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:

(European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) Slovenia had seen significant improvements in recent months concerning civic space, largely as a result of the new NGO law passed by parliament on 23rd March 2018. Nevertheless, implementation of the law and other initiatives depends on political will from the new government to be formed following ...
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(European Civic Forum to CIVICUS Monitor) On 31st July 2018, the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) accepted that the process leading to the adoption of a decision in November 2017, which requested Amnesty International to return a donation from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), was “procedurally flawed”. Fiona Crowley from ...
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(Help Refugees) Help Refugees, L’Auberge des Migrants, Utopia 56 and Refugee InfoBus have released a report revealing police intimidation and harassment of aid workers supporting refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. You can read the full report here.  Over eight months, aid workers have been subjected to 645 incidents of police surveillance, repeated ...
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A law to enhance transparency of funding for civil society organisations is expected to be discussed in the parliament in September. Viera Zuborova from the Bratislava Policy Institute commented: <<In general, this draft law should not be so suspicions as it looks on the first view and in the context ...
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UPDATE: on 25 July, the agreement with the association was officially revoked by the City council in Rome On 17 May, the council of the city of Rome voted to evict the International Women's House from the public building “Buon Pastore” in Rome where several organisations were working for over ...
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(Lili Bayer on POLITICO) The Israeli private intelligence firm Black Cube was involved in a campaign to discredit NGOs ahead of Hungary’s April election, according to a former Black Cube employee and a person with knowledge of the company’s inner workings. Between December 2017 and March 2018, Hungarian NGOs and individuals connected to American-Hungarian ...
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(The European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) Expression During an interview on the public broadcaster ORF in early July, the Minister of Interior Herbert Kickl (from the far-right FPO party) made allegations that certain “self-declared investigative journalists” might become subject of criminal investigations in connection to the scandal surrounding the ...
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(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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