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:

Statement by Runnymede Trust, published on 20 April 2021, available here. From 1968 and Rivers of Blood, to 2021 and the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (Sewell Report), the Runnymede Trust has worked tirelessly to represent the lives of those millions of Britons who constitute this ...
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Joint statement published by acevo on 21 April 2021, available here. In a debate in parliament yesterday Sir John Hayes (Conservative) said that he and 20 other members of the House had written to the Charity Commission to complain about the Runnymede Trust’s response to the report by the Commission ...
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Unofficial translation of joint open letter, published by LDH on 07 April 2021, available here. Joint open letter, of which Malik Salemkour, president of the LDH, is a signatory Paris, April 7, 2021 Madam Senator, Sir Senator, On the eve of the Senate vote on the bill "confirming respect for ...
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Dan Zalosti - Jovan Marković
Article from Vukasin Obradovic, published on Balkani e Caucaso  An attempt is underway in Serbia to discredit civil society. Serious and heavy attacks against some Serbian non-governmental organisations came from the parliament benches, in particular from Aleksandar Martinovic, leader of the Serbian Progressive Party "They all work the same way, ...
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Ten months after the ruling of the European Court of Justice, the Hungarian government finally moves to repeal the LexNGO. This is an important development for affected civil society organisations (CSOs) as it ends 4 years of unnecessary and damaging stigmatisation. Press release from the Civilisation coalition The transparency of ...
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A letter leaked to the media shows that the French Minister of Interior Gerald Darmanin requested to the European Commission to withdraw the funding of an EU project application granted to a French organisation working with Muslim women, Alliance Citoyenne. This solicitation comes after the project proposal was assessed and approved on the basis of eligibility and selection criteria by the European Commission. The request is ...
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- ECF Update to the CIVICUS Monitor, published on 31 March 2021, available here. Association New draft Law on Local Governments In the first week of December 2020, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development held an inter-institutional conciliation meeting regarding the new Law on Local Governments. The new law will ...
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- Update by CIVICUS monitor, published on 09 April 2021, available here. Introduction As reported previously, protests have been ongoing since October 2020 when the Constitutional Tribunal (CT) ruled to impose a near-total ban on abortion. The ruling of the CT has yet again highlighted how the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) ...
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- ECF update to the CIVICUS Monitor, published on 04 April 2021, available here. Background Following the murder of teacher Samuel Paty as a result of an islamophobia smear campaign, and the terrorist attack in Nice at the end of October 2020, French authorities have cracked down on civil society organisations (CSOs) ...
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- ECF update to the CIVICUS Monitor, published on 30 March 2021, available here. Expression The rise of the far right and targeting of anti-racism activists In the past year there has been a growth in far-right movements, both in terms of their presence on the streets and in political support. In ...
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