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REPORT: The implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on fundamental rights and civic space

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Report by European Civic Forum, Civil Society Europe, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law and Institute of Public Affairs, released by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in March 2022

At the request of the Diversity Europe Group of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) a consortium of four partners – including the European Civic Forum, Civil Society Europe, the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the Institute of Public Affairs – examined how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the work of civil society organisations (CSOs) across Europe. The report proposes solutions that should be implemented nationally by EU Member States and at the European level in order to support CSOs in facing challenges arising from the pandemic.

The report was based on research consisting of two phases mixing both qualitative and quantitative methods. First an in-depth analysis of existing studies, second a survey, 29 expert interviews and three focus groups. The observations emerging from the different stages of the research were characterised by a high degree of consistency, validating the picture depicted. Finally, the study investigated possible policies at EU and national levels to address the challenges identified and included recommendations on how to implement them.

The study found that during the pandemic, civil society organisations have proven to be extremely flexible and adaptable. However, the pandemic still had serious negative consequences on their functioning especially on their operations and capabilities. The pandemic has also often been used by governments of several EU Member States to reduce the transparency of their operations and to hinder citizens’ control over their actions. Finally, the pandemic had of course also financially negative impacts on many civil society organisations. The conducted research showed that the COVID-19 pandemic did not create many new problems, but rather highlighted or exaggerated existing ones. Therefore, many of the solutions present in this report repeat recommendations that have often already been mentionned.

Five recommendations to highlight are:

  • More sustainable, flexible and accessible funding for CSOs
  • Ensuring meaningful participation of civil society in the adoption, implementation and monitoring of National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs)
  • Adopting the EU Civil Society Strategy
  • Monitoring and responding to attacks against civic actors
  • Proceeding towards a structured framework for an open, regular and transparent EU civil dialogue