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:

Over sixty Bulgarian NGOs alert of a new wave of attacks against civil society organizations taking place in Bulgaria. Since early 2018, the Bulgarian democratic civil society has experienced an intensification of smear campaigns leading to weakened public trust and damage to their reputation. Between December 2019 and January 2020, ...
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(Hungarian Helsinki Committee - 14 January 2020) According to the Court of Justice Advocate General’s opinion, the fact that under the Hungarian 2017 Lex NGO, civil society organisations receiving foreign donations are subject to restrictions violates the right to the protection of private life and the right to freedom of association and ...
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(DW - 26 November 2019) The outrage was palpable over the weekend when it was reported that Berlin's finance department had stripped Germany's oldest anti-fascist organization of its nonprofit status because of its ties to far-left parties. Politicians and Jewish leaders defended the Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime/Federation of Antifascists (VVN-BdA), founded in ...
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Salam Aldeen, founder of Team Humanity is getting arrested and he is asking for help. He is now at Police station in Lesbos, Greece. This time the Greek authorities wants to deport him to Denmark as 'threat to public policy or national security'.Last year in May, Lesbos court has acquitted him ...
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(OMCT - World Prganisation against Torture -  29 November 2018) The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Greece. New information: The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) about new threats against the volunteers ...
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(The Guardian) The government’s attempts to make fracking easier have received a setback after the high court ruled key aspects of its national planning policy to be unlawful. In a case brought by anti-fracking campaigners, the court found that it was material to consider scientific evidence, including the effects on ...
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(European Economic and Social Committee) Interim Report - November 2019 The Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law (FRRL) Group was created as a horizontal body within the European Economic and Social Committee in 2018, and was tasked with enhancing the contribution of organised civil society in strengthening fundamental rights, democracy ...
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(CIVICUS Monitor) Groups that attack fundamental human rights are on the rise. They are gaining in confidence and visibility and are increasingly well connected and well resourced. Rhetoric that attacks civil society’s fundamental freedoms and the rights of excluded groups - such as women, LGBTQI people, migrants, refugees and minorities ...
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(Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) Paper By SASKIA BRECHENMACHER, THOMAS CAROTHERS Executive Summary CIVIC SPACE CONTINUES TO CLOSE Since the mid-2000s, civic space has come under attack in many countries around the world. To counter this trend, transnational actors that support civil society have responded in many ways—from exerting diplomatic ...
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(Environmental Pillar) IMMEDIATE RELEASE Ireland’s leading environmental coalition is shocked at the Minister for Housing’s attempt to press for new planning legislation that would make it near impossible to challenge planning decisions in the courts and hold public authorities and the Government to account. The Environmental Pillar – a coalition ...
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