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:

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 and research foundations, but the government promises to change it Among the tax increases provided for ...
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(Translated from La Repubblica) A banner with the inscription "Besiege the enemies of Italy" was affixed to the gate of the headquarters and some smoke generators were fired. Blitz by Forza Nuova against the national headquarters of ANPI in Rome. The militants of the extreme right have affixed on the ...
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(ECNL) A newly drafted Law Decree on taxation measures would remove tax benefits for monetary donations to not-for-profit organizations in Italy. Proposed by the government and adopted in first reading by the Senate, the Decree is now pending before the Chamber of Deputies for its final reading. The current Code ...
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(European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) Slovenia's new coalition government has already demonstrated a desire for constructive cooperation with the non-governmental sector. On 1st October 2018, the Minister of Interior Boštjan Poklukar invited 17 representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in various fields for a working meeting to discuss issues from domestic ...
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(Relief Web) The Italian authorities have ordered the seizure of one of the last civilian search and rescue vessels, the Aquarius, chartered by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee. The order comes at a time where the future of Operation Sophia is uncertain and the abuse by both Libyan Coast Guards and in detention centers continues ...
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On 22 October, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice wrote a letter to the Italian government expressing concern on the pressure on spaces for women in the Capital. They ...
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(Transnational Institute) How the European Union and Member States target and criminalize defenders of the rights of people on the move Europe’s “refugee crisis” triggered a wave of solidarity actions by both civil society organisations and ordinary citizens. Their efforts were part of a wave of compassion, as people organised convoys ...
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(Romania-insider.com) The Romanian Government has changed 13 of the 15 representatives of the civil society in the Economic and Social Council (CES), one of the most important bodies in Romania that analyzes and issues opinion on legislation changes and decisions of the Parliament and Government. The change was made through ...
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(Translated from ORF.at) The Federal Government apparently wants to significantly restrict the participation of environmental protection organizations in environmental law matters. Bruno Rossmann (Liste Pilz) told journalists today that it is planned that in the future only organisations with more than 100 members will be recognised. In addition, in the future ...
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(European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) As the country prepares for elections on 6th October 2018, Latvian civil society is facing both positive and negative attitudes from campaigning parties. MPs vilify NGO working on sexual and reproductive health rights On 13th September 2018, 11 Members of Parliament wrote to Latvian ...
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