ESTONIA: Fears of increased smear campaign against civil society as elections approach

(European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) Conservative right-wing party EKRE is reportedly stepping up its radical actions and narratives ahead of the upcoming general elections due in March 2019. The CIVICUS Monitor had previously reported instances of a smear campaign by the EKRE and conservative media directed against CSOs.

According to CIVICUS Monitor regional research partner, European Civic Forum, and local sources as the elections are approaching the EKRE party is expanding its harmful rhetoric also to target other types of less controversial civic organisations, such as the Children Protection Union. A representative for Estonian Human Rights Centre said: “This smear campaign does not currently affect the civil society’s capacity to carry out its activities, but it needs to be monitored as elections are approaching.”

In a further development concerning funding for NGOs, the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (NENO), a national platform for civic organisations, initiated a petition to stop political parties’ distribution of unallocated funds of the state’s budget. Every year, the parliament allocates funds for “local investments” known as “protection money” typically used by political parties to fund hand-picked projects. A significant amount of the political parties’ protection money in 2019 appears to be allocated to nonprofits connected to party members. Civil society stressed that the process lacks transparency and fair competition and is mostly based on political decisions. NENO’s petition managed to collect more than 1000 signatories, and the petition is now submitted to the Parliament. New developments on the issue are expected after the elections in March.