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:

(EURACTIV) By Birgit Van Hout Human rights defenders are essential to democracy. Yet, the intimidation of human rights defenders in the European Union has become a serious problem and the implications for democracy are profound. Decision-makers at all levels have a responsibility to protect civic space in the European Union, writes ...
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(Civitates) “If the media repeats negative messages about Bulgarian NGOs time after time, people start to believe them.”- Iva Taralezhkova, Board Chair of the Citizen Participation Forum For several years now, Bulgarian NGOs have been the target of smear campaigns and hate speech because of their actions against corrupt and non-transparent political ...
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UPDATE - 4 October 2019: The European Civic Forum joins other organisations from all across Europe to condemn the attack against the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee: **** (Civic Solidarity - 1 October 2019) On 30 September 2019, the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), which is part of Bulgaria’s ruling government coalition, asked ...
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(Amnesty International - 11 September 2019) One year after the momentous European Parliament (EP) vote to trigger Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union on Hungary for failing to uphold EU founding values, Amnesty International has joined Hungarian organisations to warn EU member states that continuing to ignore ever ...
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By the NGO Information and Support Centre  ESTABLISHMENT OF NATIONAL NGO FUND IN LITHUANIA: Lithuanian Government fulfilled the promise for Civil Society Organizations Long years we are advocating for the National NGO Fund to be established, which would be open for all types of CSOs. We are advocating that National NGO ...
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By Casa Internazionale delle Donne Collective The International House of Women (CID) in Rome is a unique place in Europe and an invaluable resource for the City of Rome. It has been a long-established, well-known and indispensable beacon for women’s rights and gender policies not only in Rome and Italy, ...
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(Romea.cz) News sever iROZHLAS.cz reports that the Czech Finance Ministry, headed by Alena Schillerová, is planning changes to the system for disbursing European Social Fund (ESF) subsidies. The money allocated for so-called "soft projects" would not be disbursed to charities and nonprofit organizations until after those projects end. According to representatives of ...
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(CIVICUS MONITOR) #Greece 🇬🇷: @CNN investigative journalist Mina Karamitrou's car was destroyed by a bomb attack in Athens. We and the Journalists' Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers condemn the attack and urge authorities to investigate it #pressfreedom. @EFJEUROPE https://t.co/BjwWnMO8oK — IFJ (@IFJGlobal) May 16, 2019 Expression Attacks on media ...
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(CIVICUS MONITOR) [...] Romanian investigative journalist Emilia Șercan receives death threats https://t.co/fRWgcCaahv — Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) April 18, 2019 Investigative journalist subjected to death threats  On 15th April 2019, an investigative journalist, Emilia Șercan, who reports for the local news website PressOne, received death threats through a text message on WhatsApp urging her to stop her ...
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On 12 July, during an interview on the radio programme Good Morning, Hungary! Viktor Orbán stated: "Up to now what EU leaders and pro-immigration politicians have been doing is stuffing them full of money: shamelessly taking large amounts of money from the EU budget and giving it to these organisations ...
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