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:

Article originally published on Hungarian Helsinki Committee website, 17 August 2020 – accessible here In its Information Note, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee provides an overview of certain rule of law developments in Hungary between May and July 2020, covering concerns pertaining to the justice system and institutional issues related to checks ...
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Article originally published in Romanian on APADOR-CH, 11 July 2020 - accessible here The law of quarantine and isolation for everyone to understand, even politicians; What does deprivation of liberty mean and what rights do you have without being arrested or convicted; "The country is burning and grandma is combing ...
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The European Civic Forum condemns the retaliation of the Polish government against the re-election of Karolina Dreszer-Smalec representing the National Federation of Polish NGOs (OFOP) as member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) On 30 June 2020, the European Civic Forum held its General Assembly. The members unanimously ...
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Collective statement originally published in French on Libération, 1 July 2020 - accessible here SIGN THE PETITION to give your support! (at the bottom of the page) Initiative by LDH and signed by several personalities and organisations, against police violence and racism.  The whole world is marching, with or without ...
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Update 27 July 2020: Bulgarian NGOs write to European institutions alerting of increased pressure on civil society in the country. Civic organisations report: On 1 July 2020 a group of MPs from the parliamentary group “United Patriots” (a partner in the ruling coalition) proposed a package of amendments to the ...
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Article originally published on ECNL - accessible here Let us imagine now (and it’s not a stretch) that, in the aftermath of a public emergency endangering people’s safety, a government imposes an indefinite blanket ban on public gatherings, demonstrations, protests and rallies within the national territory. According to the new ...
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Article originally published on Norwegian Human Rights Fund website - accessible here The Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund provides emergency financial assistance to civil society organizations (CSOs) under threat or attack and rapid response advocacy and resiliency grants. They recently published a toolkit that provides practical support and inspiration for ...
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Article originally published on CoE website, 6 July 2020 - accessible here The Expert Council on NGO Law publishes its opinion on the recently adopted and planned measures that affect NGOs working in Greece on asylum, migration, and social inclusion. The Expert Council found the measures to be an excessive ...
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Article by ECF originally published on Civicus Monitor, 25 June 2020 - accessible here ASSOCIATION Government’s emergency legislation Interest Group of Public Benefit Organisations (IGO) reported that the Austrian government implemented strict measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). In an extraordinary session of parliament on 15th ...
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Article originally published on ECNL - accessible here (to download click here) It is the news of the week: the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has officially sentenced that Hungary’s law on the transparency of organisations supported from abroad is in breach of EU law, including provisions of the Charter of ...
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