2020 has been characterised by the COVID-19 health emergency that produced consequences on our societies, economies and democracies that are unprecedented in Europe in times of peace. On the one hand, the need to provide a quick and strong response in a short time has increased the use of exceptional powers by the Governments at the expenses of democratic checks and balances. On the other hand, 2020 has been characterised by an awakening of active citizenship to ensure at the widest possible scale effective access to basic rights that the crisis has put at risk.
The report showcases the challenges civil society faced throughout the year 2020, with a particular focus on how the public measures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic affected civic space, and how civic actors responded. It contains a general analysis of EU trends of deterioration and expansion observed in 2020, seven interviews with inspiring activists that protected human rights during the lockdown and six case studies.
Civic space under the lockdown has been narrowed but, even under detrimental conditions, has shown a high level of dynamism. The analysis draws from 350 resources collected on the Civic Space Watch in the period January to October 2020, three consultation meetings with the ECF working group of national platforms of NGOs, two surveys on the impact of COVID-19 on fundamental rights and on civil dialogue and economic sustainability of the sector, and five interviews with local NGOs. The report identifies key trends that impacted on civil society in 2020 and are continuing in 2021, including: