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:

(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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(CIVICUS Monitor) #Ireland: referendum campaign launches--referendum commission to release a series of television, radio, and media advertisements urging people to inform themselves about the details of Ireland’s abortion laws before the national vote https://t.co/maQOJFXd5F pic.twitter.com/iwnUc3LDPe— ConstitutionsProject (@ccpconstitute) April 24, 2018 Referendum campaign period officially underway At the end of March, the ...
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(OHCHR) BRUSSELS (19 April 2018) – The UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe welcomes the adoption Thursday by the European Parliament of a resolution calling for the establishment of a "Values Fund" or "Values Instrument" to support independent civil society organisations undertaking human rights work in countries within the European ...
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(CIVICUS Monitor) As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, in the last two years civic space in Latvia has been “deliberately” restricted. Civil society and the media are finding it increasingly difficult to gain access to policymakers, while there has been a growing number of attacks against organisations working on controversial topics. According to ...
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(CIVICUS Monitor) On 25th February 2018, the Estonian Human Rights Centre gave a positive overview of the respect for freedom of association in the country between 2016 and 2017. The Centre found that:  "Even though the world is looking on with worry at the shrinking of Civic Space right here in Europe as well, ...
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(CIVICUS Monitor) On 23rd March 2018, Slovenia's parliament passed the Law on Non Governmental Organisations(NGOs) which, according to the Centre for Information Service, Co-operation and Development of NGOs (CNVOS), could greatly benefit the sector. Specifically, the new law: defines the term “NGO”; allows for all types of NGOs to enjoy “public benefit” status; describes the roles and ...
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(civilsociety.co.uk) The majority of international charities surveyed have experienced difficulty accessing their bank accounts due to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regulations, a report has found. The Charity Finance Group (CFG) surveyed 34 NGOs last year and found that four-fifths of had experienced some kind of problem accessing mainstream banking channels, while a ...
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(Transparency and Accountability Initiative / BCSDN) This briefing and discussion paper analyzes how governments refer to transparency and accountability to argue for tighter regulation of CSOs. Invoking transparency and accountability, governments around the world typically propose regulation in three areas: transparency of funding, and especially of foreign funding; income and asset ...
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