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STATEMENT: EC Rule of Law report finds civic actors face “serious challenges”: It’s time for the Commission to act!

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– ECF statement in response to EU Commission Rule of Law report 2021.

On 20 July 2021, the European Commission published the second rule of law report covering events taking place in 2020 and early 2021. The report maintains the same methodology adopted in the previous one, looking narrowly at only four elements: the justice system, the anti-corruption framework, media pluralism and other institutional issues related to checks and balances. Issues related to the enabling environment for civil society are included in the fourth pillar.

The European Civic Forum took part in the consultation process by calling for a more comprehensive approach to rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights and better inclusion of civic space issues. Our submission included relevant elements concerning twelve countries.

The Commission report highlights key issues hindering civic organisations and civic actors in their work, vital to the functioning of the rule of law. It recognises that in some member states civic actors are “facing serious challenges” such as restrictions to access to funding and physical and verbal threats. The European Civic Forum will analyse thoroughly the country chapters reaching out to local partners to assess the way civic space concerns are reported in the Commission’s analysis.

To date, the report remains a descriptive tool rather than an action-oriented one.

The seriousness of the challenges facing rule of law and democracy in Europe today, with many aspects recognised by the European Commission report, require turning the analysis into actions, either responding to or anticipating further deteriorations of rights.

We urge the Commission to take concrete steps towards authorities in order to have them retreat from undue pressures on civil society.

With this aim we call on the European Commission to:

  1. Improve the monitoring of the state of civic space by creating an alert mechanism constantly feeding into the European Commission’s analysis that allows fast reaction and action.
  2. Strengthen the rule of law annual report on “the enabling environment for civil society” by dedicating a new pillar to civic space, adopting a broad and structured approach, allowing for an in-depth analysis of the situations faced by civil society actors.
  3. Address the deficiencies identified by putting forward concrete country recommendations with targets and deadlines and ensuring better integration with other mechanisms including the justice scoreboard and the European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP).
  4. Support civil society to face the challenges met by launching a strategy for civil society describing the issues and proposing tools and instruments at the disposal of the EU institutions, particularly the Commission, and the duties of member states institutions to tackle them.
  5. Stand up for civic actors under pressure by putting these tools in action, in particular by speaking up for civic actors under attack as foreseen by the mandate of European Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová.
  6. Finally put in place an inter-institutional agreement to implement Article 11 of the European Treaty  on civil dialogue with European civil society, to enable citizens and their organisations to be meaningfully engaged in all EU decision-making processes.