Article originally published on EESC website, 22 June 2020 – accessible here

The Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law (FRRL) Group of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has published a report on national developments in the area of fundamental rights and the rule of law from a civil society perspective, recapping the main findings from the first seven country visits led by the Group in 2018 and 2019.

The report, which updates the interim report published in November 2019 and integrates the main conclusions from the EESC’s high-level conference on the rule of law held the same month, clearly shows an increasing weakening and stigmatisation of the role of civil society in Europe over the last few years.

Freedom of association, including the right of civil society organisations to freely conduct their activities, and access to funding are shown to have been under particular strain. Some of the key challenges to the freedom of the media, the right to information and freedom of expression are also listed.

The report includes summaries of the FRRL Group’s visits to Romania, Poland, Hungary, France, Austria, Bulgaria and Italy, where it held multiple exchanges with stakeholders. These stakeholders were mainly representatives of civil society organisations but also included legal and media professionals. Meetings with national authorities took place during the visits and they were asked to comment in addition on the observations made by civil society. Their input is included in the report.

Although the report is based on content which predates the major events that have shaken the world – namely the COVID-19 crisis and the global protests against racism – it helps to provide an understanding of the underlying trends that have now come to the forefront and which may be further aggravated by these unprecedented events and their consequences.

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