International human rights institutions and courts have recognised that restricting access to funding, including foreign funding, may constitute a violation of the right to freedom of association., These bodies have also ruled that there is a clear distinction between political parties participating in the elections, and organisations involved in “political activities”, and have found that the latter is too vague to form the basis for restricting the right to freedom of association. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) also officially ruled that unjustified restrictions on foreign donations to CSOs are in breach of Member States obligations under Article 63 of the Treaty of the EU and of right to freedom of association.
However, in European Union member states, public funding for CSOs has been declining due to austerity policies. Core funding and funding for advocacy and litigations are even more scarce and increasingly subject to restrictions. The opaque distribution of public funding has sometimes resulted in blocking funding to CSOs. NGOs whose activity is deemed ‘political’ in the eyes of the authorities, as they advocate or act in defense of rights for all (and sometimes against governments’ policies), are more exposed to these challenges. Some NGOs also report witnessing barriers to access funds, including disproportionately burdensome bureaucratic requirements. In a growing number of countries, foreign funding has been targeted by authorities through vilification statements, restrictive legislation or punishing regulations.