joint actions. It includes the right to create or take part in formal and informal groups, such as charities, NGOs, political movements and parties, religious groups, and community-based groups. Freedom of association is an essential complement to other civil, political and social rights.

In Europe, freedom of association is recognised and protected by national laws and supranational legislation by the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe. For example, article 12.1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union as integrated into the Lisbon Treaty (2007) states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels, in particular in political, trade union and civic matters, which implies the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interests.”

Civil society organisations serve their communities in multiple ways. They complement the action of the State by delivering services to vulnerable sections of the society such as disables and migrants; they conduct social research that brings expertise to governing bodies on highly socially sensitive policy areas such as social care and health care; they educate the society to human rights and democracy. Most importantly, they are often the only pressure groups advocating for the benefit of society at large rather than partisan or sectoral interests. These organisations are crucial for safeguarding the rule of law, and democracy.

To us, civil society organisations:

In both their action-oriented and advocacy oriented capacity, they contribute to keeping our societies inclusive and democratic. When their critical role is disregarded, denied or threatened, the whole democratic space is shrinking, both at EU and national levels.

While the law protects freedom of association, this can be hindered by policies directly or indirectly targeting civil society organisations’ ability to carry out their activities and advocate for change. The most heavily affected organisations are those working on human rights and calling for respect of the rule of law.

Obstacles to the work of NGOs include harassment, surveillance and anti-NGO laws. However, state and non-state groups often have at their disposals more subtle techniques to hinder their actions. Anti-corruption and money laundry legislation, strategies to tackle extremism and terrorism also hamper freedom of association.

Liberties.eu suggests summarising these threats into four categories: smear campaigns, administrative harassment and physical attacks; funding cuts; over-regulation; growing reluctance to consult NGOs. These restrictions are often oriented at reducing trust on NGOs among the rest of population and weakening their action in other to restrict the access of minority groups to the policy-making and bolster the influence and executive power of governing.

Despite these threats growing and evolving rapidly, comprehensive, comparative research on the issue is still limited. For this reason, it is crucial to collect alerts from civic actors across Europe in real time, in the effort to encourage systematic research on the limits to freedom of association in Europe.

Read Latest Alerts:

(Civil Society Development Foundation) The draft law approved by the Romanian Government for the transposition of Directive (EU) 2015/849 on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering or terrorist financing goes far beyond its provisions in order to drown the critical voices of ...
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(Civil Society Development Foundation) The ‘Plesoianu Proposal’ is a legislative proposal radically changing Governmental Ordinance 26/2000 regulating association and foundations, status by 05/07/2018 Legal Procedure in the Romanian Senate, finalized through tacit adoption 21/03/2017, Liviu Plesoianu, PSD deputy, submits the legislative proposal in the Senate, as the first competent chamber. Besides ...
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(Andrei Pop from the Civil Society Development Foundation on the Balkan Civil Society Development Network) The article looks into the shapes of a rapidly closing civic space in the Romanian society, especially since 2017, and investigates potential civil society responses, since no common successful strategy has yet surfaced. The government’s increasingly strong ...
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On 6 July, the Constitutional Council in France confirmed fraternity as a core constitutional principle, and therefore stating that "helping others, even illegitimately present on the national territory, is legitimate", in the name of Article 2 of the Declaration of Human Rights and with reference to the preamble to the ...
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#LexNGO2018 “criminalizes activities that are fully legitimate,” @VeniceComm and @osce_odihr wrote in their draft report, according to Reuters. Is that why #Hungary government won't wait for final report on Friday with the vote? https://t.co/G4MlZojFHC— HunHelsinkiCommittee (@hhc_helsinki) June 20, 2018 On 20 June, the Hungarian Parliament passed a law, known as ...
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The European Civic Forum condemns the ultimatum imposed to the Solidarity Health Centre of Elliniko which would be fatal for the organisation. This move fits once again the narrative that financial and economic interests have the priority over the fundamental right to associate, a narrative that we dissociate from. We ...
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(CIVICUS Monitor) In late March 2018, the Ministry of the Interior and Administration (MSWiA) abandoned its plans to amend the Public Collections Act after NGOs, backed by a citizen appeal signed by 112,000 people, protested the move. The proposed amendment was intended to prevent fundraising efforts such as the one organised by the Pride ...
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(CIVICUS Monitor) Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has shown his support for the creation of a new fund for NGOs. Interim director of the Lithuanian NGO - Human Rights Monitoring Institute - Tomas Kubiliustold the CIVICUS Monitor that while the goal to establish a dedicated fund to support NGOs had been in ...
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(CIVICUS Monitor) Positive action on harmful speech A positive case of cooperation between the Portuguese government and civil society occurred at the beginning of January 2018 when the state's Equality Body filed a complaint with the Public Prosecution Service against the newspaper Sol because of an offensive, transphobic article. The complaint was filed by a ...
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Thanks to the Ordinance 25/2018 passed by the Government at the end of April, private citizens will be able to redirect 3.5 percent of their income tax to non-governmental organisations registered for social causes. Moreover, micro-enterprises sponsoring these NGOs will be able to deduce up to 20 percent of income ...
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