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:

Article originally published on Justice and Environment website, 19 May 2020 - accessible here In the shadow of the coronavirus, the new Slovenian government is taking rights from environmental and nature conservation NGOs. Anti-coronavirus provisions in Slovenia, which set out to disable environmental and nature protection NGOs in the procedures ...
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Article originally published in German on WZB on 30 April 2020 - accessible here Authors: Edgar Grande and Swen Hutter Disasters and crises are not only a challenge for the state. Such emergency situations are also characterised by the spontaneous willingness to help and the solidarity of the citizens. The ...
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(Article originally written in Polish by Magdalena Chrzczonowicz on Oko.Press, 10.05.2020) “The Ministry of the Environment has undertaken work on revealing the financing of NGOs, not only environmental ones", announced the Minister Michał Woś on TV Trwam. Organisations should inform Poles that they are financed from abroad. Such a law ...
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Article originally published in Romanian on Stiri.org, 16 March 2020 [Updated on 16 April 2020] - accessible here On April 14, 2020, the President of Romania issued the Decree on the extension of the state of emergency for a period of 30 days throughout the country. This normative act includes ...
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Article originally published in Czech on A2larm.cz, 31 March 2020 - accessible here According to the draft law published on the website of the Chamber of Deputies, only organizations from the field of culture, education and health and social services could now apply for support in the form of a ...
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(Mediterranea - Saving Humans, 8 April 2020) The NGOs Sea-Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Open Arms and Mediterranea express their concern about the Italian government's decision to use the health emergency situation to close its ports to people rescued at sea by foreign ships, referring once again, in fact, to civilian ...
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Extract from article published in Italian on Vita, 1 April 2020 - accessible here The FOIA, the comprehensive civic access that allows everyone to know the acts of the Public Administration, is a fundamental tool of control and supervision. Especially in times of extraordinary money allocations and emergency management. And ...
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Article originally published in French on Politis.fr, 1 April 2020 - accessible here Malik Salemkour, president of Ligue des droits de l’Homme, is concerned about the attacks on civil liberties caused by the state of health emergency. In particular, he warns that there has been a general decline in checks ...
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Article originally published on Democracy International - accessible here The world is in the grips of an all-encompassing health-crisis that has drastically affected the lives of millions of people around the world. All over the world, governments are taking action to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While many ...
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Article originally published on Amnesty International website, 1 April 2020 - accessible here Amnesty International has published recommendations today for states in Europe urging them to ensure that their responses to COVID-19 are in line with their international and regional human rights obligations. Europe at a Crossroads sets out clear guidance on governments should and should not do in ...
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