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:

Credits: MEP Tokia Saifi twitter
Migrants, journalists and civil society activists suffered disproportionate use of police force Article originally published by French by Liberation on 23 November 2020. With the help of associations and lawyers, the Place de la République had been occupied by exiles left homeless after the closure of the Saint-Denis camp. The ...
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ECNL published a brief on permissible limitations on freedom of association under international human rights law on 11 November 2020 Following the murder of Samuel Paty in France, the Minister of Interior announced that the government will send a proposal for dissolution of the Collectif contre l'Islamophobie (CCIF) en France. For more ...
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Article originally published by Radio Free Europe on 19 October 2020  Hundreds of students, celebrities, and faculty of Hungary's University of Theater and Film Arts (SZFE) have protested outside the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM) in Budapest, urging the government to restore the autonomy of their institution. A sweeping ...
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Report on Slovenian civic space produced by the European Civic Forum for CIVICUS monitor. Background On 13th March 2020, only one day after the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic in Slovenia, a new government was formed. Four political parties, led by the anti-migrant right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), had already ...
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Article originally published in Balkan Insights with Civic Space Watch information on 28 October 2020. A group of NGOs told abruptly to quit the building they have used for decades say it’s just the latest attack by Slovenia’s right-wing government on independent voices generally. Almost 20 non-governmental organisations and collectives ...
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Article originally published by Autocracy Analyst on 30 September 2020. In June, the highest court in the European Union ruled that Hungary’s Foreign Agent Law requiring NGOs with foreign funding to self-identify and disclose their donors was unlawful. A few months later, a Hungarian public foundation operated by the government ...
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Statement by ARCI, originally published in Italian, on 25 ottobre 2020, accessible here We are very disappointed to see that the measures contained in the new Prime Ministerial Decree just issued by the Government show serious short-sightedness. They take absolutely no account of the role that the Cultural and Recreational ...
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On 16 October, Samuel Paty, a teacher in Conflans, France, was murdered after showing his students caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. This horrendous act was followed by statements against some civil organisations, accused of opposing the ‘Republican order’ and being ‘radical Islamists’. French civil society organisations showed concern about the call ...
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Stetament by CCIF (Collective against Islamophobia in France) in reaction to the threat by France's interior minister to dissolve the NGO working against Islamophobia, published on 19 October 2020. Unofficial translation from French - Original statement here Ten years ago, the dissolution of the CCIF was demanded only by the ...
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Instead of considering the NGO sector as a valuable collaborator, the state, faced with criticism, most often conducts campaigns of appeasement, attacks and pressure on these independent organizations.   At a panel discussion held yesterday in Belgrade, Serbian NGOs and investigative journalists looked at a recent investigation by the State Administration for the Prevention of ...
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