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:

Three years after the Parliament approved the reform of the third sector (Legge delega 106/2016), the law remains inactive. The law was passed in May 2016 after a participated consultation process but out of the 41 regulations that the government needs to pass for the implementation of the law, only ...
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In February, the German Federal Fiscal Court ruled that the German branch of association Taxation of Financial Transactions and for Citizens' Action (Attac) should have its public benefit status withdrawn due to its "generally political activity". The shocking sentence of Attac Germany exposes a grey zone of the German legislation ...
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(Radio Praha - 15/04/2019) The Czech Ministry of the Interior has reduced by over one-quarter its funding for non-governmental organisations focused on preventing corruption. The money has been diverted into an anti-drink driving campaign – despite a previous government pledge to allocate more funds to anti-graft groups. Ian Willoughby discussed the news ...
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(European Fundraising Association) A new Fundraising Act has been approved by the Finnish parliament and has been welcomed by the sector, with the expectation that this will make it easier for charities – particularly smaller organisations – to raise vital funds. Pia Tornikoski, member of the working group for fundraising ...
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(Deutsche Welle on Info Migrants)  A rescue boat carrying nearly 50 migrants has docked at the Italian island of Lampedusa. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had denied the ship access to Italian ports, but relented in order to bring aid workers to trial. Sicilian prosecutors on Tuesday ordered the seizure of ...
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By the NGO Information and Support Centre  Spring 2019 is very active in terms of civic participation in Lithuania, because of 3 different elections happening in March and May. Civil society organisations are actively surveilling the elections’ campaigns and encouraging citizens to participate in elections. On 29 January, the National NGO ...
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UPDATE 13/03/2019: The coalition "Rechtssicherheit für politische Willensbildung" (Translated: Legal certainty for political advocacy), bringing together over 80 CSOs to advocate for a change of the charity legislation, comments on the ruling: "The Supreme Federal Tax Court’s judgement in the Attac case will affect thousands of associations and foundations throughout Germany, and ...
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(Collective ZIN TV) On Tuesday 5 March, a photographer, a collective of photographers, an association of media and a human rights association will be sued by the police services. For what reason? For organizing a photographic exhibition aimed at debating important issues on subjects of public interest. The programme includes ...
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(Liberties on CIVICUS Monitor) A new central database is to be created by anti-money laundering authorities in Greece, according to media reports in November 2018. The initiative is led by the Supreme Court deputy prosecutor with the aim to create a national register to enable authorities to supervise all operations of NGOs, ...
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UPDATE 28 Febbraio 2019: at the end of January, the IRES was changed back to 12%: https://www.italiaoggi.it/news/l-ires-sul-no-profit-torna-al-12-2331850 UPDATE: the measure was approved by the Parliament and came into force on 1st January. (Translated with DeepL from il Post) The most controversial rule of the budget law will harm thousands of charities ...
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