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:

On 12 July, during an interview on the radio programme Good Morning, Hungary! Viktor Orbán stated: "The European institutions should clearly declare that no money should be provided to NGOs from the EU budget. If we would like to support civil society organisations, that should be the own affair of ...
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Radomir Lazovic from Belgrade, Serbia, received a written notification from the Magistrates Court that his sentence was converted into jail term. Lazovic, an activist from the citizens’ initiative Ne Davimo Beograd, was initially fined for organising a protest on 11 May 2016. According to the Court’s sentence, this protest broke ...
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(Info Migrants - Deutsche Welle) Carola Rackete, the 31-year-old German captain of a migrant rescue vessel, was detained in Italy after refusing to stand down in the face of military orders. Italy had banned the Sea-Watch ship from entering its waters. Italian judge Alessandra Vella on Tuesday ruled that Sea-Watch captain ...
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(European Civic Forum for Civicus Monitor) Eestis juba ei sobi avalikult öelda, et rassistid on valitsuses. Välismeediat tsiteerides veel tohib. https://t.co/bWlhXchkmj — Vilja Kiisler (@ViljaKiisler) May 12, 2019 On 3rd March 2019, the Estonian parliamentary elections took place with election turnout just over 63 per cent. The centre-right Reform Party won ...
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(Irish Council for Civic Liberties) Senator Lynn Ruane today launched her bill for reform of the Electoral Act with support from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Education Equality and Amnesty International. Senator Ruane said: “I’m delighted to introduce this reform to support the voices of community and advocacy ...
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(European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) In February 2019, the Administrative Court invalidated the environmental permit for the construction of a hydropower plant project called HPP Mokrice. The decision is in a response to a complaint filed in December 2018 by the association Društvo za preučevanje rib Slovenije (DPRS – Society for the Study ...
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By GONG The Croatian institutional context for the sustainability and development of civil society consists of three key institutions: the Council for Civil Society Development (which is an official advisory body to the Government of the Republic of Croatia), the National Foundation for Civil Society Development (which manages a number ...
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(Polish Helsinki Committee) Since the beginning of 2016 the civil society sector has faced numerous challenges detrimental to its works that has and limited its ability to perform its role of promoting democratic participation facilitating government accountability towards the rule of law and human rights standards. The challenges have come in ...
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(Council of Europe) Today the Commissioner published a letter she addressed to the Chairwoman of the Committee on Internal Affairs and Community of the Parliament of Germany, Andrea Lindholz, in which she raises concerns about some aspects of the bill that aims at facilitating removals of people obliged to leave ...
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In 2017, two legislations aiming at transposing EU directive 2015/849 (Fourth European Directive against Money Laundering) were passed by the Portuguese state. These new measures are on the one hand perceived as worrisome by the some NGOs in the country, on the other hand, as argued by ONGD – Plataforma ...
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